This weekend I’m pleased to introduce you to Alison Wressell owner Vintage & Vinyl a Record and Wine shop in Folkestone on the south coast of England. Vintage & Vinyl sells new and used vinyl, and although the shop is small in size it is stocked with a large selection of indie, alternative, rock, electronic, hip hop, jazz, blues, soul, funk, reggae, soundtracks, psych, metal, folk and anything else that she thinks her customers might like.
Alison opened the shop in 2014 as a way to rethink how she spent her working days and it has become a little hub for vinyl lovers from around Kent. I know this to be true as one of her patrons reached out to tell me about her and the shop; I’m glad they did. In addition to vinyl Alison also sell turntables and audio equipment to include hand crafted, high end turntables by Pro-Ject. “If you’re playing records you need something fabulous to play them on!”
Outside of the shop Alison loves nature and getting out to the countryside. “We live in an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” and make the most of it! I’m also a bit of a culture vulture – I lived in Paris for around 8 years and love days out at galleries, trips to the theatre, quirky outdoor events as well as gigs and festivals of course.” She is also chief vegetable grower in the garden – “we have some lovely crops this year, as lockdown happened at the ideal time for gardeners” – giving more time to get planting.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
When I was a teenager in the 80s vinyl and cassettes were the only formats you could buy music on. From the age of about 9 or 10 I was building up my collection. Starting with Abba and Adam and the Ants, and moving on to Talking Heads, Bowie, The Smiths. Because of this enthusiasm for music and the expense, I found myself a job as a cleaner and general dogsbody at Virgin Records in Durham, where I worked after school and on Saturdays. Earning enough money to buy records for myself without relying on pocket money from my parents. I lugged my records and turntable around with me when I was a student – it seemed the most natural thing in the world.
Fast forward many years and after a career in marketing I felt ready to set up on my own – and owning a music shop is what I really wanted to pursue. Folkestone is a coastal town with a thriving music scene and has a great asset in Creative Folkestone, a foundation who are driving cultural change in what had become a somewhat run down town. I applied for a retail space in The Creative Quarter and the rest is history!
I have more time to “breathe” and listen to great music all day.
What is a day in the life like?
I open the shop at 10.30 as there is no real footfall before then. However before this time I may have placed orders for new stock, responded to customer enquiries, posted on social media channels, priced up records, visited someone to look at their used record collection, made an offer and hauled the collection up the sometimes inconvenient pedestrian street, where my shop is situated. There is a lot of heavy lifting involved in owning a record shop!
When I open I will take care of all the usual admin, checking phone messages, sorting out emails, pricing up and putting out new record deliveries, contacting customers about their orders, serving customers in the shop, paying invoices, updating the website, posting new stock on social media etc. I will also be placing orders for up-coming releases and listening to new music deciding if it is right for the shop before I order. And, while all this is going on I have the opportunity to listen to great music, and chat to customers about everything and anything they like.
This is the great bonus about running a record shop – you discover new music and you meet great people.
What has been your favorite sale / relationship made from behind the counter?
Gosh – this is a difficult question. I have a core of customers who are absolutely lovely and they are all collecting in a very different way. Some love to buy the really limited editions and not miss a single one from certain artists, others are able to treat themselves to exceptional mint condition first pressings of classic artists. When you get to know your customers you see records and know exactly who you need to tell about them! I love this aspect of owning a shop. Each and every sale is a valuable sale – every last one of them. It is so important and humbling to me that customers enjoy coming to my shop and really want me to do well so that they can keep shopping locally.
In your opinion what has been the coolest thing to come through your shop / the thing you had to keep / almost couldn’t put out for sale?
I have an absolute mint first press of King Crimson –In the Court of the Crimson King. The cover and record look like they have just left the pressing plant. I also have a first press of Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. I did put the Bowie out for sale but it was being handled too much so I had to save it! When we played it at home I’m really glad I kept it – the quality of the pressing is so good – so detailed. Just beautiful.
There was also an amazing record collection I bought that had belonged to a chap who had run one of the first Virgin Record Shops and had been friends with Richard Branson. There was nothing of particular monetary value in it, but the whole 250 records were keepers. Unusual 60s and 70s southern rock, psychedelic and jazz fusion. A really great find that has brought us many hours of listening joy!
What has been the craziest experience that has happened at the shop?
There are a lot of crazies in Folkestone! I have had people lying on the floor demanding I play certain tracks – and won’t leave until I do. I have had to guide people out of the door as they were not completely in their right mind at that moment in time. I have also had various artists in the shop when they are in town for a gig – some are chatty, others want to be incognito. And sometimes I only recognize people after they’ve gone!
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Know your own mind and your market.
By this I mean you should be getting into this for the right reasons. You may love music, but you need to consider if the time is right for you, in terms of your work experience to date and your finances. You may also need a back up plan! Knowing your way around a profit and loss statement and a tax return is just as vital as being up on all the latest psychedelic fusion jazz records. Having a good business head is essential.
Knowing your market requires some very basic marketing. It may seem silly to say this, but don’t set up a shop based on your own passion for Japanese ambient music (for example) in a town with a demographic who are into reggae or alternative rock. Being niche may seem cool, but it greatly cuts down your customer base.
I’d also advise you to get a good cleaning machine for used vinyl – we use a fabulous Pro-Ject cleaning machine which is quick and effective.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
Yes, I was a teen in the 80s so it is vinyl all the way. I still have my records from those years and kept them pristine. I love playing them – Talking Heads, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Bowie…all sound fabulous through our mighty floor standing horn speakers. Turn it up, sing along with joy!
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
I generally don’t focus on difficulties, I tend to just get my head down and deal with whatever it is. But if I had to put a name on one, I think it would be going from being one of just 4 or 5 record shops in this region to seeing the competition more than double in the first 18 moths of trading. The market became saturated and in a rural county with a relatively low population not every shop will survive.
From a supplier’s or customer’s perspective more shops can be seen as a positive – it gives the appearance of a growing industry and gives the customer more choice, but as a shop owner it can half your income overnight unless you peddle twice as hard.
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
I love that vinyl is everywhere nowadays. It has become part of mainstream media again. There are so many exciting labels and bands who appreciate the format and use it to its best advantage. The quality of sound and finesse vinyl can add to a track is immense. I love that you can get turntables to suit every person’s set up, whether you are spending thousands on an amazing stand alone system, or you are starting out with a small budget, there is something for everyone. And turntables are so beautifully put together nowadays. In the shop we use a Pro-Ject RPM1 which sounds great and looks stunning even when it is not being used.
From a retailer’s point of view we get access to lots of amazing limited edition records from the labels and distributors, which can be very sought after, and really helps us to generate sales. However on the flip side there is competition from all sides – supermarkets have tried to take a slice of the market and direct sales from the distributors can also be problematic in the retail distribution chain.
Tell me your favorite thing that you are listening to right now?
During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?
Buy local – this is so important. I know customers hear this a lot, but I don’t think I can reiterate enough just how important it is. Every single sale made in a local shop helps them to keep going.
If you are thinking about buying online from a large retailer – don’t click – instead send a quick email or message to your local shop and ask if they have it or can get it for you. They will look after you in ways that an anonymous online retailer won’t.
Additionally, in our case we have a great loyalty scheme whereby you buy 10 and get one free. What could be better than that?