Alongside examining the huge toll it has taken on the live sector, plus independent and major labels, we also take the pulse of the retail world as the pandemic radically affects high street footfall – even before last night's announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson that all non-essential shops will have to close for at least the next three weeks.
“This is the single biggest challenge the independent sector has ever faced and, as the high street was already on its knees, this is, frankly, brutal,” said Natasha Youngs, co-owner of Resident Music – the Brighton-based store which won Indie Retailer Of The Year at the 2019 Music Week Awards. “If we don’t handle this smartly, it could well be the end of high street retail,” continued Youngs. “We need suppliers to show compassion and flexibility when it comes to payments, credit limits, returns allowances and anything else they’re in a position to offer to help keep us alive and trading, without compromising their own long-term future.”
Another indie retailer speaking to us was Kingston's Banquet Records, which pre-emptively closed its doors to the public on March 16 in order to focus on its online operation. While co-owner Jon Tolley believes that, ultimately, independent record stores will weather the storm better than some other highstreet staples, he remained frank about the challenges ahead.
“Banquet's had a good few years, but if this were five years ago, when we were hand to mouth, I would be really, really worried," co-owner Jon Tolley told Music Week. "We’re not hand to mouth anymore, but there are shops that must be, and so it must be a really worrying time for them.”
Also providing insight in the piece is ERA CEO Kim Bayley, who said the association was encouraging labels to offer additional support to the sector. For Bayley, there are two messages in particular that she wants to drive home.
“Customers - remember to support your local record shop,” said Bayley. “Industry - we all need to work together and understand the challenges we all face. Any operational support labels can offer such as extending credit terms, SOR or returns amnesties will make a huge difference as we head into these uncertain times.”
One confirmed casualty of COVID-19 so far – albeit a temporary one – is the postponement of Record Store Day.
“There is obviously some concern as RSD is the biggest trading day of the year for independent retail and so a postponement of any kind has knock on effects,” said RSD co-ordinator Megan Page. “However, the overwhelming consensus from shops is that public health takes priority and we would rather focus all our efforts on building a successful RSD in June rather than a scaled down version in April. We are dealing with the unknown, with that comes an abundance of questions we simply can’t answer. We are seeing borders shut all over Europe which may cause delays to product throughout March and April. Without the product it’s pretty much impossible to hold RSD as we know it. The revised date will allow us to take stock of the situation with plenty of time and take any necessary actions.”
Indeed, for all the challenges at the moment for retailers, the sector stressed that the move from April 18 to its new date of June 20 is no major cause for concern.
“In all honesty, as the decision was made before we had to commit to any stock orders (which are non-returnable), we can adjust to a new date easily,” said Resident’s Natasha Youngs. “Yes, we will need to rearrange the entertainment we had booked and may have to find some alternatives but this is all very manageable in comparison to everything else we are dealing with. In the circumstances it’s 100% the right decision and at least this year, if it manages to go ahead in June, it’ll be a heck of a lot warmer for those crazy dedicated overnight queuers!”
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