For Richmond record store Vinyl Conflict, surviving the COVID-19 outbreak has meant taking their business online.
When the coronavirus outbreak hit, Vinyl Conflict owners Bobby Egger and Melissa Mazula were out of the country. They’d had a buying trip to the UK scheduled for March 4 through 18, and as they traveled, things began to escalate.
“When the travel ban went into effect, we were watching the news very carefully each day, trying to make a decision about how we would be returning,” said Egger. “We were quite far away from our return flight date, and on the other side of the country.”
From another country, they had to make important decisions about what would happen with Vinyl Conflict’s retail store in Oregon Hill, which specializes in new and used punk, hardcore, and metal albums — on vinyl, of course — as well as related merchandise. And when they returned, they voluntarily put themselves into quarantine.
“Me and Melissa went on self quarantine for two full weeks, and my employees continued to up our online presence in social media,” Egger said. The shop switched to a curbside-pickup model, at first allowing browsing by appointment only and then ending even that out of concerns for the safety of customers and employees. And they immediately focused on online sales, working hard to ensure that their entire inventory was accessible on the store’s website and the record-sales site Discogs.com.
This was a huge adjustment for Egger, who’d previously focused on the in-person shopping experience. “For the entirety of the shop’s existence, we have kept our newest and freshest stock only available for walk-in customers, so we could keep a unique and fresh experience which is worth making the venture into the physical store,” he said. “The biggest adjustment we had to make was turning our entire inventory to be available for web order.”
Making Vinyl Conflict an online-focused business has been a challenge, but with quarantine remaining the order of the day, Egger knew that the transition was essential for the store’s survival. It’s a big transition, though, one that has kept everyone at the store busy for weeks. “It took a few weeks to try to adjust to the new way of business,” he said. “At first we were only listing items which were in shop, but previously had not been available online. Now we are going through items which had previously not been for sale at all, and listing them directly for sale online.”
Local customers are still able to order from the store without having to worry about shipping; while placing and paying for orders is handled online, Vinyl Conflict still offers curbside pickup, as well as delivery for customers in the city. Meanwhile, they’re shipping out online orders six days a week, in an effort to ensure that nothing gets backed up.
As part of the adjustment, Egger has had to change some fundamental aspects of Vinyl Conflict’s business model. “We had to put a freeze on new ordering… which is unfortunate, as new titles are continuing to be released each week,” he said. “We’re focusing on moving the inventory we have already purchased.”
In order to keep the shop’s profile high even while customers can’t visit, Egger launched an Instagram Live interview series called “Now That I’ve Got Your Attention,” in which he’s interviewed a variety of people within the music industry. Guests have included well-known musical figures including Roger Miret of Agnostic Front, Brian Gorsenger from Night Birds, and Jeremy Bolm of Touche Amore, as well as locals like rapper Nickelus F, fellow Richmond record store owner Marty Key of Steady Sounds, and musician Julie Karr of the band Sensual World. “Keep an eye on Instagram for new episodes very soon,” said Egger, who is also currently editing the interviews for eventual upload to IGTV and YouTube.
Vinyl Conflict is also looking beyond questions of their own survival in order to help out other organizations that are working to help out with the coronavirus outbreak. They are currently in the process of creating two shirts for sale to benefit Richmond’s Studio Two Three and Mutual Aid Distribution RVA. The Studio Two Three donations will go towards their efforts in making durable and reusable masks for essential workers that will be additionally donated and distributed as they are funded. Mutual Aid Distribution RVA is a resource of redistribution for locals in need, collecting and distributing food, baby supplies, cleaning and sanitary goods, and more. Funds will go towards the purchase of essential items for distribution to low-income Richmonders. The shirts are currently available for pre-order from Vinyl Conflict’s Storenvy site.
Like many local businesses in Richmond and everywhere around the world, Vinyl Conflict is doing what they can to survive the outbreak and ensure that they’re still here when we’re all able to leave our homes and interact with the world once again. For now, they’re doing what they can to ensure that, while we’re all locked down, we can at least enjoy some new tunes.
To check out Vinyl Conflict’s full online inventory of over 4000 items, go to their Discogs page. To place a local order, give them a call at (804)644-2555, or email [email protected] For updates and to keep up with the “Now That I’ve Got Your Attention” interview series, follow them on Instagram @vinylconflict.