Classics on vinyl a boost for music store

ON THE RECORD: John Nichols does business the old fashioned way.
ON THE RECORD: John Nichols does business the old fashioned way.

A solid, and even growing, demand for acts like Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley on vinyl has Hastings music shop proprietor John Nichols confident about business.

The former radio disc jockey and record company sales rep has spent the last two decades buying and selling used albums, CDs and cassettes. For the last 11 years he's run The Music Box Trade and Exchange in Hastings' Heretaunga St. Before that he had run a shop by the same name for a similar period in Hamilton.

The small shop is near bursting with racks of pre-loved music, walls above them adorned with concert posters and one or two tickets to memorable gigs. It's a compressed version of the John Cusack/Jack Black movie High Fidelity, only Nichols is a one-man band so must play all roles.

Not the lovelorn figure played by Cusack, or the vituperative eccentric played by Black, Nichols has a fascinating knowledge that would probably wipe the floor with their characters. And he appears to enjoy nothing more than sharing it. Apart from, of course, making a sale.

"This is not the sort of thing you get into for the money. I'm doing all right out of it. I'm not getting rich, but I love what I do. I make a living out of it," he said, excusing himself to sell a woman a Demis Roussos cassette.

Yes, he still sells quite a few cassettes. "I sell a surprising number, actually. You know many hire campervans still don't have CD players."

Compact discs are the "bread and butter" without which he probably wouldn't survive, but the real business is in vinyl, particularly collectibles.

People can download music, or buy CDs elsewhere, but vinyl is a niche he has to himself in Hawke's Bay.

"All ages are into vinyl now. The younger customers would be in their teens. They're buying stuff for their parents, but also collecting records for themselves. I'd sell a lot more CDs, but I earn more from records," he said.

The most expensive album he has sold was an English first copy of Led Zeppelin I.

"I sold it four or five years ago to a 17-year-old. Teenagers are catching on big time to vinyl. It's a new market. I'm really happy about that," he said. "I also find a lot of backpackers buy vinyl, strangely enough. Especially those from Brazil and Argentina. They pick apples and buy Bob Marley records. I have no idea why they can't get them in their home country. Apparently Bob Marley records are at a premium in Argentina."

Big sellers tend to be classic rock and the usual suspects: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Bob Dylan etc, and "anything to do with Flying Nun. I can't get enough Flying Nun stuff," he said.

"There are quite a few titles you just can't move; Nana Mouskouri, James Last, that sort of thing. And The Seekers don't sell on vinyl. If I get a Seekers CD I can sell it."

The recession has had an impact, combined with the move to downloading, but Nichols is happy to ride out the troubles.

"I've been through this before. When you've been in business for 25 years you do learn to ride out the cycles of recession. Obviously the last few years haven't been that great. The whole town has been hit. I've got a couple of empty stores beside me right now."

Nichols works six days a week. He sells a bit over the internet, but not too much.

"If you want a second-hand business like this you do still need a bricks and mortar shop. Customer service is hugely important. I will recommend things to customers if I know them, but I'm always wary of recommending things to someone I don't know because they may not like it," he said. "There aren't many shops like this left. Once every town used to have a second- hand music store. Now we're an oddity. Hamilton, for example, which is twice the size of Hastings, doesn't have one, yet when I was there there were four of us. Even Auckland only has one real one now".

Wellington, however, he said, remained a "hotbed of second- hand record stores".

Contact Marty Sharpe
Hawke's Bay reporter

The Dominion Post