Shop Local: Owner of Upminster record shop relies on decades of experience to weather coronavirus storm
PUBLISHED: 12:00 30 October 2020
Gary Dennis probably thought he’d seen it all during his 30-plus years as owner of Upminster’s Crazy Beat Records.
But no retailer, however vast their experience, has seen anything like coronavirus before.
With the pandemic further threatening an already-fragile high street, The Recorder caught up with Gary as part of our Shop Local campaign to learn more about how he has handled the crisis.
Though the situation has been, and remains, dire, the 62-year-old spoke about the crisis with a comforting degree of calm.
“Within reason, as long as my health keeps up, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to ride ourselves through most things. That’s my plan. I expect to see a revenue drop at some point of about a third. I’m not sure when, but that’s what I’ve budgeted for.”
That’s not to say that things have been easy. Anything but. The cautious optimism expressed by Gary only comes as a result of the hard work put in by him and his partner Hillary Lyons, who both worked “every day for three months” over lockdown. It’s at this point that Hillary — who was previously roving between the staffroom and the counter — chimed in by waving a chunky number of invoices: “These are the orders for three days. Thankfully our website sales have remained strong.” And there’s the salvation: the internet. Gary and Hillary were able to continue working whilst the shop was closed to the public because online sales didn’t disappear.
“In those three months, the phone barely rang, but we were very busy,” said Gary. Although online selling is “far more labour intensive” and carries many added costs, it is hugely valuable. “The money I get from running the website properly allows me to keep my staff in work, to have a standard of living and to put money aside for harder times.”
It has also proved something of a personal saviour for the couple in recent months. As Hillary put it: “I hate the idea of being sat indoors with nothing to do.” Gary added: “To be honest with you, even if I didn’t make a penny over lockdown, I’d rather have been here than on furlough.”
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Such boundless energy is perhaps not what people would expect from someone in their sixties.
When asked about his vitality, the evergreen owner — with a twinkle — remarked: “Age doesn’t matter. It’s also about how you act and how you perceive yourself.”
It’s this sense of positivity that has seen Gary through a lockdown period spent working tirelessly in the shop alongside Hillary. The remainder of the shop’s six staff were furloughed, though Gary ensured nobody went short by topping up all wages to 100%, something which would’ve been impossible had the couple not kept things afloat during lockdown. Thankfully, the return of staff coincided with the business “reverting back to around 95% of what it was”. As previously alluded to, Gary has budgeted for another drop in revenue, whenever it may come. But for now, customers are “coming into the shop as normal again”.
As much as this is financially positive, both Gary and Hillary seem more grateful for the return of some degree of normality. After all, in Gary’s 30-plus years at Crazy Beat Records, he has never faced a situation where people couldn’t just walk into his shop.
It was a strange situation for the entrepreneur, who has been a mainstay of the Upminster High Street for decades. Involved with the business years before buying it, Gary started out by selling records while the shop was under previous ownership. “I’d been into records as a kid, and love soul, jazz, funk and reggae. I went out and started DJing and became reasonably successful — it just went from there.”
He managed his two loves for a few years before the shop became his main focus around 1996.
“In my thirties, there was a chance to extend the DJing. But the business was so busy that it became my main priority.”
There is no sense that he regrets that decision; he knows what an asset the record shop has been to the area over the years.
What he also knows is that Crazy Beat Records will continue to be a local landmark as long as people want it that way.
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