Rennard: Missing Link ‘Not Closing’
In light of this week’s news that Missing Link is on the market, DARREN LEVIN speaks to its long-time owner Nigel Rennard about the iconic record store’s future.
“We’re not closing,” said a defiant Nigel Rennard from Missing Link when M+N contacted him to explain why he’s put his record store up for sale after 30 years. “The only reason why I would contemplate doing this after such a long time,” he continued, “is because you’ve got to move on in life sometimes.”
In 1981, Rennard – along with his sister Diane – took over the Melbourne independent record store from co-founders David Pepperell and Keith Glass. Pepperell and Glass opened the CBD institution as Archie and Jughead’s in 1971, but changed its name in the late 1970s to reflect the contemporary punk and new-wave scene it was gradually becoming part of (the new name was inspired by ’60s Australian garage group, The Missing Links).
Thirty years on, Missing Link still stands as an icon of Melbourne’s independent music scene, despite its peers (from Gaslight to Dragonfly) succumbing to a global downturn in record sales. It’s why this week's news that it was on the market, sent shockwaves through Melbourne’s music community. In light of this, M+N contacted Rennard to discuss Missing Link’s future and the state of the industry.
What prompted the sale?
Thirty years is a long time in anything. I’ve got other business interests and I’m also looking to make some lifestyle changes over the next 10 years of my life. They’re the main reasons I wanted to free myself up from a business operation, so to speak.
It must’ve been quite an emotional decision given it’s been 30 years?
To tell you the truth, I’ve thought about it for quite some time. I own the shop with my sister – I’m 55 and she’s 53, so we’re in that middle stage of our life. She’s gone on to become a dietician and my wife and I spend a bit of time in Thailand. To enjoy that life you can’t be coming into work three days a week.
Just to confirm: you’re looking to sell, not close?
Obviously, we’d much prefer to pass it on to people who have likeminded desires to what we’ve created over the past 30 years. Obviously people with a strong Australian and overseas independent feel, hopefully to carry on what we’ve been trying to carry on for this period of time as well.
Have you had much interest?
We had somebody yesterday just off the back of your story. We realise it’s not great economic times for music – it’s not great times for any business in retail to tell you the truth. Clothing people are having trouble, all forms of retail are having trouble. Since [the Global Financial Crisis in] 2007-2008, many of us haven’t really come back as far as retail is concerned. People are saving more than they’re spending.
“We’re functioning as a normal record store as we always have. There’s some people on the site [M+N] saying it’s closing down, but no. It’s not closing down.”
Was the global downturn in record sales a factor too?
It’s been a struggle, I’ve got to admit that. We all know the state of the music industry worldwide … Missing Link is a specialist area now. We realise that, so we cater to people who really love their hardcopy product. If that market dwindles, changes, or the demographic changes, we survive in that particular market rather than what it used to be. We tried to expand and offer different ranges. For example, over the past six months, we’ve put in a lot of prog rock material from the late ’60s through to the ’80s, which has expanded the range into a demographic more like my age group, for example. We’ve tried to go into other areas. We’ve developed our second-hand selection a lot in the past six months, bringing in collections from Japan and America, and buying local collections as well. Rarities, second-hand, hard-to-find material and a range that appeals to a music loving demographic, that’s been our general thrust for the past six months anyway.
I guess the Record Collectors Corner merger has been key to that.
That’s been great, because it’s really filled the store out. We’ve got a much more diverse range of product. They’re doing their sales during the week; and we’re doing our sales. In general, they came to join us because their economic circumstances in renting in the city were similar to ours. [Laughs] It made a lot of sense to try and combine and share costs rather than go on paying the very high rentals in the city.
What’s going on with the building? Is it going to be demolished in April as reported?
We’ve got an ongoing arrangement with the building’s owner. They’re in no position yet to be able to go ahead with their project. At a minimum, it looks like we’ll be here until the end of the year.
Does the sale involve the digital side of the business [Missing Link Digital]?
Well, we’ve had to scale it back. That was a year-long project that we embarked on, and that wasn’t going to be a successful addition to what we were doing.
Is that because your customers are more interested in the physical product?
Once again, we’re talking about demographics here. The young person market for us – and I don’t know whether it’s common across the music business right now – has almost disappeared. We know what they’re doing and what they’re up to, and it’s not buying hard copies. [Laughs] It was just a case of a market that’s very small, as far as digital goes, and it’s also very hard to coordinate. Even before we embarked on the technological side of things I’d been in touch with people I knew back in the ’70s and ’80s, going back a long period of time. Let me just say one word: apathy. [Laughs] When you speak to some of the artists, who are my age as well, they just go, “Yeah, I had a single or an album back in 1981, but who knows where the tapes are? I couldn’t be bothered, who cares.” There were some great people back then that I kept on at and at and at. But in the end you just go, “If they don’t care, why should I?” [Laughs]
Was there consumer interest?
Yeah, I had a lot of support from people like yourselves, the press, but we couldn’t get enough mass on the site to make it interesting enough for a higher volume of customer. I think we’re going to have to just say that everyone’s whose tried this is going to come up against iTunes, and they’re just such a worldwide behemoth monster. They’re not my cup of tea, but it looks like they’re going to be the only download space that dominates.
Going back to the potential sale, what if the right buyer doesn’t come along?
We continue on. This is me just putting everything out there. In fact, I started advertising the shop for sale in early December last year in business sales channels. I just thought I’d throw it out there now among the music public that look at your site … But that’s the state of play: we continue on. If somebody sticks up their head and we agree to terms and things look right, then that’s a possibility. I’m just throwing it out there in the arena, but things haven’t changed here. We’re buying in imports every week, we’ve got new stuff out there all the time, people are coming in giving us their Australian consignment material. We’re functioning as a normal record store as we always have. There’s some people on the site [M+N] saying it’s closing down, but no. It’s not closing down.
I think people think worst case scenario these days when it comes to record stores.
They’re disappearing all across Australia monthly. It’s a shame. The greatest technological invention in human history – the internet – has so many benefits, but also so many downsides. Art as a form – when it comes to music and movies and television – is going to be totally decimated by theft.
I guess there’s always going to be a niche audience for the genuine product though.
Who knows? It’s going to be a real conundrum to work out where it’s going to head in the future … Everybody hates record companies, and thinks they’re all bad, but some have changed with the times.
We’re always hearing about vinyl sales going up, are you feeling that?
Well, the strange thing about all this is the resurgence of vinyl. What does that mean? Does it mean that the generations below me have been influenced by my generation – their parents, for example. “Gee, mum and dad, what’s that weird 13-inch thing that you’ve got up on the shelf? You’ve got that great King Crimson or Pink Floyd gatefold sleeve. That’s much better looking than that wacky piece of plastic I keep buying.” [Laughs] So I think there’s a generational thing there that people have interest in that format as a resurgence, but no matter what happens, DJs have been a real force in vinyl resurgence.
And Missing Link is one of the few places where you can buy new release cassettes too.
For Record Store Day [in April] we’ve got a couple of real beauties coming up. Lou Barlow from Dinosaur Jr did an in-store here and we’re putting that out as a cassette, and we’re also doing a collection of Australian independent artists as a cassette. It’s weird. I remember playing my cassettes in the car in the ’70s and thinking, “Isn’t this great?” They’ve been superseded, but we’re still selling them, as well 7”s, vinyl and CDs.