When Eric Howarth and Heather Johnson first opened M-Theory Music in South Park on Dec.14, 2001, the iPod was only two months old. In the years since, record stores across the nation have closed for good while Apple has revolutionized the way we hear and buy music. Though Howarth and Johnson have since sold the store, it’s still going strong in a different location (Mission Hills). As they prepare to celebrate M-Theory’s 10th anniversary, we asked the former owners for insight into running a successful shop:
Sell vinyl: As CD sales have suffered enormously, vinyl sales have soared, attracting a new generation of music lovers who aren’t satisfied with the low quality and disposable nature of mp3s. M-Theory’s been quick to adapt: CDs once comprised 95 percent of the store’s inventory, but, eventually, Johnson says, “I would tear apart CD racks and make them into vinyl racks.”
Listen to your customers: Howarth and Johnson loved indie music long before they opened M-Theory, but they weren’t stereotypical record-store clerks— intimidating nerds who frown on less-hip listeners. They always heeded their customers’ music recommendations when they stocked their inventory. “You can’t know about every single thing, every single artist, every single genre,” Howarth says.
Make the store interactive: M-Theory has hosted everyone from Broken Social Scene to Public Enemy’s Chuck D at in-store concerts and signings. Events like these help make a record store part of the community, offering not just a reason to check the store out, but fond memories, as well. “If all you’re doing is just selling something, then you’re probably not going to survive very long,” Howarth says.
Don’t believe the hype: Howarth and Johnson balk at claims that the store is breathing its last breaths. Even in this digital age, they say, an independently owned record store can prosper if the staff is determined, passionate and—perhaps most importantly— willing to change with trends. “You have to adapt with the times and keep your enthusiasm about what you’re doing,” Johnson says. “I think it’s going to be just fine.”