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Feast of Eden: Banquet's record success
HMV, Our Price, Woolworths, Jessops – the list of once immovable high street mainstays now gone or going grows almost daily.
Usually, the reasons cited are the companies’ failure to move with the times – priced out of the market by online retailers offering armchair shoppers the same products for cheaper, delivered to their door or smartphone.
Kingston’s retail offering has altered as a result, yet at least one store has ridden the wave of shop closures and remained open for business.
Banquet Records, in Eden Street, is one of several independent UK record stores to belie modern shopping trends, holding firm while other, bigger names topple.
Inside Spuds cafe, just two doors down, Banquet owner Jon Tolley is explaining why he thinks his business is defying the odds.
“The independents left are in a stronger position than they were a few years ago,” he says.
“They all have something they do as well as sell records, something that gets people through the door.
“We do quite a lot of gigs and promotions, but we have also got a record label and a very strong mail order list.
“The store is almost a shop window to everything else.”
The location of our interview is no accident. Jon chose Spuds to “support the neighbours”. This sense of community is very much at the heart of Banquet’s success.
“I grew up in Kingston and you care about your community,” says Jon. “I think it is the responsibility of any business to care about their area – it just makes sense.”
Banquet, it is safe to say, does more than its fair share to keep the community entertained.
For years, it has run successful gig nights both instore and, as New Slang, at the Hippodrome and McClusky’s nightclubs.
It also organises club nights D.A.N.C.E and Repeater at McClusky’s, as well as New Noise at Bacchus.
Brit award-winner Laura Marling, teen sensation Conor Maynard and Sunderland post-punk outfit the Futureheads are just three of the names to have visited Kingston for an instore appearance.
Away from music, Banquet also sponsors Jon’s beloved Kingstonian FC, and this year donated half of its Christmas sales revenue to the Kingston Carers’ Network.
Not that Jon likes to boast about Banquet’s charitable credentials.
“I don’t want a customer to feel guilted into shopping with us,” he says. “I want them to shop with us because we offer the best they can get, and then I want them to know what we do with that cash.
“At the end there is a profit left, and it’s good to put that back into the community.”
The enduring appeal of independent businesses, Jon says, is that customers can see where their money is going.
He says: “We had a fundraiser for a band that had been robbed on tour.
“In the end we gave them more money than they lost. In that case we were the medium by which people contributed. It is the music customer deciding where their money goes.”
Not only that, but independent businesses can, invariably, offer that personal touch that chain stores often lack.
And there are still a lot of customers out there who think buying and owning music is a serious business, and want advice and recommendations from their record store.
“People now have so much access to digital music,” says Jon. “You can stream music on your phone – you don’t even have to download anymore.
“But there is a culture where people really want to look at the artwork and read the lyrics. It isn’t just background music – it’s music that makes your life better.
“This is stuff we are interested in. We know what we are talking about. It’s not just a job to us. It’s our careers and our lives.”
Next week, Jon and business partner Mike Smith celebrate eight years at the helm of Banquet.
As well as Record Store Day in April and a whole day of in-store gigs in May, talks are also under way to stage another Banquet’s Big Day Out festival, held last year at Imber Court in East Molesey.
Staging such events can cost a lot of money to a small business, but Jon believes it’s all worth it. "It is not about being the cool DJ,” he says.
"It is about being the business where a kid can meet Conor Maynard.
“For me, that is as much of a thrill as getting my favourite band in-store."
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