Lockdown Economy Philippines in a Vinyl Record Store with Kim Ang

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Danielle Hormillosa

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview, we meet Kim Ang, the founder of Little Rituals Records, a vinyl record shop in Cebu, the Philippines. Kim started Little Rituals Records Cebu in 2016 as a lifestyle store, a curation of things she likes. Eventually, the store’s records sale gradually increased. When the lockdown began, Kim thought that no one would buy vinyl records because there were not considered necessities. Initially, the business focused on their clients in Cebu, but during the lockdown, Kim put her attention on online selling. Surprisingly, the number of the store’s customers appeared to be increasing now that the business widened its scope of clients.

Tell us something about Little Rituals Records Cebu?

Kim: Little Rituals Records Cebu started in 2016, but the idea was born the year before. Collecting records was a hobby of mine. It was an excuse for me to buy more records without my parents getting mad at me for spending so much on records, since I’m selling them anyway! I was going to move to Singapore in 2015, so I was going back and forth from Manila to Singapore two to three times that year. At that time, I found a supplier and decided to try and have a vinyl records business here in Cebu because no one else was selling vinyl records here. Plus, we already have a business space in the mall. I told my mom that we could try this out and see whether the Cebu market will be receptive to vinyl records. Initially, we only bought around 20 records for what we initially set up as a lifestyle store, rather than a records store. I figured that if I only sold records and people won’t know what records are or buy them, then I would not have any sales. The lifestyle store was a curation of things that I liked, such as Indie films, magazines and posters, and that was where it started.

It was more of a challenge for me at the beginning because I would always fight with my parents. I insisted this will work and was told that no one might understand this type of product in Cebu. I said, “Come on, let’s just try it.” Eventually, they gave in and after we sold the 20 records, I bought 40 more that then sold out so I started buying more. In 2016, I was already living in Singapore to attend university and I would go to my supplier every week; that was my hangout place after school. Every Wednesday, I would go and check out records, buy them and send them home. That was a good routine for me. Although I was not fully hands-on at that time because of school, my mother and those who were managing the store at the time were realizing that people are buying records. Therefore, they were willing to invest more money into it.

Aside from you and your family in the business, do you have any employees and how many customers do you usually have?

Kim: The employees are not technically under me and more so shared under different businesses. I work with two who watch over the store when I am not there. Most of the time, my initiatives include buying, communicating and looking for customers and suppliers and merchandising. Right now, I’m doing the packing and other logistics myself, but eventually, I hope to hire more people.

Speaking of initiatives, let’s talk about the fundraising project you did for the people affected by recent typhoons that ravaged the Philippines.

Kim: When Typhoon Ulysses happened in November 2020, I felt that there was not enough time to raise money to help immediately so, in mid-November, I took ten per cent of my October sales and donated it to CaVolun Initiative, a non-profit organization in Cagayan province that helps people affected by the typhoon. We donated ten per cent of our sales again at the end of November, this time to Future Earth Philippines Program, an environmental non-profit initiative that also helps those affected by the typhoon in different parts of the Philippines.

Kim, there’s a Korean term, “neutro”, that refers to trends that are coming back. As someone who manages a vinyl store, tell us how the Philippine market is doing in line with this concept.

Kim: When I first started this business, I was just really into records and the music. I didn’t think that there would be other people like me. I notice that everyone is a bit more nostalgic now, especially during the lockdown. Everyone wants something tangible to hold and see, which is in contrast with digital music. Although we can’t disqualify digital music because it enables us to share music and find new artists, it is very easy to skip a song and not focus and listen to the music or artist. With vinyl records or other music that is a bit more tangible, everything that comes with the listening experience is like a ritual. Going to the record store, finding and buying the record you want, going home and opening the package, putting the record on the turntable and listening to the album itself — it’s a whole artistic ritual and that is why we call our business “Little Rituals”. This is how the singer or artist would have wanted you to hear the album from start to finish. You are forced to sit down and listen, as well as notice the whole cover and notes inside, even the packaging. This is how the artist intentionally wanted you to experience and feel with their music.

How did the pandemic and the lockdown affect Little Rituals Records Cebu?

Kim: Around March when the lockdown started, I went back and forth on whether I should bring all my inventory home because I didn’t think that people would buy records. It is a luxury product, not a necessity. Initially, we were only selling records within Cebu with a few clients from Manila and other parts of the Philippines, which was minimal. During the pandemic, I focused more on online selling. Surprisingly, many people started getting into and collecting records perhaps because they are at home, were bored, or needed a new hobby. We are now shipping to different places nationwide because of the pandemic. It forced us to consider online selling and find other ways to market our brand.

Before the lockdown, you sold vinyl records through your store. Tell us Kim, what were the challenges you faced in adapting to online selling?

Kim: The difficult parts of online selling are shipping and logistics. At the time, there were many restrictions when it came to sending things out. In the area where I lived, we were not allowed to go out as our whole barangay (village or district unit) was on lockdown. We really needed to plan a schedule of when we were shipping items out so that our quarantine passes follow what was permitted. I used to go to the LBC courier service at 7:30 in the morning before they opened to avoid waiting in long lines and crowds. During that time, the courier service was only from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm so I needed to be first in line or else I would have to wait the next day to ship items out. That was one of the biggest challenges we had.

Kim, how was the demand in vinyl records during the lockdown? Is there a rise in the number of customers?

Kim: Yes, the increase in demand was a big surprise for us because we did not think a lot of people would be buying records. As you know, people were not earning much and I thought this may be too expensive. Surprisingly, many people became interested in buying and collecting records. I have customers from Manila, Isabela, Palawan, Bulacan, Cagayan de Oro, Davao and many different parts of the Philippines. It was good in the sense that it pushed me to figure out all the logistics and master shipping rates!

Do you know how your customers and competition are doing right now?

Kim: Some of my customers who are still in quarantine so if they want a record today, we can have it sent through different delivery services like Lalamove, Maxim and Grab Philippines. We also schedule weekly shipments to customers outside Cebu to make the process easier and streamlined. My customers are either still at home or back to work and in terms of spending habits, some have been spending more now compared to before. I think this is because those who are at home have already repeatedly listened to their records many times and want to get new music.

How is your business doing now?

Kim: Right now, we’ve been trying to attract more customers and spread the word about the business. Recently, we partnered with Rega Philippines, an audio and entertainment firm, and their brand of hi-fi equipment from the United Kingdom. Rega Manila and our business are now the exclusive distributors of the Rega Planar 2 turntables, which is coming very soon!

For three years now, we have been running a radio show every Saturday called “Kings of Vinyl” with Magic Cebu radio station 92.3 MHz FM. It’s an all-vinyl records show and we play vinyl records on air. Every week, we invite a crate digger or collector to share their playlist. They bring their crates of records and we play the music on air.

What are your plans for the coming few months?

Kim: For the next few months, we plan to have an online website and find more suppliers who can handle the demand and give us better prices, so that we can also provide better prices for our customers. I also hope to have a different physical store, a proper flagship store not just a small stall within the mall.

Could you name three things you need help with in managing Little Rituals Records Cebu?

Kim: One of our biggest needs is an expansion, to have a bigger store besides what we currently have now where customers can come in and relax. We need a bigger space where everyone can mingle and talk to each other once groups are permitted to gather.

The second need is help with logistics. There have been a lot of delays with local and international shipping, so we have had a lot of backorders from the suppliers. My suppliers in the U.K. are dealing with Brexit now so we have been waiting on different titles and albums that were ordered from the label but have not yet shipped.

Our third need involves promotion for the store and brand. I’m doing all the Facebook and Instagram ads by myself right now. We hope to have more partnerships in the future with different Hi-Fi brands and artists who would come to the store or help promote our store so that we could reach a bigger audience within the Philippines. In terms of selling, we have a pretty good price point and it’s affordable. Service is also good.

Let’s say you are conversing with potential customers right now, tell them why they should choose Little Rituals Records Cebu over other vinyl record stores.

Kim: Hi everyone! Thank you for listening to this short interview. I’d like to invite all of you to Little Rituals Records Cebu. We are located at The Maze Hipzone, 3rd level, Ayala Center Cebu and we’ve been there since 2016, keeping the vinyl culture alive. What makes us different is that we value service and quality over anything else. We have affordable records and you can pre-order from us if you have certain titles, equipment or memorabilia that you want. You can message me on Instagram or Facebook and I will gladly help you find what you want!

About the Guest

Established in 2016, Little Rituals Records Cebu, is a lifestyle music store, specializing in vinyl records. The business aims to cultivate the vinyl culture in Cebu and bring together like-minded individuals who share the love of music. The store started out as a hobby, digging through crates and eventually pitching this idea to Kim’s parents who were against the business since they were going to be the first to do it in Cebu. Honestly, for Kim, it was really an excuse for her to buy records for herself without them questioning her spending. It was a different aura. Back then, it was a specialty store selling items from music, film, Indie magazines, art, and anything Kim was interested in. Now, the business mainly focuses on vinyl and music memorabilia. Their first launch had 20 records and now they have expanded to 300–500 in their inventory and have their own radio show, “Kings of Vinyl,” where they play records on air and have guests share their playlist every Saturday.

https://www.instagram.com/little_rituals/?hl=en

https://www.facebook.com/littleritualscebu/

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.