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.)
Now that cases are going down, we’ve had a lot of states lifting restrictions, including in California. I’m wondering if you’ve seen any restrictions on retail establishments being lifted or relaxed at all?
Nothing for retail, but there have been quite a few modifications of some of the gathering regulations, as well as some initial conversations about reopening schools. So there’s certainly some movement towards reopening, but nothing that specifically impacts us.
Last time, we talked about government assistance, and you said you might qualify for something. Have you figured out what you might be eligible for at this point?
We’re eligible to apply, [but] so far, we have decided not to apply because we don’t need it as much as others do. So for now, that’s our approach. That could change, if something changes as far as shutdowns or closures or that sort of thing. But right now, we feel pretty confident that we don’t need another [Paycheck Protection Program] loan.
Online sales obviously have skyrocketed during the pandemic in all different segments. Have you seen your percentage of online sales go up since the pandemic? And if so, what kind of an increase have you seen?
Yes. That was one of the things that grew right away when we closed our doors, because that was pretty much the case across the country, with stay at home orders almost universal. And so right away, both our website and also online platforms, whether it be Amazon or eBay, Discogs, all of those, grew exponentially during that time. With businesses being back open, those have come down a little bit, but they’re still at a very heightened level. Even in January, [online sales were] up 25 to 30% over the prior year January.
Some people are saying this could be a big shift in the way people shop long term — that because of the pandemic, people that didn’t buy online before the pandemic who have become accustomed to it now might continue doing that. Do you think that’s going to be the case?
I think the logical answer to your question would be yes. I would presume people would be ordering online more. The interesting thing is, since we’ve reopened, and now, almost a month and a half post-holidays in this year, it doesn’t feel that way in the store. That’s interesting, especially when you’re talking about new LPs, because people can readily buy those online. But we’re seeing people come in, even in a week like this, where it’s been brutally cold, to shop for new records.
What is your feeling around online sales vs. in-store sales generally?
Naturally, we’ve always put our local customers first, and we want to be a resource for them. But there’s certainly something to be said about the worldwide market, and things maybe that some of our customers aren’t interested in. Especially when you look at a platform like Amazon, we sell a lot of used CDs on that platform that aren’t for sale in the store. They’re literally just things that we’ve listed there and that sell well there.
And you have to keep in mind, too, that there are lots of people in this country that don’t have a local record store. And so physically going to a brick and mortar establishment isn’t an option for them. So that is when some of those online platforms come into play. I think we were fortunate that we had already made a really significant investment in listing product online before COVID occurred. And so it wasn’t something we had to necessarily pivot to.
It’s hard to know. Naturally, something from Taylor Swift is going to have demand. And I think certainly people…would rather purchase the version that she’s gonna benefit financially from. So it might have more of an impact on future sales than necessarily the day of release.