With the recent demise of HMV shops across the UK, and the perhaps more poignant loss of Aberdeen’s One-Up, it would be quite possible to miss one bit of good news among the doom and gloom of the recession and the general deterioration of physical music sales and the shops that rely on them.
Edinburgh’s Avalanche Records, which had announced that it was likely to close, has gained – or awarded itself – a reprieve, and is now operating as it was late last year, business as usual. Or as usual as it can in the current climate.

Following a successful instore gig (see the video below), owner Kevin Buckle was good enough to answer our questions on the closure / reopening, and outline the way ahead…

You said in your blog that the shop planned to close, though kind of kept it vague, so the resurrection, while welcome, is maybe not a complete turnaround. Did you ever in your heart of hearts feel that it was the end, or were you just kind of taking stock and maybe even fishing to see what the public view was?

“Everything was exactly as I stated in the blog. Looking at other opportunities and needing time off to do that, etc. There was enough there to be confident there was a way forward but I wasn’t sure how it would pan out. I certainly wasn’t sure if the shop could reopen on anything except a part time basis as even if things went well that could have been the result.

“Any shop says it is closing, folk will say it shouldn’t, so there was no element of “fishing” for opinions – though I was genuinely surprised by the media attention and then the amount of support shown by customers. I didn’t feel I’d “kept it vague”. I’d said very clearly that ideally we would reopen in time for the Frightened Rabbit album.

“One thing that people understandably got wrong was our online intentions. Our new website unexpectedly arrived on time just as we closed but that was not the original focus. I’d had several offers in the last year to set up a website promoting Scottish music under the Avalanche banner but in the summer had been approached by a large US based firm specialising in online marketplaces. They had a client who had identified Avalanche as one of the UK’s top 20 niche entertainment brands and wanted help in setting up a marketplace to rival Amazon.

“I was asked to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) but refused. Eventually they admitted their client was HMV who wanted me to be part of the new marketplace. I could do whatever I wanted, they would pay all the costs but they were particularly interested in my “niche” of promoting Scottish music. Having already been mucked about by one major corporation and knowing HMV’s woeful financial state I said I would wait for the launch and then consider joining.

“Meanwhile I’d had a phone call from Play.com saying they were going to be taking a “back seat” after Christmas with their own sales and again asking if I would join as a seller and they would give me my own page to promote Scottish music or whatever I wished. Again I said I would consider it at a later date. Of course when I said I was considering my online options only a very few people I had consulted knew what I meant.

“Add this to the worldwide opportunities I’d been offered for promoting my best selling albums in the world’s best record shops (recently featured on The Culture Cafe on Radio Scotland) and you can see there really was a lot to consider. As things have turned out our own website has been met with great critical acclaim and been an huge success showing I suppose that the idea was indeed a good one. You only have to look at the pages for bands like Olympic Swimmers and Randolp’s Leap and the “people who bought this also bought” to see the cross selling that occurs compared to a one hit bandcamp sale.”

Inevitably people chipped in – there was a lot of commentary, and suggestions, and some criticism (a few people said online that the shop could do with a tidy and reorganisation). Did you take the suggestions and use them positively or did they even change your own preliminary plans for the direction the shop might take?

“The shop has been a work in progress for the last two years and a lot of people like that and the fact we are constantly looking to move forward. It could always be tidier but for instance the overwhelming opinion with the posters was that folk enjoyed rummaging through them and folders would “spoil things”.

A lot of things that would have gone in our A to Z section now go in our £3.99 (3 for £10) of £5.99 (3 for £15) sections instead. People do complain that they preferred it when all the Neil Young CDs were in a Neil Young section and I agree with them completely. However CDs had stopped seling from their sections and sold very well when people stumbled across them in our priced racks so irritating as I find it to not know exactly where the second hand Tom Waits CDs are that just came in I can at least say what rack they can be found in.”

Was the idea of gigs always likely to take shape?

“The gig idea was always on the agenda. Again it was customers who suggested we should make the in-stores more of a gig and charge to see them. I knew the bands would be supportive but they have been exceptionally so.”

Has the demise of HMV (and One Up) actually influenced your decision and plans, and in a negative or positive way?

“The demise or not of HMV and more importantly the future of FOPP is massively important to Avalanche’s future. Since before we moved both HMV and FOPP have been propped up by the record companies, labels and banks with terms we could only dream about. That has all come out now they are finally in administration. High street shops have needed lower dealer prices and longer to pay to allow for the length of time sales take for probably the last four years, and I have said this to not just the majors but more importantly the independent distributors for the last four years. Now, of course, there is talk of terms way more generous than that being given to HMV with no similar guarantees of support for the remaining indies. I don’t mind competing with the “big boys” but they haven’t been operating in a businesslike way for over two years.

“One Up closing is just very, very sad and again if HMV had been left to market forces they would be closed by now and One Up would be thriving.”

You can keep up-to-date with the continuing Avalanche story at www.avalancherecords.co.uk

(Picture by Gordon Terris of The Herald)