Electric Fetus' Bob Fuchs on record retail evolution and this year's garage sale
courtesy of Bob Fuchs
It's been a long and eccentric ride for the Electric Fetus. The Minneapolis record store opened in 1968 and has been at the current location overlooking I-35W since 1972. There have been many obstacles, including recent threats from the rapidly changing industry and from nature -- the store survived a 2009 tornado that caused extensive damage. The store also houses their own distribution company, and stocks their own shelves as well as other record stores across the metro.
Stock tends to accumulate and the store needs to clean house. This weekend will be their annual garage sale, where LPs, CDs, DVDs, and assorted goods (both music and non-) will be priced to clear. We're talking true garage sale prices ranging from 50 cents to a few dollars, and additional markdowns on whatever is left Sunday. Retail Record Manager Bob Fuchs took a break from organizing boxes in the store's basement to talk to Gimme Noise about the store's place in the Twin Cities music scene, and where he sees Electric Fetus' role as the industry evolves.
Gimme Noise: In your 25 years, if you had to summarize a couple of the bigger changes, what have they been: either in the industry or the store?
Bob Fuchs: Two massive changes have affected us.
In the early-to-mid 1990s there was the rise of the big box chains and how they affected distribution, pricing, merchandising--that was massive. They really went after us. Some of those stores had 50,000 [stock keeping units]. They had a lot of product and they were advertising and giving away stuff for cheap. So for 10 years we battled the chains.
In the last 12 years, obviously, the single biggest thing that has affected our sales has been the internet, both positively and negatively. With iTunes, Amazon, digital sales, illegal downloading, competition from non-local sources, even direct sales from the bands and labels themselves--so all our buyers have now also become our competitors. Those have been very succinctly probably the two biggest changes that we've had to deal with in the 25 years that I've been here.
It's common now for a lot of stores to carry non-music merchandise to help make ends meet, but you've been doing that before the big boxes moved in.
There were originally six owners and then, after a few years, two owners, and a couple of them were heavily into music and a couple were more into gifts and imported products, whether it would have been incense or tapestries or shoes or whatever. They've always done that. A lot of stores in the country in the last 5-10 years have supplemented their income with gifts but we've always had it from the beginning. Even though I like to buy records and CDs, I still like to eat chocolate bars and use soap.
Do you view yourselves as trendsetters in that or it is coincidental how the market went?
You try to be a trendsetter. There have been a lot of other gift shops that have opened up. Everybody shops each other now and so it's hard to have a lot of really unique stuff. You get products and then you get shoppers from the big chains come in; they all shops our stores and other small gift stores in town and, pretty soon, you see these items pop up on the Target shelves or somewhere else. Then they buy them in massive quantities and sell them for cheaper and we have to move on to something else. You always have to be at the forefront of this, otherwise you're battling the chains which are always copying you.
There are a lot of record stores in the Twin Cities. How do you view your niche within that?
There are a lot of good record stores in the Cities. We've always been classified as general catalogue store. Because our floorspace is so big, we've always carried a lot of product from a lot of different genres. Some other stores have been smaller and specialized in certain areas whether it's punk rock or just LPs or just used records or whatever it might be. We have new and used records, we have new and used CDs, we have used DVDs, we have a system where you can burn things in the store digitally if you want to make your own mixes. So we try to be a little more of all things for all people. You give up the super-specialization sometimes but you can appeal to a lot of people at the same time.
How do you feel that the culture of the Twin Cities has affected the growth of the store over the years?
I think the culture of the Twin Cities is amazing. This is an arts-rich town. It supports art. It creates art: music, paintings, film, everything. I think it's really, really unique to have this much creativity in a town this size and I think without what goes on here we're all dead in the water. A lot of different stores--record stores in particular.
There are some amazing record stores in other towns, but to have a town that has five or six really great choices for buying LPs and CDs with the staffs that man each store, it's pretty incredible.
Let's talk about the Garage Sale. It's not all clearance items?
Oh, no. Every year it's different. Every year we find different stuff. We've got rejected returns that were not eligible for returns as a new product, we've got new and used products. This year there's a lot more used CDs and LPs than usual but probably better quality stuff than we've had in a long time.
I go through everything that comes in: overstock, excess stock. There have been thousands of great titles. We sold 6,000 or 7,000 titles last year. It was crazy.
Has it gone up each year?
It actually has gone up each year. It's getting more popular. It's to the point where we might as well have a blowout and make it fun. Let's bring some bands in to play and some food trucks...We just thought we'd make it more of a festival atmosphere, kind of like Record Store Day but without all the limited product. We'll have Record Store Day in the fall with used products instead.
Even regular stock is reduced 15% for the weekend. Adding to the festive environment, they will bring in live music, food vendors, and offer giveaways and additional entertainment to give a block party vibe instead of a clearance sale atmosphere. The stores in Duluth and St. Cloud will be having similar sales.
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