For our latest member spotlight, we caught up with Jon Tolley, owner of Banquet Records on Eden Street. With Covid-19 causing the shop to close it’s doors and forcing the cancellation of a long list of live music events, Jon fills us in on how they’ve adapted through this time. Jon’s piece was written before the Prime Minster’s lockdown exit roadmap announcement.
“It’s almost a year since we last opened our doors to the public. But this isn’t a plea for sympathy, it’s a note on resilience and adaptability, with hopefully a return to a more pleasant future soon.
Banquet broadly divides it’s trade into what was three equal parts. Namely, the physical record shop, the online sales and the live events we put on in various venues around Kingston. Covid has severely inhibited our ability to have a normal shop and to do live events, but it has been a pressure cooker on the website.
We closed our doors long before we were told we had to, and haven’t yet re-opened. Yes we could have done, but the whole charm and joy of being in a record shop is losing yourself in that little shop. It’s browsing and it’s social interaction. If we can’t do that effectively we don’t want to run a sanitised version of Banquet meets Argos. So we’re not trying to. Instead we’ve focussed on our website and specifically on information flows from that to staff, quite a few of which are working remotely. This better information flow has allowed us to order better and spot trends quicker, and has created significant cost savings in how we do what we do.
As well as shipping across the country, we have a click and collect option in full swing which allows local people to book appointments in advance to collect on the shop step, and have invested significantly on other parts of the website meaning that 2020 was actually our busiest year to date. Despite everything. We haven’t let any staff go. But some of our staff have been forced to change roles, most particularly those who worked at our events; our sound engineer is now working in mail order.
Indeed it’s the live events we probably miss the most. Banquet and Kingston punches above their weight in terms of the bands who pass through. And while we’ve been announcing gigs from Idles to Gary Barlow, there’s still no certainty of when most of these gigs will actually happen. In October and December we did manage to put on some socially distanced shows, and we expect a return to them shortly after Easter.
Until then, we keep doing what we always did, just with the addition of TikTok. In these times music is probably more important than ever, and even if you can’t share experiences with your friends how we used to, you can still have that unique experience of getting lost in an album. And we’re more than happy to facilitate that.”
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