QRD - Current Issue   About QRD   QRD Archives
QRD #34 - Record Store Special - June 2008
about this issue
Record Store Interviews with:
The Old School Records
Angry Young and Poor
Music Saves
aQuarius recOrds
Bull City Music
Bananas Music
Luke's Record Exchange
Aural Innovations Mailorder
Musique Cité Sherbrooke
The Lazy i
Flat, Black, & Circular
Mod Lang
Two If By Sea Records
Sweat Records
Cheeky Monkey
Sloth Records
Ars Macabre
Carrot Top Distribution
QRD - Thanks for your interest & support
QRD - Advertise
Silber Records
Silber Button Factory
Cerebus TV
Silber Kickstarter
Record Store Owner interview with Jon Howard of Flat, Black, & Circular
June 2008

Store Name: Flat Black and Circular
Year Established: 1977
Address: 541 E Grand River, East Lansing, MI 48823
Store Hours: M-Sat 11am-6pm, Fri 11am-8pm
Phone Number: 517-351-0838
Website: flatblackandcircular.com
Email: flatblackandcirc@aol.com
Do You Have a Listening Station: yes
Musical Styles You Specialize in: trying to cover it all!!
Musical Styles You Exclude: easy listening
Other Items You Sell: fanzines, DVDs, used & new turntables
Do you do special orders: yes
Do you do mail order: not much
Do you do web orders: no
Number of Employees: 1
How often do you have in-store performances: 2 or 3 a year, sometimes none
Number of New CDs in stock: All of this changes week to week!  Thousands of discs & vinyl, & it changes by the hundreds week to week. 
Number of Used CDs in stock: 
Number of New LPs in stock: 
Number of Used LPs in stock: 
Number of New 7”s in stock: 
Number of Used 7”s in stock: 

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