Let Me Explain...
Posted at 10.21 PM
on Sunday 13th January
Dear Mr xxx,
Thank you for your email about the state of my shop, ‘Rise’ in Bristol. I understand your concern that the store is not as focussed in its approach to music sales and understand that change can be a difficult thing for some of our customers to understand or appreciate but I will outline why we have changed the store so rapidly in the past 9 months and answer your other queries.
Firstly, can I state that Rise still is an independent shop that primarily sells vinyl and CDs – over 50% of our income is derived from those two formats although that mix has dropped from more like 70% 12 months ago. Music is still at the forefront of what we do – vinyl (which I think is more a ‘serious’ music buyers format) sales have increased and we have markedly improved the range and space devoted to this format. Unfortunately, as you may be aware there is a definite change in consumers buying habits when it comes to CD. Since 2008 (a year before we opened Rise Bristol) the CD market in the UK has shrunk by nearly 50%! Last year alone, the market value of CDs in the UK dropped by 20%. Now, ask yourself this question – if you were running a business with considerable overheads and with over 3000 sq ft devoted to a format that is shrinking at a considerable rate, what would you do? There are two choices in my eyes. 1. Give up. I could have given up, we could have closed the store. We considered it but we thought we are good enough & brave enough to do choice nr 2. Diversify & develop a new retail concept that still retains a good quality music offer alongside a range of complimentary products. Now, I could go on for 1000s of words about this – theory, practice, decision making but let me make it as simple as I can. The high street has changed irreconcilably in the past 5 years. If a customer wants to get the latest album from ‘Artist Z’ they can get it cheaper than us from Amazon and more to the point a lot of people simply do not want to own the CD by ‘Artist Z’ – they would rather a download. We used to be great at selling a wide range of music at an average retail price of under £5. In this market that is not a sustainable business model – customers are tired of the endless over supply of poor quality products punted to them at ‘sale’ prices (for me that applies to most of retail, including our sector). I am being brave and complimentary to my customers with our new concept store. No longer will we primarily ‘punt over supplied albums at discounted prices’ (if you want that, go to That’s Ent, Fopp or Head) but instead I want to offer a great selection of QUALITY products at a decent price. I have digressed so let me get back on point in a new paragraph.
So we’ve established that the only way to keep Rise going and pay the bills (hell, even make a profit!) is to diversify – that is fact, either that or we close the doors. Right so how do I diversify? Our clothing concession Rise Revival has been more successful than I or our concession partner ever expected (within 6 months, my Bristol & Cheltenham stores are performing comparably to established retail unit of 15 years!) It has brought a younger age group into the store and it has made our existing offer (music, films, books) more relevant to them. It may not be to your taste and that’s fine – you wouldn’t see me dead in some of the stuff they sell in there but I also wouldn’t watch some of the films we stock or read some of the books we sell – not because of a fear or hatred of the said products but because it’s not my cup of tea. That’s not to say someone else might like it. On opening day probably one of our most loyal and frequent customers who is a chap in his 50s, buys an esoteric range of music and literature bought some shirts from Rise Revival and he and lots of other regular customers think that is a good complimentary offer. And those who don’t like it, fair enough - we still have over 20000 music lines to browse through!
You mention that ‘well below 25% of the floor space is given over to music’. This is false. We have a 6000 sq. ft shop. 2000 sq ft is Friska cafe, 700 sq ft is Rise Revival and 3300 sq ft. is Rise, of which around 2000 sq ft would be dedicated to music (that’s 33% – at it’s peak we gave music around 50% of space but a lot of it was under utilised and the store felt dead). There are many cities larger than Bristol that do not even have a standalone 2000 sq ft record shop! And music is not ‘grudgingly on display’. I LOVE MUSIC. MY STAFF LOVE MUSIC. Think about this – I have to think about my future when I run my business. I am not going to stand back and be stubborn when CD sales drop 10% year after year – I want to do something to protect my business, and even improve my business. Music & culture is at the heart of everything we do. Come and speak to me about Stones Throw label or my love of Can or speak to James about Super Furry Animals, or speak to Adrian about Sonic Youth, or speak to Seb about some weird leftfield dance music, or speak to Oli about lo-fi indie, or speak to Paul about his love of House & Disco or speak to Gordon about his passion for Jazz or Dylan about his latest ‘tip for the top’. Or even better still, speak to them about what they do outside of Rise to contribute to Bristol’s excellent music scene(s ). Adrian’s Howling Owl label, OlO Worms - James’ band who just got a good review in Uncut, Paul’s disco re-edits, Oli Wilde’s quite magnificent lo-fi indie music he makes, Seb’s DJ mixes...
Right so back on with diversification – we done the clothes, sorry it’s not you bag. Now on with the cafe. We have licenced the majority of the ground floor to Friska – who, in my eyes and judgement are the best independent cafe operators I have come across. Their food is healthy, tasty & great value. And the coffee is magnificent. And we got a beer licence! A lot of our customers think a great coffee/beer and great music is a match made in heaven (I happen to agree). And what we are doing with the downstairs space with Friska is really quite exciting. Our first ‘Rise Quiz’, which, surprise surprise is all based around music was a huge success (70 people on the first monday of the year), our first film screening Berberian Sound Studio ( a film with a great soundtrack from Broadcast) was packed out and we ran out of seats; next event is Dutch Uncles and we’ve sold out of our ticket allocation. Now, I might have really misjudged people and my customer base but I think what we are doing is brave, bold and a great example of good independent community based retailing – not just about the profit but for the pleasure of our loyal customers. I ran the quiz myself (much harder to run than I thought!) and the film was free. How many record shops can you go to on a Friday night and watch an award winning film free of charge? And we are not ‘wasting our staff experience on coffee and muffins’ – Friska employ their own (excellently trained & friendly staff) to man their counter. We thought, we’ll stick to what we know best (music, film, books) and we’ll get some great operators in to run the food and fashion.
And the final comment ‘oh well, it was good whilst it lasted’ is so true – the irony got me so hard. The truth is IT WAS GOOD WHILST IT LASTED but the party is over and we need to build a business for the future. I am 25 and I am not going to let the decline in CD sales ruin my record shop. In fact, I am using that to motivate me into making the sort of record shop I’ve always wanted. And that means it’s more than ‘the record shop’ which is fabled by out dated stories of dusty shelves and snotty service. We have created one that is inclusive, exciting & great value (value is a oft misconceived concept clouded simply by the number of £s on a price sticker). I am proud of it, and quite frankly, as a citizen of Bristol you should be too because too many cities do not have the sort of shop that you have on your doorstep. That does not mean that I stop listening to suggestions & criticisms of Rise - I am my own worse critic and we strive each day to make the shop better. Our most recent operational improvement is a complete overhaul of our stock ordering system so that we pass down decision making & power to the staff so they can react quicker to customers requests / trends.
If you have any further questions I will be happy to meet in person and discuss but if not, I hope that I have addressed your concerns and I do hope it means that you can find it continue to support my, our ‘music shop’.
Director / Co-owner
hi guys, this just dropped into the inbox, presuming the guy who wrote it hasn’t actually visited the store, as he thinks its 1 floor….
Sent: 12 January 2013 16:25
To: 'Rise Music'
Subject: RE: Merry Christmas From Rise
Just thought I’d let you know how disappointed I am at the changes to your Bristol shop. Friends had told me it had gone downhill a lot, but I wanted to see for myself – sad to say, they were right. Rise used to be an independent music shop selling primarily an eclectic range of vinyl and CDs, with a sideline in DVDs and books. Now it’s just another run-of-the-mill coffee shop with a limited range of music grudgingly on display in an out-of-the-way part of the shop. I’d guess that well below 25% of the floor space is given over to music now.
Haven’t you noticed that that part of Bristol is awash with coffee shops? And do you think you’re going to be successful selling clothes that look like a mixture of charity shop rejects and Lidl special offers? Although I can understand the need to diversify to compete with on-line retailers, I really don’t see how abandoning your core business is a good idea. It must be disheartening for the staff too, with their music knowledge and experience being wasted on coffee and muffins.
Oh well, it was good for the three years it lasted, anyway. I’ll be going to Fopp from now on, at least they still are a ‘music shop’.