Business

Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: 'Panic' Results from a Record Store Day Distribution Error

Strictly Discs
Courtesy of Strictly Discs

Strictly Discs

A major oversight cost the Madison shop business on one of its biggest days of the year.

In October 1988, Angie Roloff and her husband Ron opened Strictly Discs in Madison, Wisconsin, after Ron left a career in the biomedical research field to pursue his love of music full time. Nearly 31 years later, the couple made the difficult decision to shutter in-store operations due to COVID-19, roughly a week before Gov. Tony Evers forced a mandatory shutdown of all non-essential businesses. After the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned Evers' stay-at-home order in May 2020 -- ruling it "unlawful" and "unenforceable" -- the Roloffs and their employees reopened the store and have kept it running ever since.

As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be speaking with Roloff regularly to chronicle her experience throughout the crisis. (Read the previous installment here and see the full series here.)

How's it going?

It's been an interesting week, that's for certain.

Tell me more.

Well, the first of the two Record Store Day drops is Saturday, and this one is significantly larger [and has] significantly more releases. And they've kind of restructured some of the way that we ordered products this time in hopes to get to the stores earlier and to kind of manage the allocation process in a more equitable way. But last Friday, I still didn't have the bulk of my product. And so I messaged the rep at the main company that we're getting it from. And the response was, "Well, this is what's shipping today" -- and it was just about four titles -- "and the bulk of your titles are in July."

And so of course it sends [me into] a panic. When something like this happens, I always assume that I have made an error. You know, not sending the correct spreadsheet or something in my haste. And so I pulled up the spreadsheet that I sent to her, and not only did I order a lot of product, but from them I ordered over 4,600 pieces. Unfortunately, the person who was in charge of inputting those orders missed the June tab on our spreadsheet.

So what are you going to do?

Well, I of course panicked. And on their side, this company [Alliance], they're trying to figure out what they can do. I messaged at the same time the head of our coalition and just said, "This is what's happening and I could use some help." Well, she happened at the same time to be on a call with Carrie [Colliton], who is head of Record Store Day. And so they stepped in pretty quickly, and thankfully, the fellow at Alliance, he always holds back some product for, as he said, catastrophes like this one. And so some of that is coming from them tomorrow, but I'm still missing a fair amount of titles that right now I don't have any stock coming [for] -- although they're still trying and Carrie's still working with the labels in hopes that some of them hold some things back for any number of reasons. So I'm trying not to panic too much and hoping that some of those come through so we don't have disappointed customers. But it's still a little to be determined.

[Ed. Note: In a follow-up email post-Record Store Day, Roloff tells Billboard that in the end, "there were many releases we didn't get at all or got very few copies," noting that "customers were understanding but it was an error that cost us business."]

Has anything like this happened before?

Well, there's always small glitches...but we're talking about impacting a title or two, not 270 titles.

Roughly what percentage of the titles that you were supposed to get for Saturday are en route or already there, and what percentage are up in the air at this point?

At this point, I'd say up in the air, I think it's probably right around 20% of the titles, which has gotten a little bit better progressively each day. So that's why I'm still feeling, or trying to feel, optimistic here on the fact that we'll get more of those. We always feel so fortunate that we're in a business of wants, and we sell things that people want, not things that they need. But on Record Store Day, sometimes that distinction blurs, because people are so passionate about some of these limited releases.

Are there any crucial titles that you're not sure you're going to get?

Yeah, there are a few. Thankfully, today I just got notification that we are getting Garbage. Garbage is largely a Madison band, and so it would be really unfortunate if we didn't have any of those when we open. So that helps. But there's one of the Black Sabbath titles, there's a Beck title. There's quite a few that I already kind of am having nightmares about trying to explain to customers and folks who aren't otherwise regular customers how this could have happened in a meaningful way and hope that they trust us for a future Record Store Day.

This is obviously not an ideal solution, but is it possible that they could send these titles so you can sell them in time for the July Record Store Day drop?

Well, we'll find out. Certainly if something that people really want isn't going to get here until next week or next month, if I can guarantee that, I think that would be fine for a lot of customers. So certainly, if that comes to fruition, we'll come up with some sort of rain check system to accommodate people.

Say it's the day before Record Store Day, and you still haven't received some of these titles. Is that a situation where you would try to warn customers ahead of time?

Yes, we would definitely have to do that because the last thing we want is people to get in line sometime in the wee hours of the night or the morning just to find out that we don't have something. That turns a bad situation and makes it much worse.

How will you warn people?

We already send a comprehensive email the day beforehand. In the past, there'll be things like, "Oh, this title's been bumped, or this title has been canceled and will come out next year for Black Friday." And also, "This is what we have planned, and we look forward to seeing you." So we can also include it there. We would certainly want to do it on social media as well, because not everyone is going to get and see the email. And even with that, we'll have people who haven't seen it and more than likely will be disappointed if we don't have things. So that's just probably a lot of apologizing for something that's out of our control.

Has the mask mandate lifted in Madison?

Yes, it lifted on [June] 2nd for our county. It had lifted statewide prior to that.

Have you decided how you're going to deal with that in the store?

Well, it became evident pretty quickly that we only really had one option, and that was to make them optional. As a staff, we are all still wearing them when the store is open, and for customers, it's up to their discretion.

Why did you feel that was your only option?

Because I think otherwise we would be spending most of our day trying to [get] people [to wear] them. On the first day, we still had the sign up that says we required them, and I had hoped that maybe that would just encourage people to wear them. But it just created confusion, and I think the outcome would have been that we were perhaps ruffling the feathers of people that we really don't want to do that for. So we just are kind of going with it and realizing that things are changing quickly.

Have you had anyone express discomfort with people not wearing masks in the store?

Not so far.

What percentage of customers would you say are actually still wearing masks?

I would say it's somewhere in the 65% to 70% range.

At times it was challenging [to tell people to wear masks] even when there was a mask mandate. So I really can't imagine trying to do it on an individual level now that there isn't. The nice thing with our city and county is we got a pretty ample heads up that when that last order and mask mandate was gonna expire that they weren't going to issue another. And so thankfully, we had about a week where we knew this was coming. It did give me time to talk to both staff and customers who either have a family member or are themselves higher risk to get their perspective, and I was surprised that all of them said they were fine with other people not wearing masks -- that they would still continue to wear a mask, but it wouldn't bother them if others weren't.

How are you feeling? Because I know that you're a little more on the cautious end of the spectrum, as we've talked about before.

Yes, I have to kind of squelch my schoolmarm personality. [Laughs] Because I realized that, thankfully, because so many people are vaccinated, that's the direction we're going. And I try to celebrate that as progress.