Running a record store isn’t like a proper job. So says Allan Parkins, owner of Kellys Records. Since taking over the business from his aunt and uncle 20 years ago, Allan enjoys a steady pace of life. He works regular hours, takes several holidays a year and spends most Saturday afternoons at Ninian Park stadium, supporting his favourite team. “I’ve been very lucky in my life. I don’t have to work, there’s no pressure but I love it. It’s like a drug. I can’t wait to get out of the house in the mornings.”
But it hasn’t always been this way. In a former life Allan, 62, was the assistant managing director of the largest independent oil company in Britain at the time, Curran Oil. “I had such a stressful pre-Kellys life; working in the oil industry was a 24 hour a day job. This was the 70s, the 80s; it was Yuppie and all about work and money, money, money. I used to have to fly all over the world, some days I would work 36 hours non-stop.”
After selling the business to Chevron in 1990, Allan undertook brief stints working firstly as a sports agent and then in management consultancy. It was his aunt and uncle’s decision to sell Kellys Records in 1991 that prompted Allan to dramatically switch career paths. “My aunty and uncle came to me for advice, they were thinking of retiring, they’d had an offer on the business and asked what I thought. I looked at it and thought, ‘This is rubbish’. At that time I was working as a management consultant, I was back and forth on the train to London every day and I was thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Then I thought ‘I could buy the shop’.”
Yet Allan’s aunt and uncle were not immediately convinced that he had the musical knowledge required to run the store. Before handing over the keys they decided to test his mettle as an indie store owner first. “They made me literally come into the shop for three months and work for nothing, just so they could be confident that if I took over the business I would be successful.”
“So I went from having about 30 Armani suits in the wardrobe, being this boss all suited and booted, to coming into work like Bruce Springsteen,” Allan says, dressed in flannel shirt and blue jeans.
A business brain
His formative working life, coupled with a degree in Business Studies, has endowed Allan with a strong business brain. After taking ownership of the store he was keen to expand the business, tucked away up on the balcony of Cardiff Central Market. Kellys Records now holds around 100,000 pieces of vinyl, more than every other record shop in Wales combined and sells a catalogue of around 60,000 items through different websites to customers the world over.
He attributes the success of Kellys Records to having a strong business strategy and says that it is running the store in an entrepreneurial spirit that has ensured it thrives when many other independent record stores have failed. “It’s all about aspirations and what you want to do with the shop. I’ve got four full-time staff here; we’ve got a proper business. Lots of independent record shops are musos who have seen a little niche in the market and have tried to turn a hobby into a business. There’s a difference between shops and businesses.”
Allan notes that the biggest challenge of running a music store is trying to keep abreast of the trends in a rapidly changing industry. When asked about the shifting shopping habits of music fans, Allan asserts the recent resurgence in the popularity of vinyl, particularly amongst younger music collectors. “There are lots of people who have never gone away from vinyl, will only buy vinyl and wouldn’t buy CDs or download.”
“Lots of the top bands now, people like the Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines, really happening bands, they release limited editions on vinyl. A lot of those kids who are into these bands will get a taste for vinyl and go back and buy more.”
Talk turns to recent reports predicting the death of the CD by the end of 2012, with labels abandoning the format with the exception of limited editions releases. This is a view that Allan feels holds much weight. “We’ve got three shops selling vinyl, CDs and DVDs but CDs and DVDs will just fall by the wayside, it’ll just be downloads,” Allan says, matter-of-factly.
Yet Allan is sure of a bright future for independent stores such as Kellys Records.
“Vinyl will always be here and always be collectable. I’m going to concentrate on my vinyl because I know that’s not going anywhere.”