Store Owner interview with Jon Howard of Flat, Black, & Circular
Store Name: Flat Black and Circular
QRD – Why did you start your store?
Jon – To feed our music habit.
QRD – How does your store particularly appeal to your city?
Jon – We can only guess! Maybe being able to talk music fan to music fan.
QRD – What’s a mistake you’ve made with your store that you’d warn others against?
Jon – Get windows right away - we spent 10 years in the dark.
QRD – What do you think indie record labels could do to best help both themselves & indie stores?
Jon – Have confidence in your release - package it cool, take returns, make vinyl.
QRD – How was the representation of indie storeowners & customers in the movie High Fidelity accurate & inaccurate to your experience?
Jon – Close, but we get even freakier customers, & those guys didn’t eat & drink enough.
QRD – What type of research do you do to decide what to put on the shelves?
Jon – Read & listen to everything you can until it hurts, get out & see bands.
QRD – Is it ever difficult to find the right distributors to get something you want to stock?
Jon – Nope.
QRD – What do you wish labels or bands or distributors did more of to work with you?
Jon – I only work with ones that run well.
QRD – What do you think is your store’s all time best seller?
Jon – Maybe Simon & Garfunkel hits or something classic rock on vinyl. We sell bags of classic rock LPs at $2 to $4 each, so it’s hard to pin down.
QRD – What do you think most leads to a particular record being a good seller in your store?
Jon – Bands touring, radio/sat radio play, everything!
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?
Jon – We push what we like, nothing can change that!
QRD – How do you feel about so many stores closing & how does it affect you if at all?
Jon – It’s so sad we can’t even talk about it. Until the ‘00’s, the public seemed to enjoy music & value it, now they expect it for free, it’s disposable, & there is no commitment to music.
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?
Jon – We are lucky that our customers would rather pay more & buy it from us. Sometimes we are cheaper, sometimes what they sell is too mainstream for our peeps.
QRD – With portable MP3 players & iTunes, is the concept of the album (in any form) dying?
Jon – See 2 questions above plus extra boos. The concept of a collection is gone as well. Would you rather have a pile of beautiful vinyl, or a white box?? On the other hand, it’s like the mixtape culture so...
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?
Jon – It has more to do with the above attitude - downloading is fine by us for the curious, out-of-print records, etc. It certainly killed the college market for us. CD sales are down but not out, vinyl is going strong.
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?
Jon – FUCK NO! What a soul-sucking bleak thing that would be.
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?
Jon – To interact with the public, keep music exciting. Make shopping a fun experience.
QRD – What are the biggest misconceptions people have of record stores in general & yours in particular?
Jon – That we have a snobby attitude about what people buy. We love the variety!
QRD – What is the most frustrating &/or frequent question you get from customers?
Jon – If downloading is killing us, especially when they ask it like, “The future is all downloads, what are you going to do?” “Oh, just curl up & die I guess.…”
QRD – How do you decide who to hire as an employee & when you need one?
Jon – People who don’t ask mostly (since it’s not much of a “job”), just ones that come in & seem sane.
QRD – If you weren’t in the music business, what would you do?
Jon – Maybe run a pancake house.
QRD – How did your schooling & previous work experience prepare (or not prepare) you for your store?
Jon – Not much ? but I know I would never want to work a cubicle job ever again.
QRD – Have you ever refused to sell something purely because you disliked the music, even if it was popular & would sell?
Jon – No, we actually will try it all.
QRD – What is your personal “holy grail”? (i.e. the one rarity you’ve been looking for forever.)
Jon – It was early Joy Division vinyl until someone came in with it all! Dave always wanted the Durutti Column LP in sandpaper, & we found one for him.
QRD – What makes you feel like you had a good day at the store?
Jon – As corny as it may sound, helping people to music they want.
QRD – Anything else?
Jon – We do feel lucky & a bit proud to still be standing. We love what we do, & hope people enjoy supporting us.
Official Website - flatblackandcircular.com