Store Owner interview with Michelle Allen of Bananas Music
Bananas is one of those crazy places that still exists. Despite so many others claims, it is believed that they are literally the largest record store in America. 3 million records does sound like a lot….
Store Name: BANANAS MUSIC
QRD – Why did you start your store?
Michelle – We had a book store first & starting selling records by accident. Soon we sold more records than books & sold the book inventory to a local bookstore.
QRD – How does your store particularly appeal to your city?
Michelle – We live in a resort area that gets lots of tourist.
QRD – What’s a mistake you’ve made with your store that you’d warn others against?
Michelle – Not getting into the mail order business sooner. Don’t try to compete with the chain stores.
QRD – What do you think indie record labels could do to best help both themselves & indie stores?
Michelle – Give a lot more free players to stores.
QRD – How was the representation of indie storeowners & customers in the movie High Fidelity accurate & inaccurate to your experience?
Michelle – Not all indie storeowners are strange, wild, on drugs, & 25 years old.
QRD – What type of research do you do to decide what to put on the shelves?
Michelle – We stock just about every type of music, so we try not to keep getting too much of the items that don’t sell well.
QRD – Is it ever difficult to find the right distributors to get something you want to stock?
Michelle – I wish our one stops stocked more vinyl. They have a lot of out of stock titles.
QRD – What do you wish labels or bands or distributors did more of to work with you?
Michelle – Lots more promos, posters, & better wholesale price on CDs. That way we could compete with the Wal-Mart, Circuit City, etc. They may sell more of one title, but overall, I have sold millions of units over the years.
QRD – What do you think is your store’s all time best seller?
Michelle – On CD, the Traveling Wilburys. On vinyl, probably Pink Floyd, Led Zep, & Hendrix material. Oh, also Tom Waits.
QRD – What do you think most leads to a particular record being a good seller in your store?
Michelle – How & where customers are hearing it.
QRD – How does one get an independent release into your store such that it’s recommended to the clientele instead of just sitting on the shelf?
Michelle – Send me a store player. If I think it will appeal to my customers, I will play & sell it.
QRD – How do you feel about so many stores closing & how does it affect you if at all?
Michelle – We are very large & have been in business for 32 years. Early on we realized we had to do mail order to survive & we kept buying vinyl after the CD craze came & went. I’m saddened that so many stores have closed. I really think it has more fault with the record labels for not giving indie stores the buying power in price so they could keep up with the big guys.
QRD – What type of competition do you get from the big box stores (Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc.) & is it difficult to compete price-wise - i.e., do you find that potential customers will shop at the chain because they can afford to charge less for the same discs or do they support you if the disc is a dollar higher in price?
Michelle – Some of our customers shop here no matter what because they support local mom & pop stores. We don’t try to compete with top 40 titles. We carry lots of classic & indie rock & other categories.
QRD – With portable MP3 players & iTunes, is the concept of the album (in any form) dying?
Michelle – I don’t think with the over 30 & up crowd. I think only with people who grew up with only MP3s in the first place.
QRD – How has the downloading scene impacted your sales - do you find that people buy less CDs now because they can download them for less or do you or do you think illegal downloads are more of a culprit?
Michelle – I think people are less attached to tangible music. A song here or a song there seems to satisfy their music craving. We sell less CDs than we use to, but we are selling more vinyl these days, especially to the 18 to 25 year old.
QRD – Record & CD buyers tend to be of a certain age (21-34), as the upcoming people who will be of that age group are mostly download-buyers, would you like stores to eventually have “iPod filling stations” hooked up to an indie network that stores can be part of?
Michelle – No, I hope to be retired before any of that takes place. That generation is missing out on a lot. Liner notes, cover art, warmth of the fidelity. I could go on an on.
QRD – With the increase in digital downloads, low prices in mega-chains, & so many online specialty stores; what is the job of the local indie shop now compared to in the 1990s?
Michelle – Reinvent themselves. Be the best in a niche market.
QRD – What are the biggest misconceptions people have of record stores in general & yours in particular?
Michelle – That everything we sell is expensive. That used CDs are only scratched. That there is no such thing as new vinyl.
QRD – What is the most frustrating &/or frequent question you get from customers?
Michelle – The statement “I can get this for less at Best Buy.” Or “I have been looking for this record for 20 years. The price is $20.00!! for a used record?”
QRD – How do you decide who to hire as an employee & when you need one?
Michelle – I don’t require people to know a lot about music. They learn it fast enough when they work here. It’s more important that the employee shows up on time & has a good work ethic.
QRD – If you weren’t in the music business, what would you do?
Michelle – Work as a registered nurse.
QRD – How did your schooling & previous work experience prepare (or not prepare) you for your store?
Michelle – My parents were in the retail business so I worked there as a young adult.
QRD – Have you ever refused to sell something purely because you disliked the music, even if it was popular & would sell?
Michelle – No, I don’t judge other peoples taste.
QRD – What is your personal “holy grail”? (i.e. the one rarity you’ve been looking for forever.)
Michelle – I have pretty much filled all mine.
QRD – What makes you feel like you had a good day at the store?
Michelle – I caught up on a project that needed being done or we made someone really happy. Like finding the record someone has been looking for over a long time.
QRD – Anything else?
Michelle – Small business are still the backbone of America. I hate to see the day we only have Taco Bell & Wal-Mart.