By Chris Rotolo
RED BANK – To stay in business these days retailers have to provide an experience the internet can’t compete with, says Walt Flanagan, the manager of Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash on Broad Street, who also stars in American Movie Classics’ (AMC) “Comic Book Men.”
That means understanding their most loyal customers, catering to their passions and establishing their shops as destinations. For three Red Bank merchants who run shops that attract motivated collectors, the holiday season is a critical time to make a profit.
“We aren’t able to compete with online pricing, it’s just a fact. So we have to provide our customers things they can’t experience on Amazon,” Flanagan said, surrounded by movie memorabilia and comic book paraphernalia. “We have to carry the rare and oddball titles for our clientele. And we have to be knowledgeable about those products.”
Just around the corner at Monmouth Stamp & Coin Shop at 39 Monmouth St., Jim Barnett is seated inside a doublewide storefront behind a showcase flush with rare, vintage and valued coins, stamps and trading cards. Some are older than shop itself, which has been on site since 1950.
Barnett contemplated the impact of internet giants like Amazon and the buying habits of a millennial generation that prioritizes a decluttered and downsized lifestyle on brick and mortar retailers.
“Most millennials just aren’t hobbyists,” Barnett said. “They want to see the world and that’s great. But what are you going to leave your kids? What are your children learning if there’s nothing to honor and to hold dear as a family heirloom?”
Despite the obstacles, Barnett said he is encouraged by the patterns and processes of his regular store patrons and believes a hands-on hobbyist experience is one that will ultimately help his shop, and others like it, endure.
“The true collector is one that wants to touch it, they want to see it with their own eyes, they want to inspect it with their own tools, and they want to make sure that they are getting their money’s worth,” Barnett added.
While Barnett said he’s seen business maintain at a steady level over the years since the internet shopping boom, Jack’s Music Shoppe manager Tim Cronin said the 30 Broad St. music emporium has seen millennial tendencies cause an uptick in business over the past five years.
Psychology and consumer research and marketing studies have suggested that millennials have an intense fixation on the past, and that sensation of nostalgia can dictate spending habits. Longing for simpler times and with technology at their fingertips to call up those moments from yesteryear, millennials have an ability to connect with history like no previous generation before them, and Cronin said Jack’s, and the vinyl record industry as a whole, has benefitted from the bond.
“Sales will never get back to where they were prior to the advent of the internet, but it’s been a steady increase in vinyl sales over the last decade and it’s because the millennial collector, and collectors as a whole, have a growing appreciation for the history.” Cronin said.
According to the global information, data and measurement company Nielsen, since 2007 there’s been approximately a 1,000 percent increase in vinyl record sales, from nearly 1 million units sold to 14.3 million units.
Though purchases of MP3 downloads and streaming services like Spotify still command the lion’s share of total music consumption, the revival of this hundred-year-old medium is still an interesting trend in a digital age.
Cronin credits the collector’s ritualistic experience, describing how most collectors “come in, and dig through the racks and the crates in search of a piece of music history. They take it out of the sleeve. They inspect it. And they might take it home if it’s up to standards.”
“True collectors can’t get that on the internet. It’s all about the experience.”
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