One of the country's biggest Latin music stores faces dwindling sales, but vows to press on.
In 2001, Nielsen SoundScan reported increasing sales of Latin music, much of it attributed to the genre's growing presence with mass merchants. Conversely, the RIAA reported a decline in Latin music shipments, linked to the loss of Latin mom-and-pop accounts that were being elbowed out of business by those same mass merchants.
Hinsul Lazo, owner of H&L Distributors in Miami, felt firsthand the closure of those mom-and-pop retailers-many of them were his clients. Instead of lamenting the loss, however, he took the initiative and opened his own music retail shop, El Museo del Disco, next door to his warehouse.
"I knew I had a strong niche because I carried Latin product from all over the world," he says. "I said, 'If, as a distributor, I'm selling to other stores and other states and other countries, where is the melting pot? What has every city under one roof? Miami. It had to work in Miami, and, if I promoted it properly, it could be a winner.'"
El Museo del Disco proved a winner for almost a decade. While it is one of the few indie music stores still open in Miami, and certainly the biggest, keeping it alive has become a much tougher challenge for Lazo these days. In an ironic twist, he says the major labels-which constantly lament the loss of brick-and-mortar retailers-do little to help.
The true culprit, Lazo says, is the soured economy.
"The store is the same. The records are the same," he says. While his customers say they prefer buying physical product to downloads, sales are nearly half of what they were the year before. Which is a shame, because El Museo del Disco is a fantastic operation.
Yes, it can be hard to find, nestled among warehouses and trailer homes, but once inside Latin music lovers will find 10,000 square feet of product, reminiscent of such jam-packed superstores as Amoeba in Hollywood and San Francisco or Waterloo Records in Austin. The difference is that Lazo carries 70,000 titles, with roughly 70% in Latin, making it arguably the most comprehensive Latin music store in the country.
Lazo could reduce his inventory, but that would change the store's character. Instead, he has opened an online Amazon store that accounts for roughly half his business and where he sells much of his imported fare, including a healthy amount of Brazilian music.
As far as actual in-store sales, Lazo says his regular customers are simply buying less, which means he needs to lure new consumers to the shop. The conventional way would be through artist events and in-store performances, but given the high costs associated with promoting such events and the scant returns, they've become a rarity in Latin music.
"On the general-market side, in-stores are a common part of promo plans and touring," says Tomas Cookman, president of independent label Nacional Records, noting that his acts regularly do in-stores across the country. But they're not the norm.
Meanwhile, Lazo says his tactic is "wait and see."
"I can provide the space, a good atmosphere for promotion, and I put developing acts on listening stations," Lazo adds. "I'm not going out of business."