We have been in the Grassmarket for two years now and if I’m honest we’ve exceeded all my expectations of how well the shop would be received. The various events we have hosted from in-stores to art exhibitions and film showings have gone well to say the least and we’ve had thousands of visitors from all over the world coming especially to the shop. Not only has the shop’s reputation grown worldwide but there now seems to be an Avalanche brand that other businesses see value in being associated with. Quite how we have become so well known for our blog and social media sites I’m not sure but I often have people in from all over comment they read the blog and/or follow on twitter I’m also proud that we have so many younger customers attracted by the posters and badges if not always the music we sell.
I was well aware when we moved that we would be relying on being a destination site rather than hoping for a lot of passing trade but that didn’t seem a big ask for a record shop and certainly the Grassmarket would provide more tourists than we had ever seen before. In the 6 months from the start of 2011 many new releases from PJ Harvey to Bon Iver sold well and certainly the location was not a problem. However over the last year or so not only has there been less big releases for us but even those we would hope to do well with have not sold well. The new Animal Collective album is just the latest example. The last Frightened Rabbit EP and new Godspeed album were reminders of how it used to be. As happened with the Tom Waits album that FOPP seemed to fail to keep in stock we did get a fair number of people who came to the shop for the new Godspeed album on vinyl because FOPP were out of it proving unfortunately that our sales are not entirely in our own hands. We are not alone as the figures I gave recently showed the indies losing market share on new vinyl at the same time that sales were increasing by 10%.
However the biggest loss has been in selling local and Scottish bands. While our reputation has grown our sales have plummeted. As many will have heard me say more than once selling an album to fans is the easy bit. Selling it to those who don’t know the album or artist is far harder and often time consuming. If that is all that is left to a shop it simply isn’t economical. Even the latest Meursault album which is at No. 2 in our chart achieved that with just a quarter of the sales of the first album. Seventy per cent of those sales were on my recommendation.
The Olympic Swimmers, Randolph’s Leap and Kevin MacNeil and Willie Campbell will testify to what we can do if given a fairly clear run at promoting an album but those chances are now few and far between. It will only get worse with albums out over the next year from many I would consider friends of Avalanche (Withered Hand, Kid Canaveral, There Will Be Fireworks, eagleowl, The Last Battle, Star Wheel Press, Conquering Animal Sound etc). Frightened Rabbit will do their best to support the shop despite the pressures of being on a major label and Ballboy already have a cunning plan to help shops for their album but generally the perceived way to go about things now is to sell as many as possible DC (direct to customer).
I’ve received several offers to support Scottish music on worldwide online platforms and there is a plan in place to send Avalanche’s best selling albums to 30 of the best record shops in the world but it would need far more cohesion than is currently being shown. Thousands of people will look at our charts over the next week alone and most artists and labels appreciate that I’m sure. It certainly does smaller bands no harm to be seen in the company of much bigger bands and achieves far more than many a PR company. Kid Canaveral and Star Wheel Press both benefited hugely from being our top selling album and I regularly receive enquiries from the media when the official end of year charts are published.
While Avalanche is certainly a destination for those from further afield (recently our first two customers of the day were from Brazil and Mauritius) locally, though we have a small and loyal band of regulars, there are nowhere near enough customers to sustain a shop of our size in the city centre. Sensibly therefore I will seriously have to consider if Avalanche can continue as primarily a record shop as so much of our business has been eroded. The national figures I see only confirm that again we are not alone.
It is going to take a major rethink if we are going to remain in the current location and I have to say that currently I don’t have all the answers we need to survive. We already exist only because of the help of some very kind supporters of what we do who have helped in many different ways including recently financially. There has been a fair amount of interest in more formally financially sponsoring the shop and there has been a lawyer for whom this is a speciality working on this for free. However so far there have been no concrete results. While there was a positive response to my blog saying that just a few extra sales a day would make a difference as often happens it soon fizzled out and October was actually a terrible month for us even with the release of the Godspeed album.
Consequently I have to draw a line in the sand somewhere and that date is Sunday January 6th 2013. I hope that by then there will be a plan but at worst I will simply close the shop and concentrate on expanding our online presence and pursuing other opportunities. I’ll always be keen to support Scottish artists but maybe the focus on how that is done will need to change. I’m happy to listen to all ideas of course. Avalanche is a fantastic shop window quite literally for Scottish artists and their music but sadly it is often taken for granted.
Up to that date I will need to take as much money as possible to catch up on just about everything (rent, rates, tax, record company bills etc) and therefore will have the sale I vowed I wouldn’t have. We are not short of stock and hopefully a sale when added to some Christmas business and the visitors here for the festive period will enable us to catch up. With the announcement that the new Frightened Rabbit album will be released on February 4th in an ideal world a new revitalised Avalanche would be in place by then but as our good friends in One Up in Aberdeen have said unless there is a noticeable and prolonged improvement in business we simply can’t survive where we are.
The most common comment about the Grassmarket shop was that it was an improvement on the old shop which had itself been very popular. Too often shops move to smaller premises in side streets and to quote customers “are a bit sad”. The number one priority is to attract more people and there I am stuck for an answer in the current economic climate. That the Greater Grassmarket BID was a success raising at least a £100K a year to promote the area is good news but only of course if it is handled properly. We will hopefully have something better than some other recent efforts.
Again I would like to thank those who support the shop by actually buying things and those that give up their valuable time to help in other areas. When I was watching the documentary about Ian Rankin’s new book and he said that he had no idea how he was going to get to the end I knew exactly what he meant !