Boutique retro feel to new music store

JAZIAL CROSSLEY
Last updated 05:00 07/03/2013
Mint Music, Chris Smith
PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ
SOUL MUSIC: "The big emphasis at Mint Music will be on the vinyl, which is a growing market worldwide," says Chris Smith.

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Lower Hutt music lover Chris Smith is opening an independent record store, after the Marbecks CD shop he managed in Queensgate mall shut down last week.

Selling vinyl records might seem an unlikely business in the year 2013, given that physical recorded music sales more than halved in the five years to 2010, falling from $110 million in 2005 to $50.7m.

However, Smith's expertly curated store Mint Music will have a boutique retro feel and quality retail service that encourages people to linger at listening posts or settle into an armchair to pore over album artwork.

Smith has been working in Wellington music retail since 1978.

"Music is great for the soul. That feeling you get from music, when you listen to something and it triggers a memory then reality hits and you continue forward ... that's why I like it so much."

The shop has taken about $90,000 in investment to get off the ground.

The 55-year-old fan of country, rock, metal and blues is unlikely to be able to pay the bills just by selling albums, which he learnt during a 1990s foray into operating his own record store in Kapiti that lasted about three years.

Mint Music is diversifying into DVDs, stationery, books, imported gifts and accessories to increase profits because margins in records are especially slim.

Wholesale CDs cost about $15, making it impossible for independent retailers such as Smith to compete with discounts companies such as The Warehouse and JB Hi-Fi, which can offer the benefits of large-scale bulk buying.

"I can't compete in chart prices, being an independent, however, I've got the knowledge and specialise more. It's not an industry to get in to if you want to be a millionaire.

"The big emphasis at Mint Music will be on the vinyl, which is a growing market worldwide. Analogue sound, to me, sounds a lot better than digital."

The digital music market in New Zealand grew from $4.5 million in sales in 2006 to $11.5m in 2010.

Smith said a lot of people would buy a single track online then decide they wanted a full album with the included booklet and packaging, but a music store could never compete with the online market that gave "phenomenal" access to the entire range of recorded music.

He "would like to think" some people bought music to consciously support an artist they enjoyed.

Next month the store plans to launch a website with its entire range of imported goods available for shipping around New Zealand to reach a wider customer base.

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Roger Harper, who has been serving customers at Marbecks' flagship Auckland store for years, had known Smith professionally since 1980.

"He's old school, he's like me. He knows his stuff and he knows how to get a personal relationship going with the customer."

Smith has scores of loyal customers from his decades at the counter of Wellington stores.

Mint Music in High St in Lower Hutt opens tomorrow and will be open seven days.

- The Dominion Post

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