Almighty Press

November 4, 2007
Two Young Entrepreneurs Unafraid of Risk of Going on Records

By Kyle Kennedy

LAKELAND | As risky ventures go, buying an independent record store at an uncertain time for the music industry would seem to rank high on the list of "don'ts."

Yet Robert Tucker and James Whelan did it anyway, purchasing Evolution Music Movies Games a year and a half ago as their first major entrepreneurial foray. Evidence suggests it was an incredibly bold move, given the punishing climate for CD sales that has shuttered giant chains like Tower Records and and wiped out thousands of "indies."

But even as buyers flock to the Internet, Tucker and Whelan say Evolution has a bright future in Lakeland. That's mainly because of the store's loyal customer following, and the increasingly rare experience it delivers for those who cherish independent record shops as holy sites of pop culture.

"There's an element of this business that defies logic," Tucker said. "We wouldn't have bought this if profit was our only motivation, so emotion has to be part of it."

Nestled inside a shopping center near the intersection of South Florida Avenue and Edgewood Drive, Evolution is easily identifiable from the slew of rock band posters covering its front windows. On a recent afternoon, Tucker and Whelan are taking turns at the register and mixing with customers while the Rocky Horror Picture Show plays silently on a row of wall-mounted TVs.

Incense burns near a speaker pumping reggae music by the renowned Peter Tosh.

"People just love going to a record store. They like going to a place that's not cookie-cutter like a thousand other chains," says Tucker, 33.

Evolution's short history dates to 2000, when it opened in downtown Lakeland before moving to its current spot about four years ago. Owner Beau Miller eventually sent out an e-mail to gauge interest in franchise opportunities, but sold the business outright when it caught Tucker's eye.

The Lakeland Realtor, whose family owns Tucker's Southside Package & Lounge, partnered with fellow Lakeland High School graduate and local musician Whelan and acquired the shop in 2006.

"We wanted to get into the music business one way or another," said Whelan, 32, who also had worked with Tucker in real estate.

But both knew they were facing unfavorable odds.

Downloadable music Web sites, legitimate and otherwise, had already carved a significant chunk out of the traditional CD sales once dominated by mega chains. Pressure also came from "big-box" retailers who could afford to sell music at a loss.

California-based Wherehouse Music blamed illegal downloads when it filed for bankruptcy in early 2003, and the parent company of Sam Goody did the same when it filed for bankruptcy in early 2006. Sacramento-based Tower Records finally closed its stores a year ago.

The independents fared even worse, with roughly 1,200 closing down nationwide since 2003, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a Los Angeles-based marketing and information company. The group says that just 2,600 independently-owned shops remain in the U.S.

"There's no way they can compete selling 'the hits,' because the mass merchants are selling below list price," said Joel Oberstein, Almighty's president. "But the way they can compete is to be a little more targeted in their selling and be niche-oriented."

Lakeland had its own cautionary tale in Woodpecker Records, opened in 1993 by Mulberry High School graduate Jeremy Brumley and sold in 2004 to an Alabama company that relocated the business.

"Before the Internet, small retailers drove the underground music scene. We would tell our customers, 'check this band out.' The store was basically their Google," said Brumley, 33, now the general manager of Bonefish Grill in Brandon. "But what happened with the Internet was as it emerged we could no longer give that vital information." But in the absence of Woodpecker and other alternatives, Evolution has managed to cultivate a strong following, Whelan says.

"If you give me two bands you listen to, I can turn you on to five others," he said. "I recognize most of my customers when they walk through the door. Half of them have my cell phone number."

Although Evolution is currently toughing out its slowest period yet, Tucker said the business has been profitable thanks to a diverse array of customers and a broad music selection that might feature major acts such as Kanye West and Bruce Springsteen alongside lesser-known talents like Ween and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

In addition, the 1,800-square-foot shop supplements its new and used music sales with DVDs and video games.

Tucker obviously believes in his audience. While continuing to grow Evolution, he also opened the vinyl-only Grinder Music in the Dixieland Mini-Mall last year.

If need be, Evolution will adjust its business model to stay viable, Tucker says, but he doesn't foresee that happening any time soon.

"Our customers appreciate that. They know we're here to stick it out," he said. "Being an independent, you're almost like a community asset."

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Article List

November 21, 2013 - New York Times - Records Are Dying? Not Here

March 27, 2013 - Glendale News-Press - It's a matter of record: Burbank's Atomic Records and Backside

December 30, 2012 - Detroit News - As one record shop closes, vinyl music plays on in another

April 20, 2012 - - New vinyl album releases give record stores a kick

November 20, 2011 - - In an iTunes age, do we need the record store?

June 9, 2011 - - Curmudgeon Records closes its doors for good

April 16, 2011 - Wall Street Journal - One-Day Record-Store Revival

February 1, 2011 - Charlottesville News & Arts - Plan 9 Changes Location

August 13, 2010 - The Tennesean - Anita Wadhwani: Nashville indie record stores' sales spin in right direction

January 3, 2010 - Delaware News Journal - Delaware music shops get creative to compete with downloads, chain music stores

September 24, 2009 - Los Angeles Times - L.A. independent record shop is still in a groove

August 20, 2009 - CNN Money - You can make money off online music

June 14, 2009 - New York Times - Retailing Era Closes With Music Megastore

May 13, 2009 - Medill Reports - Resurgence in vinyl helps record store in recession

April 26, 2009 - Los Angeles Times - In a digital age, vinyl albums are making a comeback

April 18, 2009 - Charlotte Observer - Record stores band together

April 17, 2009 - Detroit News - Record Store Day spins profits and good beats at Metro Detroit shops

April 17, 2009 - Associated Press - Record Store Day celebrates indie retailers

April 10, 2009 - Detroit News - Street Corner Music moving to Oak Park plaza

April 10, 2009 - Toledo Free Press - New record store shakes up Adams Street

January 8, 2009 - OC Register - Closing date for Virgin Megastore at The Block

October 28, 2008 - Reuters - AC/DC back in "Black" with global smash

September 23, 2008 - Chicago Daily Herald - Independent music stores haven't yet disappeared from suburbia

June 23, 2008 - New York Times - For Tom Petty Fans, the True Sound of Vinyl, Also Captured on a CD

April 19, 2008 - Lafayette Journal Courier - For some, record stores live on

April 19, 2008 - New Jersey Star Ledger - It's Record Store Day. Play it again, Sam!

April 18, 2008 - New York Times - Record Stores Fight to Be Long-Playing

April 18, 2008 - Dallas Morning News - Retailers hope Record Store Day turns up volume at mom-and-pop shops

April 16, 2008 - Timeout New York - Platter Up

December 27, 2007 - Los Angeles Times - Virgin Megastore to close shop

December 16, 2007 - New York Times - For a "Dinosaur," an Exuberant Second Life (Looney Tunes Reopens)

December 3, 2007 - Detroit Free Press - The same old song: Music store closing

November 7, 2007 - Washington Post - Eagles soar past Britney to top of charts

November 4, 2007 - The Ledger - Two Young Entrepreneurs Unafraid of Risk of Going on Records

August 20, 2007 - Billboard - Almighty Taps Hans As VP

June 29, 2007 - ABC News - Long Live the Record Store

June 28, 2007 - Orange County Weekly - Locals Only

June 13, 2007 - Reuters - McCartney's Starbucks album heats up U.S. charts

June 9, 2007 - Billboard - Commentary: Retail Recovery

May 9, 2007 - Columbia Free Times - High Fidelity

March 22, 2007 - NARM Awards - Almighty Retail Named NARM Related Supplier Finalist For Third Consecutive Year

March 16, 2007 - Chortler - Shout! Factory Has Revamped Its Website

March 9, 2007 - - Internet killed the record store?

March 4, 2007 - Sacramento Bee - New groove for Solomon

February 28, 2007 - USA Today - Exclusives aim to pull music fans into stores

February 28, 2007 - New York Newsday - Latin record shops thrive despite changes in music business

February 23, 2007 - Montpelier Bridge - Buch Spieler Sails On Despite a Music Industry Decline

November 20, 2006 - Austin 360 - In Austin, Niche Indies Rule

October 20, 2006 - Sacramento Bee - Tower brand could survive

October 15, 2006 - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - Tables have turned on record stores

October 14, 2006 - Sacramento Bee - Small labels lose valuable ally in Tower

October 6, 2006 - Desert Sun - Record Alley remodels

September 27, 2006 - Music & Copyright - Niche Marketing of CD albums continues to rise in the US and Physical Sales overall decline

September 22, 2006 - - Indie stores confront a new era

September 19, 2006 - New York Newsday - 34 years, and that's not all, folks

August 18, 2006 - The Roanoke Times - Plan 9 Music puts new spin on 5 Record Exchange stores

August 3, 2006 - The Hollywood Reporter - Nervous music retailers face hazy digital future

July 16, 2006 - New York Times - The Graying of the Record Store

July 13, 2006 - Rolling Stone - The iTunes Holdouts

July 11, 2006 - Roanoke Times - Record store's "last dance"

July 5, 2006 - Port Townsend and Jefferson County Leader - Quimper Sound moves, expands to change with times

June 6, 2006 - Billboard - NARM Nominations Announced

May 10, 2006 - Detroit MetroTimes - Out of the Groove

March 18, 2006 - Billboard - Indies in a bind

January 16, 2006 - Los Angeles Business Journal - Slipped Discs

January 6, 2006 - Los Angeles Times - Indie record stores doing slow fade out

December 26, 2005 - Los Angeles Times - The Music Stops for Indie Shop

December 1, 2005 - Rolling Stone - Fall Sales Dry Up

October 13, 2005 - Desert Sun - Music snobs rejoice: Independent record stores still thrive in desert

September 12, 2005 - Salt Lake Tribune - Twilight for Starbound Records

August 18, 2005 - New York Post - Oldies are now singing a new tune - Music stores go digital

July 2005 - Rolling Stone - Record Biz Still Sinking

June 18, 2005 - Billboard - NARM Noms Announced

March 21, 2005 - CMJ - Hart of the Matter

February 16, 2005 - MSN - Genius Loves Company

October 12, 2004 - Rolling Stone - Wal-Mart wants $10 CDs

July 10, 2004 - Billboard - Almighty Institute To The Rescue

January 14, 2004 - Creative Loafing Charlotte - Manifest Destiny

December 29, 2003 - New York Times - on the rise of mass marketers

November 13, 2003 - Rolling Stone - Best Buy snags rights to band's new DVD

October 9, 2003 - USA Today - Best Buy wins sales rights to Rolling Stones DVD box set

October 6, 2003 - Reuters - Stones Paint It Black For Retailers

May 31, 2003 - Billboard - Retail Track

May 9, 2003 - Hits - Rerap

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