Revolver Records thrives amidst record store closures

T.J. from Revolver Records from on Vimeo.

T.J. Jordan has a bold goal: to run the last record store in existence. When T.J. Jordan opened Revolver Records on Sept. 1, 2007, most people would have written it off as a pipe dream destined for failure. Two years later, Jordan and his staff are thriving at the Phoenix-based record store.

The store’s success, Jordan said, is down to one thing: It’s appealing to music lovers in search of something new.

“The people who come into record stores are coming in because they want something unique,” he said. “They’re not coming into to buy the latest Lil Wayne record. The only way record stores are going to stay in business is by appealing to the people who actually want to buy records.”

That appeal, Jordan said, is vital to the longevity of every record store; the traditional business model of the record store won’t keep them around, but providing excitement to music lovers will.

“If you go throughout the country, you’re going to see that the ones that are successful are the ones that have found a way to appeal to niche buyers and keep their store exciting,” he said. “I loved those record stores back in the ’90s, but I want to be the guy that owns the last record store. That’s my goal. I want to keep this in business as long as possible. What we try to do here is find ways we can stay in business, have a cushy job, and not have to work real jobs.”

Record stores are an invaluable asset in musical development, Jordan said. While the exit of many from the scene can be blamed on the faulty business model, much is lost when record stores shut their doors for good.

“If you listen to interviews with Paul McCartney or Brian Wilson, they always talk about the record stores they went into and discovered music,” he said. “Record stores are really important in musical development, and I hope it continues. I don’t like seeing record stores going out of business.”

Where Phoenix record stores like long-time city favorites Circles Records & Tapes — mere blocks away from Revolver — is closing its doors after 38 years of business, Revolver Records is busy carving out a niche for themselves. It’s not just Circles, but a business model that’s disappearing.

“The main reason is because they operate on a business model that worked for 1990, but it doesn’t work for 2010,” he said. “I don’t see that business model working now that you can download individual songs on iTunes. The ones that are dying are the ones that had a corporate mentality, and the ones that are thriving are appealing to music buyers again.”

Revolver’s niche, the same one to which other independent record stores across the country are looking, is why two-thirds of Jordan’s sales come from purchases of vinyl records.

As stores that sold vinyl in their heyday but have since moved exclusively to the CD sputter and collapse, Revolver Records represents a new breed of store: one that embraces the “long dead” format — and embraces their customer base along the way. Despite their love for vinyl, Jordan doesn’t think his customer base is simply antiquated.

“I think it would be foolish to say that most of our customers don’t have an iPod; I think they do,” he said. “I think the reason why people buy records is because it’s so unique, and it’s valuable.”

While the CD may have been easy to listen to, and the MP3 even easier to digest, there’s still an appeal to listening to vinyl, Jordan said.

“There’s a bit of effort involved in records,” Jordan said. “It’s tough to experience a record in tracks, you really experience it as a whole. For me, it’s a whole different experience, and I think that our customers come in for that.”

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