Snap, crackle, and pop goes Beano's

ELO Out of the Blue

ELO Out of the Blue

Earlier this year, the 7 inch vinyl record celebrated its 60th year; happy birthday. However, I for one never liked them. I found them to be... inconvenient, fiddly, delicate things and even as a young kid thought there had to be a better way. I’m not sure which was worse, singles which by their nature had to be swapped for another one after 3 minutes of play, or albums which always had to be turned over in the middle of the best bit, Dark Side of the Moon being a classic example with the irritating interruptus splitting the best rock playlist of Time, The Great Gig in the Sky, (turnover), Money and Us & Them. 

And then there was all the background noise - the pops and crackles which just don’t feature in live music and which I find to be a total distraction... and stuck needles and fluff... and having to clean the disks and they’d warp...

Only tapes were worse. Despite, albeit with a fiddle and faff, being able to create “playlists” from a selection of records, and the play-time was longer than the disk, tapes would inevitably get chewed up in the delicate mechanism, and of course being a serial medium, trying to find a particular song was damned difficult...

The ONLY saving grace of albums was the artwork. Occasionally, such as with Pink Floyd, you’d get posters and other gubbins thrown in; but even without these extra goodies, the artwork was pretty stunning - or could be anyway. Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy was always a favourite, as was the Hipgnosis work on many a Floyd album, and I used to love ELO’s Out of the Blue for this reason as well. It was also the first album my brother bought me.

Anyway when CDs came out, I binned all my vinyl and replaced the lot with the new silver discs and proclaimed the next advance would be solid state music. Which we now have, of course. I am that marketing guru. 

Actually, I say I binned my vinyl collection - truth be told I took the lot to Beanos in Croydon and sold them as a job lot for tuppence ha’penny, or whatever the decimal equivalent might be, including a candle-wax covered edition of Pink Floyd’s Animals album which I’d previously bought from this emporium.

I learned from a chum that Beano’s had become spectacularly successful, indeed it was in its heyday the world’s largest second hand record dealer. I also learned, with much sadness, that the store is to close; it just can’t compete anymore, despite the recently reported surge in sales of vinyl.

Here’s the announcement from David Lashmar, chief Beano, which he sent me recently and has said I can reproduce here:

BEANOS FINALLY TO CLOSE - a message from David, the owner.

A severe and, I believe, permanent downturn in music retail has forced me to realise that I can no longer continue to finance this business as I have done for the last two years.  Since, in fact, when we announced that we would have to close back in 2006.

Regular subscribers to our 'beamails' will know that we have had several exclusive special offers. Our last beamail explained that we were still experiencing desperately poor trade and that we were extending our 'Half Price Sale' to the general public during September.

Unfortunately this did not provide the boost in sales that we expected and I have had to take the decision to wind down BEANOS.  After well over thirty years this is very difficult for me.

However, I will now have the time to devote myself totally to the design and launch of 'MARKET PLACE' our exciting way to revitalise this fine building.  (more of this later!).

Don't get me wrong, I still have an absolute passion for all things musical and records in particular and I have always been ready to rise to the challenges of retail but, things just don't feel right anymore and I doubt they ever will again.

Let's see what has happened to BEANOS over the years.  

The mere youngsters among you may need to know a little about our history (many of you will remember, as you were there!).  BEANOS started in 1975 in Bell Hill  (just around the corner from our current store) born out of a dream by a record fan who wanted to take his profitable hobby of selling records on a stall to a higher level.  Within a few years the shop became too small and larger premises were found in the adjacent Surrey Street Market where a former grocer's store was transformed into a musical heaven that had collectors visiting from all over the world.  Again, we ran out of space and we made the brave move to the beautiful former printing works in historic Middle Street (only ten paces from our Bell Hill shop!).  This was a massive site for a second-hand record shop but we managed to fill it all too soon. Gradually, over the years we expanded this to incorporate the two adjoining shops (a café and an office)

Only ten years ago we were the leading second-hand record dealer in the world.  Our three floors were absolutely crammed with every type of record you could imagine in every speed and size, CDs by the thousand, Videos (there's another fast disappeared format) and Memorabilia.  This was the time when you were a 'collector' and you really had to search hard to find that elusive item and were damned glad to get it when you did.  We had 24 dedicated staff who really knew their stuff and the whole place buzzed.

Then along came eBay.

Then along came Amazon.

Then along came 'downloading'.

Then along came the time when it was no longer necessary to actually possess anything musical. Nothing tangible like an LP cover or even a CD insert with some possibly interesting information. Nothing to file.  Nothing to show off to friends.  No, now your life can be on an iPod or a phone. Your music your photos, your contacts.  "Imagine no possessions" as John Winston Lennon once said.

Of course, we tried to embrace the new trend and at one time had ten enthusiastic typists working at our Sun House warehouse entering data as we started to sell 'on line' but, in the end, the administration sapped the profits and we had to admit defeat in this field.  (In fact, most professional dealers who spent their time selling on line have also given up).

By this time, eBay had made a 'dealer' out of every enthusiastic collector and it was no longer necessary to go to a Record Shop to sell, they simply put it on eBay themselves.  This was another nail in our coffin as we were rarely offered anything remotely interesting to resell so the quality of our stock diminished.

Oh yes, Amazon.  Well, we all use them don't we?  At least I do!  They are truly superb and have such a vast selection of second-hand CDs and DVDs that no shop could ever hope to compete unless they chose to add all their stock to the Amazon database and, if they did, they would be a shop no longer.  Roll on Amazon, I say.  You are the new god of on-line retail therapy: search it: want it: click it: get it.  Suits me but, it sounds the death knell for many a small business, mine included.

Which brings me to the all pervading, ethereal, intangibility of downloading music. What a fantastic opportunity for the record companies to continue without ever having to actually make anything (except for huge profits).  No factories, no reps out on the road, no faulty returned product and no warehouses full of unsold stuff.  So, why have they all messed it up so badly? Greed.  They tried to charge too much for their legitimate downloads and the punters simply would not cough up.  So, the iPod world searched and loaded from the 'unauthorised' sites and embraced file sharing.  How the devil were we ever going to persuade people that it was a really good idea to come into BEANOS and buy an album when they could get it for nothing?

Five years ago  the signs were there for me to read but I chose to ignore them thinking there would always be a place for Beanos.  Two years ago my accountants pointed out to me that we were losing a lot of money every month and, if the shop continued as it was, I would soon be bankrupt.  That was back in August 2006 and I accepted the inevitable and started a Closing Down Sale.  As many of you will remember, the reaction to this news was fantastic with hundreds of emails and letters giving us great support, so much so, that I decided to close just the top two floors and continue to trade on the ground floor.  This worked fairly well and freed me to pursue my idea of building an indoor market on the first and second floors.

The grand scheme, at the time, was to use the pull of Beanos to draw people in to the shop and thus provide plenty of trade for the tenants of Market Place.  I started the build of the stall units on the top two floors hoping to have these ready to let this year and, although they are now finished (and look great) I have had to put this scheme on hold for a little while for two reasons.

Firstly, I could not, in all conscience, bring tenants in and promise them a good trade when I know damn well that this will be the worst pre and post Christmas we have ever seen and, secondly, as Beanos continues to struggle it would not provide the attraction that I had hoped.  Now, having made the reluctant decision to close Beanos, I can convert the ground floor as well into more units for Market Place and devotee myself totally to this new venture.

So, although Beanos as a record dealer will disappear fairly soon, its spirit will live on in Market Place as this will be run with the same flair and incorporate a lot of the design ideas that made us so famous.  It is also going to be run on innovative principles which will guarantee somewhere really special.  It will be busy, colourful, exciting and safe.  It will not be anything like the tatty indoor markets that seem to spring up everywhere.  I have spent a long time looking at other indoor markets and I know exactly what to avoid.  I will be sending a further beamail fairly soon giving more details of how this will be structured and, believe me, this will be a fantastic project and will re-vitalise this area of town.  I did it with Beanos and I will do it again!

But, I am sure you must realise how much I am going to miss the shop.  It has been my life since it first opened in 1975.  It has given me great rewards and been a major part in the musical lives of thousands of our loyal customers, many of whom I know personally and will miss greatly. However, I hope that you will continue to support my new scheme and help to make Market Place as great a success as Beanos was.

We will still have our doors open well into 2009 as we sell off all that we have left and I will continue to email you with news as we convert the ground floor into something very exciting, in fact, you will see what we are building when you come in and, if you want to have a look at what we have done with the top two floors, just ask to have a preview.

This is both a sad time and an exciting time for me.  Although I might be of a retiring age I am not of a retiring nature so, please take note, David Lashmar has not left the building! 

And here’s what he has to say about the wax-covered album I sold back to them all those years ago:

“Yes, we are still trying to sell that album.  I have a sticker on it that says "the candle wax on this was dripped by Sid Barrrett on a bad acid day””

With a sense of humour like that, I think David and the new Beanos will rise phoenix-like and succeed again.