In 1988, Ron Roloff started the first all-CD record store in Madison, Wis. By the turn of the century, he brought back vinyl in a big way
What was your first job?
Ron Roloff: My first time contributing to the tax base was while doing God’s work for the Colonel, boxing that extra-crispy chicken for the hungry in Rockford, Ill.
What was the first record you ever bought?
RR: The White Album, enough said!
What’s the rarest record you’ve ever had in your store?
RR: An original Saturn pressing of Sun Ra, one of 75 in existence.
When did the idea of owning your own record store first occur to you?
RR: It was the spring of 1988, and I had recently moved to Madison, Wis., after graduating from Northern Illinois University to work for a biomedical research firm. I had just left Record Town USA in the West Towne Mall when I realized the idea of starting an independent record store on the booming west side might be a fine idea.
Five months later I was behind the counter using a cash register for the first time in my life. When the register ran out of tape, I had to call my only employee to get that alarm to stop, as I didn’t know what was happening. What a rookie I was.
What is the history of your store?
RR: Strictly Discs was launched specifically to satisfy the market created by the new medium of compact discs. After moving from the West Side to Madison’s oldest shopping district, we have found a great home in a historic building with original tin ceilings and hardwood floors. Our goal has always been to provide an easily navigable store with a clean design aesthetic and deep coverage in many arenas.
We launched www.strictlydiscs.com in December of 2006 and www.instockvinyl.com in 2008.
What do you specialize in?
RR: We are an all-purpose store dealing with both new and used CDs/LPs. My staff and I are wholly responsible for determining inventory.
We’ll always stock the of-moment records, but we’ve made our bones on the music we feel most passionately towards. In addition, our special-order service allows us to satisfy customers searching for out-of-stock items in the span of 24 to 48 hours without any extra fees. Our Web site, strictlydiscs.com, is an extension of our on-demand ethos. Our speedy ability to turn around special-order items virtually grants us an unlimited inventory for in-print CDs & LPs.
Has the neighborhood where your store is located changed?
RR: Situated between two college campuses, our shopping district has remained fairly static, full of locally owned businesses and surrounded by historic homes and young families. The neighborhood has proven very supportive of the “buy local” concept. And while there is constant student population turnover, we continue to get a huge amount of university traffic. Many of these students remain customers after graduation.
Have you noticed a resurgence in vinyl record sales?
RR: Very much so! While our CD sales are still brisk, the big volume buyers tend to be vinyl customers. We jumped into dealing wax before the turn of the century and since have increased our vinyl inventory from around 400 titles to 40,000 plus.
What changes has the store gone through over the years?
RR: Since the store is only 585 square feet above ground, we recently completed a full renovation of our 1,700-square-foot basement. This is currently housing our expanded Web site offices, as well as 40,000 LPs and 8,000 to 10,000 CDs for our customers to comb through.
Who are some of your favorite customers from over the years and why?
RR: This is such a great question. When the door to your business is open to the general public, what can come through the doors usually does. Our staff has relished these people for 22 years.
An old friend once remarked that Strictly Discs was like the movie “Smoke.” It’s a turnstile of characters from open to close, and these people get woven into your life in ways that would otherwise never occur. It has nothing to do with what they buy or how frequently we see them; it just boils down to why they are who they are.
Ever had anybody famous come in and shop at your store?
RR: We’ve become a stop for many touring groups swinging through the area. Jello Biafra bought a polka record here. Bob Dylan walked by the store. That should count for something, ah?
What is the future of record stores like yours?
RR: The number of brick-and-mortar stores will most likely continue to shrink; however, a customer base should remain that feeds off a tangible connection to music. Downloads are admittedly a great convenience for grabbing one hot song, but independent record stores are dependent on people who get a thrill discovering music and thus leave our shop with great albums that weren’t on their radar when they stepped in.
What’s the best part about being the owner of a record store and what’s the worst?
RR: The buck stops with me. The buck stops with me.
What advice would you have for people who want to own a record store?
RR: Simply being a music fan won’t cut it. It’s a business just like any other business, so maintaining very detailed and accurate records, while keeping an eye on every need your customer may have, is imperative. We are very cognizant that we sell wants and not needs.
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