Store Owner interview with Lauren Reskin of Sweat Records
Store Name: Sweat Records
QRD – Why did you start your store?
Lauren – Miami didn’t have a classic indie record store. I promoted club nights, booked bands, DJ’d & worked at a Virgin Megastore. I saw our once-stagnant local music scene growing to the point where it needed & could sustain a real indie store.
QRD – How does your store particularly appeal to your city?
Lauren – Sweat filled a major void that we had down here. Miami is very spread out, but we’re fairly centrally-located & people use our store as a meeting place all the time. We’re one of the only coffee houses with free wi-fi in the city, & we’ve got a projector & couches which encourages people to come to hang out (and they usually leave with a purchase). We connect people to local bands & events with our mailing list, & we listen to what our customers want & come through for them. We also throw a ton of events, concerts & parties ourselves which makes us more important to the scene overall. Everyone has been really supportive.
QRD – What’s a mistake you’ve made with your store that you’d warn others against?
Lauren – Outsource! Sharing the responsibilities helps everyone get more done & leaves you with more time to make improvements & maybe even take a break once in a while.
QRD – What do you think indie record labels could do to best help both themselves & indie stores?
Lauren – One of the most important things labels could do is send their bigger touring bands over to local indie stores more often for in-stores or signings. It’s a sure-fire draw that sells extra merch, promotes their show, & is good for everyone.
QRD – How was the representation of indie storeowners & customers in the movie High Fidelity accurate & inaccurate to your experience?
Lauren – Certain aspects were right on, like the intimate relationships that customers can have with their music, the anal-retentiveness that can come along with it, & the often-hilarious interactions between clerks & customers. The annoying part was that it perpetuated the negative stereotype that record store clerks/owners are always stuck-up & indier-than-thou. Sure I’ve met a hater or two like that along the way, but the majority of the people I’ve met who are dedicated to the retail industry have been awesome & friendly!
QRD – What type of research do you do to decide what to put on the shelves?
Lauren – I go out a lot, read local blogs, & just listen to what the people who come in here are talking about & asking for.
QRD – Is it ever difficult to find the right distributors to get something you want to stock?
Lauren – With the internet, not really.
QRD – What do you wish labels or bands or distributors did more of to work with you?
Lauren – More free MP3 downloads with vinyl purchase (why not do it all the time?), more special limited edition promo items & merchandise items for retail stores only.
QRD – What do you think is your store’s all time best seller?
Lauren – Miami band Awesome New Republic’s CD ANR So Far sold a ton, & for non-local stuff probably Arular by M.I.A.
QRD – What do you think most leads to a particular record being a good seller in your store?
Lauren – If it gets played out a lot in the local indie clubs, if there’s a really hot track or video, & when a band is coming to town we always always always sell a few extra copies of their stuff. Being cheap helps too of course - a hot new release at $11 or $12 will move so much more than a similar release at $15 or $16.
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?
Lauren – Send the band down here for a show! We’ll throw it for you...
QRD – How do you feel about so many stores closing & how does it affect you if at all?
Lauren – For the indies, it’s sad because each store is unique & has it’s own special ambiance. For the larger stores it’s sad too, because some (like the Virgins & Towers) had such a huge selection of all types of artists that it was still an amazing temple of music to visit. Still, one of the best quotes I read on the Record Store Day website was something like “Indie stores were all we had in the beginning, & they’re all we’ve got left” which is pretty right on, I think indies will definitely have more longevity in the long run. For us, other local stores closing just gives us inspiration to work harder to fill in the gaps, carry more varieties of merchandise & music, throw more parties, & just kick ass as much as possible.
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?
Lauren – Most of our customers are pretty loyal, & we have so much specialized merchandise that the big stores don’t stock so it’s not often an issue. We also try to keep nearly everything we sell below list price to begin with.
QRD – With portable MP3 players & iTunes, is the concept of the album (in any form) dying?
Lauren – Vinyl’s return is awesome & I feel like it’s going to stick around for a while. Art & music are fusing so frequently that it makes sense for album artwork to be once again delivered large!
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?
Lauren – Some people never bought music even before it could be obtained for free. I believe that music stores will always be around, but in a more specialized boutique role instead of as a mass commodity.
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?
Lauren – I supposed that would be cool if it was beneficial to everyone involved. We’re always open to new ideas.
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?
Lauren – To be their communities’ portal to live shows & new music. You can surf blogs all day, but most people still prefer a real live person recommending them to check out something new.
QRD – What are the biggest misconceptions people have of record stores in general & yours in particular?
Lauren – That everyone in the entire world suddenly stopped buying music. There will always be people into buying/collecting/appreciating LPs & CDs the same way that books will always exist, even if the masses buy less of them. For Sweat in particular, we’re still trying to drill into people’s head where we are & when we’re open. Since we’ve had to move twice (our first location was destroyed by Hurricane Wilma & we had to move into a temporary space), we know it just takes a while to get everyone familiar with our new permanent location.
QRD – What is the most frustrating &/or frequent question you get from customers?
Lauren – “Wow, they still make records??”
QRD – How do you decide who to hire as an employee & when you need one?
Lauren – Ideally, I want someone to chase me down & beg for the job - it shows initiative & passion, which are necessary for someone I’m going to be trusting my business with & paying cash to. That & you just have to be a huge, unabashed music dork.
QRD – If you weren’t in the music business, what would you do?
Lauren – Full-time concert promotion & event production, more DJing, teaching yoga, running a restaurant or some other independent business.
QRD – How did your schooling & previous work experience prepare (or not prepare) you for your store?
Lauren – The 6 years I spent working at a Virgin Megastore that eventually closed down (about a year after I left) was a good education on what to do & what not to do. All in all I had a very positive experience & met some incredible people - customers & employees. Unfortunately for the store, after a few years & some cutbacks almost all of the buying was done through the corporate office which left virtually no local focus - songs/bands would be huge on college radio or in the clubs, but we wouldn’t have them in stock because the buyers were located somewhere else & weren’t scoping the local music scene.
QRD – Have you ever refused to sell something purely because you disliked the music, even if it was popular & would sell?
Lauren – We’ll special order anything for anyone (though I would silently cringe if someone wanted a Creed CD). For what we stock, we’re a specialty store so we don’t sell CDs easily obtained at Best Buy or Target except for a few cross-overs like Gorillaz or Feist or Radiohead.
QRD – What is your personal “holy grail”? (i.e. the one rarity you’ve been looking for forever.)
Lauren – This clear vinyl Ladytron 10” for “Playgirl” that came out on Bertrand Burgalat’s Tricatel label years ago. It’s a series of 6 & I have the other 5. The Japanese version of Blur’s Parklife CD with the blinking eyes & barking dog noises would be pretty sweet too.…
QRD – What makes you feel like you had a good day at the store?
Lauren – Nice sales, lots of new sign-ups for our email list, happy customers making yummy noises while drinking our beverages & saying they’ll be back with a friend.
QRD – Anything else?
Lauren – Record stores will be around forever in some form because music will never stop being really important. To other stores - get involved & don’t quit - the more you do the more people will take notice. Local (& national) press can’t stop writing about us because of how many different aspects of the local scene we’re involved in.
Official Website - www.sweatrecordsmiami.com