Back in January, Brett Abramson transformed his dance-music retail business from a Little Five Points storefront called Satellite Records into a virtual location called Propel Records (www.propelrecords.com).
But Satellite was more than just a place for DJs to purchase vinyl. It was a recognizable locale for lovers of dance music, and a brand name that appeared on dozens of event fliers. Propel Records doesn't have the same kind of community presence, so I wondered how Abramson's new business is doing.
"I've had to adapt some," says Abramson, who acknowledges the transition has been difficult. He estimates that only 10 percent of the Satellite customers have visited Propel Records.
So Abramson is trying to reach the international marketplace. He's listed as a vendor on massive music retail sites such as Gemm.com and Discogs.com. He also recruited a new partner, Chris Basiliere, to help build the site's database. "Our goal is to have the largest inventory of dance music in the United States," Abramson says.
Propel Records isn't a success yet, but Abramson believes he made the right decision. "The market is now dictating that you have to be online, and for anybody who isn't – especially in a specialized format like dance music – it's really tough," he says. Plus, he adds, "We're not losing tons of money because the overhead is so low."
For some perspective, I turned to Criminal Records (www.criminal.com) and owner Mel Pinson. It's unfair to compare Propel with one of the most successful indie music stores in the Southeast. But I wanted to know if online sales are just as important as walk-in buyers.
"This year, we've done over $40K in online sales," Pinson says. "It's not huge numbers compared to the big boys, but for an indie store it's great." However, that only comprises around 5-10 percent of overall business. Pinson adds it's been a great year for Criminal Records so far; sales are up 8 percent.
"It's becoming a part of our strategy. We will get more aggressive with it," says Pinson, noting that Criminal competes with major sites such as Amazon.com. "The world is changing. I have friends who are big music lovers, and they do almost all of their shopping online. ... We have to be prepared for that."
For Pinson, however, online sales are just an area for growth, not a remedy to combat illegal downloads and declining CD sales. "I could never see us being just an online store. If we went in that direction, there would be quite a void in this market." He adds, "You can't go to an in-store online."
Over the next few weeks, I plan to talk to other Atlanta record stores and find out how they're weathering today's volatile music market. Stay tuned.
RANDOM NEWS: Last month, stylish rock outfit the Slack Republic announced that it broke up. Now, according to its MySpace page, the group may be getting back together – hence the tag name, "The Slack is Back?" Please fill me in if you know the real deal. ... Remember Shock Cinema? The neo-wave band moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., right after a farewell performance at last year's Corndogorama, and signed with reputable indie Kanine Records. A reissue of its 2006 EP, Our Way Is Revenge, comes out Aug. 21.
CD RELEASES: Funky soul unit Wabi Sabi issues Plays Well With Others Thursday, June 21, at 10 High. Dirty Sweet and Sick Figures also perform. ... Hard-rock band Holdcell issues a new CD Friday, June 22, at the Loft. Hybrid L and Novakayne open. ... Rock 'n' roll outfit Royal Family releases Vintage Romance Friday, June 22, at Sweetwater Live. Hollywood Holocaust and the Luchagors open. ... Blues trombonist Lil Joe Burton drops Live From Paris: Lil Joe From Chicago Saturday, June 23, at Club 29.
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