Pop Music outgrew it's original location by 2022. 'On The Move' is a series of blog posts that begins here with part one, telling the story of how the pandemic impacted the business and how quickly the online store became larger than life. As a result of this success, the retail store desperately needed to move into a much larger space.
The Pop Music dream began as just scribbles in a note book, written during the summer of 2017. Much of my journey of getting this bird to fly is well documented in other posts and in our story, which is in desperate need of an update. Life happens so fast, that you don’t often get the time to stop and appreciate everything that is going on around you. Writing blog posts or creating web content are the least of my priorities, which are in constant motion. I shared so much of the move journey on our socials, giving fans sneak peeks of what was to come. The immediacy of Instagram or Facebook trumps all other communication channels.
I wrote much of what you'll read below in July 2022 - just as things were finally beginning to take shape at the new location. While our social media posts told one story, there was an intent to share with fans what this process feels like through my words. In a perfect world, these stories would have been published with more immediacy, arguably when they were more relevant. The theme of the last six months is that there was always something more important to do. It never stops. With the anniversary of my first viewing 345 Broadview earlier this month, it's become a 'now or never' moment to get these reflections out there.
2020-2021: The Pandemic
Much of the last three years have been a blur. While the pandemic felt like a holding pattern in my personal life, it significantly accelerated my Pop life. The business benefited from being able to pivot instantly to online sales as soon as we were forced to close our doors by the Government lockdowns. We were the lucky ones, as most record stores in Canada didn't have online stores in 2020. Most retailers were scrambling to find ways to continue to fund operations.
What originally felt like survival mode, letting go of my team and all - soon became this realization that our world was quickly changing and we were moving way more product than in what I call the “before times”. This little record shop rapidly became a major player in Toronto's hyper-competitive vinyl scene. Most Toronto record stores never saw the value in having an online store prior to the pandemic. When I launched our online store in 2019, it was because I wanted a bigger market share in Canada, little did I know it was going to become our biggest success in 2020.
To keep up with this new reality, more product was ordered than ever before. Empowered by fan support, I sought to have a better online offer for all these new customers who just found us. Diving deeper into more catalog titles is what took Pop Music to the next level. While this is all very exciting, our compact 340-square foot retail store still had to house it all. To compensate, I added new display rails, repurposed every inch of cupboard space, added IKEA storage units and even took product home. My vision of the retail store was slowly stretching itself far beyond from what I intended it to be five years ago.
As the pandemic carried on, our fan base just kept growing and growing. I invested into a new web platform in Summer 2020 - completely game-changing our eCom operations and reach. We were now pulling in way more online orders from coast to coast. "Are there not record stores in BC selling this product?”, I said to myself many times. Of course there were, but with clever SEO strategies in play, Google became our best friend. Even in 2023, Pop Music continues to ship tons of vinyl to major markets across the nation, despite a significant increase in local record shops having online stores.
There was also this general ‘not Amazon’ mentality out there that was aiding our small business, with the media encouraging consumers to 'shop local and shop small'. This movement woke a lot of people up, discovering alternatives to the Zon. Even with their offer of ‘free shipping’ on nearly everything, many fans found our fair prices more than made up for all those hidden shipping costs found in Amazon vinyl pricing.We restocked key titles like crazy, something that Amazon couldn't do as they just didn't care enough about the industry.
There was also many 'new' customers coming to us for curbside pick-up during the lockdowns - a major advantage over Amazon's soulless experience. These 'socially-distanced' interactions with fans kept us inspired. It was our only avenue to stay connected with our supporters. These brief moments of togetherness allowed us to feel a bit of normalcy, talking about new music or recent restocks. There was genuine concern out there about our survival, so it was an opportunity to check in on us when they picked up their order. Many supporters also bought gift cards when there was nothing else they needed.
When our retail store was permitted to briefly reopen for a few months in 2020, the business really soared. Not only were we still shipping out tons of orders, there was also this new market of fans who bought themselves a turntable during the lockdowns. The pandemic forced people to spend a lot of time with themselves, spinning records definitely became a muse for many who have never considered owning such a thing. Our new local online customers were very curious to visit our retail store and experience the joys of flipping through our bins and be inspired by the albums on display.
This success empowered me to onboard a full-time associate who could assist with daily operations, while also creating unique customer experiences. Kirsty Radford is an industry legend who is widely regarded as 'the best of the best' in what she does. Her ability to connect with music fans is pure magic. Kristy is driven by this natural curiosity to discover new music, either current or from the past. Fueled by her passion, she shares this energy with fans who are lucky enough to experience it. Undoubtedly, her impact with Pop Music helped fund our growth strategies in 2022. There is no one else like her.
2022: The New Normal
While 2020 and 2021 was all about riding out the lockdowns, re-openings and lockdowns again, 2022 had it’s own challenges as record high inflation hit everyone’s budgets. Sticker shock was becoming a regular thing at the shop, as fans were surprised to see new albums going for over $40. Our retail prices have risen a minimum 20% as a direct reflection of cost increases from nearly every vinyl distributor. Let’s not even talk about freight charges and shipping fees. In a world where music is so accessible and arguably free, I couldn't help but worry that fans would reject these new price points.
Another setback in 2022 - although not surprising - our eCom sales softened significantly over the spring and summer as fans chose to spend their fun money differently. With trips to take and live shows to attend, spending habits shifted. Mix this in with rising interest rates and soaring food prices, people’s wallets were taking a major hit. There were many weeks last summer that we missed 2021 sales by 50%. Not a great feeling when you're building this new larger store that is running way over budget.
Despite 2022’s major obstacles, this store move was not only imminent, but very necessary if I wanted to keep any sense of sanity. Our baby had outgrown it’s crib and was yearning to stretch it’s legs. While 581 Gerrard East was the perfect starter, there’s only so much you can learn from one (tiny) place. With our lease up at the end of October 2022, we began the hunt for our new home in February. There was only a handful of months to get organized, lock in on a property and build the store of our dreams.