Third annual 'Back to Black Friday' fills coffers at 1,200 retailers

It wasn’t all about the mall on Black Friday, as independent record stores witnessed a continuing sales boom during the third annual Record Store Day post-Thanksgiving sales event.

RSD organizer Michael Kurtz reported that sales during “Back to Black Friday” – launched in 2010 as a fourth-quarter companion to the annual spring event – were up 10% over last year.

“Every time we do it, the wave gets a little bit bigger,” he said.

Around 1,200 indie retailers in the U.S. and Canada participated. Customers lined up and even camped out in front of music shops, drawn by dozens of exclusive limited-edition titles – mostly vinyl in unique configurations and colors – by artists like the White Stripes, Bob Dylan, the Lumineers, the Velvet Underground and the Gaslight Anthem.

Mike Batt, who operates three Silver Platters stores in the Seattle area, said, “It was really exciting because of the amount of product available this year. Last year there were around 30 (exclusive) pieces. This year it was closer to 90 pieces. Last year we had more pieces that were all in that $40-$50 dollar range. This year there were many more items down in that $5-$10 range, the $15 range. We had good sell-through on all of it.”

Some veteran music retailers witnessed truly explosive numbers from the event.

Chris Brown, who runs 11 Bull Moose stores in Maine and New Hampshire, also manages software for 51 locations in the Department of Record Stores indie coalition (formerly Music Monitor Network). He said the group as a whole was up 60% above the Black Friday gross in 2009.

Michael Bunnell of Boise’s Record Exchange, who is also executive director of the 45-store Coalition of Independent Music Stores and a co-organizer of RSD, said, “Stores were up from high single digits all the way to 40% up over last year. It seems like there’s a lot of increased awareness.”

Stephanie Huff of the Exclusive Co., which operates eight stores in Wisconsin, said, “Compared to a normal day at our biggest store, business was up over 420%, and that store is a powerhouse on Fridays.”

Even some on the storm-ravaged New Jersey coast saw a business revival.

Rob Roth, who owns Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ, said, “We were up about 20%…This was kind of the coming-out after people started recovering from the storm, which really devastated our state. Business had been pretty slow up until a couple of days ago, but (Friday) was everybody coming out at once. We had about 150 people (in line) before we opened.”

While conventional wisdom states that young listeners have been driving music retailers out of business with continuing file sharing, more than one indie operator said that demo is actually feeding these strong holiday sales.

Bryan Burkert, who runs Sound Garden stores in Syracuse and Baltimore, pointed out, “Really young people are collecting vinyl right now. Years ago, when Record Store Day started, it was old guys who’d been buying vinyl their whole life and never stopped buying vinyl. The number of under-18 kids who are coming in to buy vinyl, and who were in line for Back to Black Friday, is having a huge effect on everything we’re selling.”

Numerous crepe-hanging stories have prophesied the imminent demise of the indie record store, but some indies, including Bull Moose, Arizona-based Zia Records, and Rasputin Music in the San Francisco area, have opened or plan to open new outlets.

Brian Faber of eight-store, Arizona-based Zia said, “We just opened our biggest store in the chain two weeks before Black Friday, and it had a wonderful day. We averaged across the stores between 50 and 75 people lined up before we opened. This is the third year in a row that we ran up double digits (in increases) on Black Friday.”

While some like the Exclusive Co. reported big sales of low-priced catalog CDs, few new hit titles – available at lowball prices at big-box Black Friday sales ?rang up big numbers. The major labels have all contributed unique product to RSD events; however – unlike the movie studios, which have offered discounts on some hit DVD and Blu-ray releases ?the labels lag in dropping wholesale prices on hit releases.

Kurtz notes, “Three years ago, we started going to the distributors, saying, ‘Look what the movie industry is doing. We want to do this with you guys for music.’ It’s been a slow build. This year has been the most successful one.”

Some non-exclusive product proved a powerful lure: Brown said that, excluding the Back to Black Friday titles, the Beatles ?whose remastered catalog was re-released on LP earlier this month ?was the No. 1 artist at the 51 stores he tracked. Many retailers offered sale pricing on the Fab Four albums for the event.

But the vinyl exclusives were the most potent draw, and music fans sometimes hit more than one participating Back to Black Friday location during the day in search of elusive must-have items allotted in minuscule quantities per store.

New Jersey retailer Roth said, “I noticed around noon a lot of people came in from Manhattan, saying they couldn’t find anything there, so they’d come to me, which always makes me feel good.”

Gary Scotti of 56-year-old Scotti’s Record Shop in Summit, NJ, said, “Today is the kind of day that makes me glad I have stayed in business.”

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