Phil Castle, The Business Times
Rock Cesario remembers well the predictions he’s heard over the years. Changing music technology would relegate vinyl albums to a dustbin of history already piled high with buggy whips. As it turned out, though, rumors of the death of records were always greatly exaggerated.
Even in an age of iPhones and iTunes, digital downloads and subscription services, records remain a popular way in which to listen to music. And despite a series of dramatic changes in the music industry, record stores like the one Cesario operates in downtown Grand Junction, remain viable business enterprises.
On May 10, in fact, Triple Play records will mark 25 years in operation, a milestone Cesario plans to celebrate with his customers.
A well-stocked inventory of used — and, increasingly, new — vinyl records that numbers more than 30,000 attracts customers to Triple Play Records, Cesario says. But so does the diversity of other merchandise sold there, everything from
tapestries to t-shirts to turntables.
The biggest draw of all, though, and the most important factor to which Cesario attributes the longevity of his operation remains customer service. “We focus on our customers who make the effort to come down here.”
And if the store doesn’t stock what a customer wants, no stone — or website — goes unturned in the effort to quickly obtain it, he says. “We don’t give up until we find it.”
There’s also some salesmanship involved, of course, Cesario says. “You find them what they need, and then you find them what they didn’t know they needed.”
Playing music in the store sometimes helps in making an additional sale, he adds. “If they hear something they like, there’s no talking them out of it.”
Cesario opened Triple Play Records in 1988 after working for several other record stores in the Grand Valley.
Typical of many startups, the venture was poorly capitalized at first and suffered from insufficient inventory, he recalls. The first three years were among the most precarious. “I don’t know how we made it.”
But the store did make it, and in 1991 relocated to another spot along Main Street before settling again at its present location at 530 Main St. in 2006. “I think this is our best location,” Cesario says.
Cesario says he was aware from the beginning of the warning that vinyl records would go away — replaced by compact discs and, more recently, digital downloads.
Contrary to popular belief, Cesario says he also remained confident vinyl records wouldn’t go away because of the sound they offer and the size and artwork of the packaging in which they come.
“They’re more tangible. They’re more visible,” he says. “You can love a record, but you can’t love a CD.”
The ongoing popularity of some performers and the albums they created keep vinyl records in demand, he says.
The Beatles remain among the most popular performers of all, he says. But the lengthy list of all-time best-sellers also includes the Allman Brothers, Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Tom Petty, Neil Young and Led Zeppelin.
“It’s the kind of music that endures,” Cesario says.
Cesario says customers come in every Christmas looking for Beatles records for their children — some of them teen-agers, but some even younger — as yet another generation discovers the Fab Four.
Given the ongoing demand for albums produced decades ago, record labels have started reissuing those albums as well as putting new artists on new vinyl. Some new albums include vinyl records and a compact disc or offer codes to download the music online, Cesario says. “To me, it’s a pretty good idea.”
According to numbers from the Record Industry Association of America, 7.1 million vinyl albums were sold in 2012, a more than five-fold increase over the 1.3 million albums sold in 2007. Moreover, 2012 constituted the largest year-over-year increase in vinyl sales revenues since 1973.
While “stacks of wax” remain a big draw at Triple Play, Cesario says the diversity of other merchandise sold there has helped to keep the store in operation over the years while national competitors failed because their operations weren’t as flexible. “We’re always trying to improve what we do. We get rid of things that don’t sell and get more things that do sell.”
Cesario says his 23-year-old son, Matthew, joined the operation two years ago as general manager and has helped to tap into the interests of a younger demographic. Clothing, tapestries and water bottles have been among the best-sellers.
As for the next 25 years at Triple Play Records, Rock Cesario says the future appears bright from his perspective. But like any other venture, continued success depends on good management. “It all depends on the guy behind the counter.”
Having a passion for the business helps, he says. “If you can find your passion and turn it into work, it’s not a job.”
Cesario’s other advice for wouldbe entrepreneurs? Hire a good bookkeeper and carefully monitor expenses. “The smallest leak can sink the biggest ship.”
Matthew Cesario says he isn’t yet certain if he’ll continue working at Triple Play Records or return to college.
But he’s more certain of the things he’s learned from his father over the years, including an appreciation for all kinds of music and especially an appreciation for customers. “The No. 1 thing is customer service and taking care of customers,” he says.