‘Too dumb to quit,’ long-time vinyl purveyor is glad he didn’t


Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.

Mark Furukawa was meant to be in music retailing. The diehard music lover got his start in the business in the 1980s when, as a university English major, he took a part-time job at Dr. Disc in London, Ont.

Soon after he graduated in 1990, fate reinforced his conviction that he had found his calling. The owners of Dr. Disc were looking for equity partners with $40,000 to open a store in Hamilton. Coincidentally, Mr. Furukawa’s parents had received just a bit more than that from the Canadian government as redress for internment during the Second World War.

They gave him an early inheritance, and suddenly Mr. Furukawa was running a Hamilton record and CD store specializing in imports and hard-to-find titles, both new and used. Eventually he was able to buy out his partners.

“It’s always been fun, but I haven’t always made money,” he says. “Some years we were just scraping by, but I was just too dumb to quit.”

Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail

The tough years came when CDs threatened to make records virtually obsolete. Then, as downloading caught on, both records and CDs took another big hit. Now, business is looking good again. As nostalgia-craving baby boomers and younger listeners look to the past for authenticity, the warm, scratchy sound of vinyl is cool once more.

“Vinyl has made an astounding resurgence,” Mr. Furukawa says. “I think part of what is driving people is that it is a social thing, and a tactile thing. Each record in your collection you carefully curate and can share with your friends. When you say to someone, ‘Check out my music collection,’ you’re not just pointing at a computer.”

He says he gets a kick out of telling young customers that “The Stones” are found under “R” – “for Rolling” – and showing them how to put records on what they call “vinyl players,” which he sells and repairs.

“I find that educational part rewarding. I love the scene, the people, the community. The people I work with are like family. There are scores of customers who I now call friends.”

Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail

And therein lies a challenge. Mr. Furukawa wants to update his website and enhance his social media presence without losing the down-home, community-oriented vibe that has made his store an integral part of the Hamilton music scene for 25 years.

“I want people to know what we’re like, our attitude, our approachability, and the ambience of the store,” he says. “I want to appeal to a wider audience but maintain the small-town, mom-and-pop feel.

“Most places want to present themselves as a global entity online, and I want to do the opposite. I don’t want to be like every other store online. I want to retain the uniqueness of Dr. Disc.”

The Challenge: How can Dr. Disc modernize and expand its online presence without sacrificing the personal feeling of a local, community-oriented enterprise?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Michael Western, , an independent Web designer in Lunenberg, N.S.

Due to the explosion of handheld Web-surfing devices, websites are being optimized to adapt to any screen size, which has many designers choosing clean, minimal looks. So it’s important for Mr. Furukawa to find one who can do this while at the same time reflecting the tone and personality of his business.

Some things to consider: The words should drive the site and be written in the way he speaks to his customers in his store. The typography should be unique but still look professional. The images should be good quality and high resolution.

Facebook and Twitter are great ways to let personality shine through, but Mr. Furukawa should consider finding a custom solution to integrate them into his site rather than using the same widget 95 per cent of businesses are using. He should also consider writing a blog to share his knowledge of music and local events and perhaps highlighting interesting records he has in the store.

Shawn Johnston, founder and principal of , a Web design company in New Westminster, B.C.

A website is a container for your content. The trick to ensuring Dr. Disc is able to create the right experience for its new site is starting with the experience first. What do shoppers experience when they walk into Dr. Disc? Whom do they meet? What’s going on in the store? What products will they find and what do those products mean to their lives? Mr. Furukawa should answer these questions and ensure the voice and tone of the content is perfectly aligned with the ambience and atmosphere of his store.

I would recommend he try a technique called “card sorting.” The idea is to take all the things the site will need to house and create a card for each, including all the practical bits like products and location information and also the cultural pieces such as team stories, the history of the store and special events. Then sort the cards into “content types” and begin finding ways to connect the content. This could be things like a sales expert for sixties rock vinyl as someone to talk to on a Beatles product page, or live show callouts on the right music genre landing page.

By starting with a “content first” approach, Mr. Furukawa will be able to make all the right planning decisions before any branding design happens. He could then explore mood boards or “style tiles” to experiment with different ways of expressing the look and feel he wants. By applying these designs to the finished content plans, or wireframes, he will be able to ensure the right aesthetic is being applied to the content, rather than the content being forced into a design.

Claire-Louise Osmond, co-owner of , which sells gourmet seasonings made from locally grown produce, Lunenberg, N.S

Mr. Furukawa should find a designer who understands him and can reinforce the qualities and vision he wants for his company. He should also not to be afraid to let his personality shine through.

We’re two working mothers with a passion for our families, community and environment, and this had to be reflected in our site. We wanted something that was warm, creative and down-to-earth, something with whimsy, not something corporate. When we launched the site we were not interested in perfection but rather a site that would share our starting point and have the functionality to grow and evolve along with us and our audience. We want people to see us as approachable and genuine.

The site is very adaptable so that we can showcase local farmers, launch fundraisers in the local schools, participate in food-box programs and otherwise engage in activities that will highlight our commitment to the community.

Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail

THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW

Think tone

Use words on your website that reflect the way you speak to your customers.

Content first

Think about what kind of content will be on the site, then look for a design that complements it.

Be flexible

Make sure your website is adaptable so you can add events and other community activities.

Facing a challenge? If your company could use expert help, please contact us at smallbusiness@globeandmail.com.

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Interviews have been edited and condensed.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

10 Comments Categories: Small Business

10 Replies to “‘Too dumb to quit,’ long-time vinyl purveyor is glad he didn’t”

  1. BobbyKfromUSA
    re: the warm, scratchy sound
    you can have it

    I remember more times than not coming home from the record store only to find my brand new album warped laced with ticks and pops and background noise

    you could actually hear the sound deteriorate as the stylus travels towards the center, esp. the last song on a side

    then having to spending $150+ on a stylus yearly in 1970’s dollars as they wore out, low output levels, limited dynamic range, limited bass

    cleaning required of records and stylus before and during playing of a medium limited to basically 15 minutes a side, maybe 20

    then having to get up and change the side

    you can have it

    maybe these vinyl lovers would like to wash their clothes on a rock down by the river to feel more a part of the clothes cleaning process

  2. BobbyKfromUSA
    I bought a $1,000 turntable to try
    after a few plays I was reminded how much I hated the medium and sold it before my $400 stylus suffered any further wear

  3. Last time I moved I gave 25 LPs and about thirty 45’s to Value Village. I ain’t going back to vinyl. Too much dust.

  4. I spent (sometimes I think, “misspent”) 30 years in radio broadcast and marketing, most of it long before CDs and Internet, so defunding reading the “advice” of on-line marketing people is really interesting. I’m also a music nut, so the piece REALLY rang for me.

    Some rightly suggested the site revolve as much around Mark as the merchandise. (Maybe two sections, one titled “Here’s Mark” the other, “Here’s the merchandise”. A real record nut is heavily influenced by the product. That’s OK, Mark’s captured by copy style: “Hey! Guy came in last Tuesday With something I haven’t seen in YEARS…a Warner Bros. compilation LP From the 1960s with Top 40 instrumental groups like the Routers (“Let’s Go”) and Marketts (“Out Of Limits.”) Real stereo, too. How rare is that? It’s waiting for you now for $24.99…” See?

    What stands out for me the most is….unless I missed something, nobody suggested that record guy Mark add an AUDIO component to his site. I mean, obvious or what? If he truly loves music, it’s a natural to have a little “Mark’s Music Notes” corner somewhere, with audio clips to augment or illustrate his comments. Key Line: “and these 3 great hits (or “rare albums” or whatever) are waiting at the story for you right now.”

    That is the OTHER overarching need here: the site must drive customers to the locations. He might capture the long-distance sales like this: “Out of town but gotta have it? Let’s talk. Send me an email…” But the focus needs to be on local/regional.­

    This means he needs to update his site every 3-4 days…but that’s a labour of love to a music fanatic.

    Go, Mark.

  5. The web page: open with a video of the owner talking straight into the camera the way he would to a new customer coming in the door. That would put across the feel of the place better than graphics and text. First impressions are crucial.

  6. A well taken care of piece of vinyl on a decent sound system beats out the flat, tin can sound of a CD any day. Much more presence with vinyl.

  7. Vinyl records are not “scratchy” unless they have been mistreated. Keeping vinyl records clean and in their sleeves will ensure that they have excellent sound. Nearly every article about vinyl mentions that they are scratchy, but memories of poor quality turntables and abused records have nothing to do with the sound one gets from better equipment and good record maintenance.

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