Billie, vintage record.

Billie, vintage record.

A Vinyl Perspective-including a look at Whole Foods and Urban Outfitters.

Vinyl just won’t die. Last year’s sales were the best since 1988, rising 32% to 418 million with this year on track to surpass it.

Magazines have been taking note of the industry this year.  Forbes from which the information above is taken, Bloomberg Businessweek and others have all had features on vinyl’s resurgence. For instance news about pressing plants here in the US having a hard time keeping with demand came from a Bloomberg article. Also Classic Rock isn’t the sole driver of sales-with Millennials the new force in the market-vinyl’s success across genres is growing.

What’s more- the industry’s growth is extending beyond just collecting. Over the last few years pop up venues dedicated to playing vinyl on great sound systems for groups of people who gather to drink, hang out and listen to records began appearing around the globe. Now Listening Clubs are opening especially in London that offer regular nights-with “menus” of up-coming selections for listening. From what I can tell this movement seems to be driven by people in their late 40’s/early 50’s.

Urban Outfitters correctly foresaw the younger demographics behind vinyl’s surge year ago as they’ve had dedicated vinyl sections in all their stores for at least a decade. Urban Outfitters and Whole Foods are the favorite retailers these vinyl articles like to name check. From Forbes:

“Meanwhile, vinyl is no longer solely the domain of independent record stores. It’s quickly becoming ubiquitous in retail stores everywhere. Chains like… , Urban Outfitters and even Whole Foods   now carry albums.”

But while named Whole Foods only has vinyl in select locations in Southern California- Venice, Ventura and Downtown LA-the Arts District area..

Whole Foods Downtown LA. A "static" set.

Whole Foods Downtown LA. A “static” set.


This past spring, while still working with the magazine distributor, I did an informal survey for the company of some of the Whole Foods locations in preparation for our proposal to do the vinyl sets in their stores.

This, and the fact I was  familiar with the Urban Outfitters set plus a vinyl listener already- inspired me to do some field notes on vinyl and how’s it merchandised.

Urban Outfitters-vinyl wall

Urban Outfitters-vinyl wall

                                                                                                                                                         Looking at the photos here of the Urban Outfitters and Whole Foods approaches it’s easy to see UO understands more about merchandising vinyl.  Looking at their wall fixture display you can see they’re  making use of the record’s sensual packaging-treating the covers like magazines-full facings, plan-o-grammed,  categories are  labeled-making use of everything at their disposal to draw the eye.

Urban Outfitters-med. shot of vinyl area.

Urban Outfitters-med. shot of vinyl area.

       Even the lighting whose powerful contribution is often either ignored or one of the last things retailers look at-is working pretty well in the Urban Outfitter’s case.

What Urban Outfitters understands here is, setting the stage for visual merchandising to do what it does best: set up visual ques.

Compare this to the static Whole Foods approach in the downtown LA store. Sitting on a small fixture next to elevator-it looks like a set piece you’d find in a furniture retailer where they create rooms.

Whole Foods -wine and vinyl-just have put them together with a listening night.

Whole Foods -wine and vinyl-just have put them together with a listening night.

        Going around the side is more of the same. Some wine merchandised along with some more records. But there’s nothing compelling here. No signage, no particular lighting, no energy to the set.

  In doing field notes for my surveys several ideas came to mind that I feel would help anyone wishing to sell vinyl-do it better.

A vinyl island

A vinyl island idea


in-store sketch doing survey.

in-store sketch doing survey.

 Some specific ideas along these lines are listed below.

In doing field notes for my surveys several ideas came to mind that I feel would help anyone wishing to sell vinyl-do it better.

  • POP UP Listening Nights-like mentioned above. Energize your vinyl areas by getting people to come in and-listen. Why couldn’t Whole Foods have a night or two a week –serve beer and wine-have a live dj playing vinyl-preferably on some of the Crosley turntables they’re selling. The same goes for Urban Outfitters-especially as now they’ll be putting in pizza restaurants in select stores-as a result of purchasing a pizza chain not long ago. If they’ll have beer and wine-it seems like a perfect thing to try.
  • Vintage Records. None of the articles I’ve seen mention the trade in vintage records. This is huge market with dedicated stores and gatherings catering to the market where older records are in demand. Why couldn’t either of these retailers do something around vintage? Have a dedicated buyer who would select and manage. It would sort of be like Buffalo Exchange. Or conversely hold vintage days-where people wishing to sell vintage could come and sell-with the retailer getting a percentage or just do it in an effort to stimulate a connection-a buzz with your clientele.
  • Lighting: More spots, more overhead direct lighting and neon signage that draw attention to the space.
  • In Urban’s case, why not move the book tables adjacent to the record area-they go hand in hand creating an opportunity for piggy backed purchases/add ons.
  • As seen here, both retailers-following some of the suggestions above could also work more with “island” displays. Set out on their own and allowing customers to walk around them will drive more sales just as in grocery stores islands have been known to work well for higher end cosmetics for instance.

If technology is a product of humans turning themselves inside out-then vinyl’s connection with recording and transmitting human culture must be our hearts and souls. We all have associations and moments connected with vinyl:

My parents making us dance with them post-martinis -Sinatra blasting.

Barefoot girls on the grass in white gauze dresses whirling incense at the Griffith Park Be-In.

The dude with the 4’ high speakers and a couple of decks we saw -scratching- on a random corner in Bed-Sty as we headed to that artist’s studio….that maniac  with the cane leaping and  darting between cars as a dj spun Egyptian House on the sidewalk off Talaat Harb that first night in Cairo.

And maybe that’s because The Record combines so many sensual ques for our psyches. It’s scale and medium hits all the bases when it comes to our appreciation of culture and our tribe within it.

Dean Balsamo

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