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ROCK STEADY: Erik Milan is the new owner at Stick It In Your Ear, taking over Jan. 1 after purchasing the downtown Springfield record store from Wes Nichols.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
ROCK STEADY: Erik Milan is the new owner at Stick It In Your Ear, taking over Jan. 1 after purchasing the downtown Springfield record store from Wes Nichols.

Business Spotlight: Hitting the Right Notes

Stick It In Your Ear’s new owner looks to build on store’s recent run-up

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More than halfway through his first year of ownership at downtown Springfield stalwart Stick It In Your Ear LLC, Erik Milan says he envisions the music store as the last job he’ll ever want.

“I love it. I love the downtown area and the customers are great,” he says. “It’s something new every single day. It’s special, man, this place is special.”

Prior to purchasing the 26-year-old business late last year for an undisclosed amount from Wes Nichols, Milan had been working at the store since 2015. He was most recently the store manager.

Milan says Nichols moved back to California, where he has family.

“He started talking about retiring pretty much ever since I started working for him,” Milan says. “I didn’t want the place to go into the wrong hands. … Let’s see how far I can go with it.”

The store, which buys, sells and trades records, CDs and cassettes, is a veritable treasure trove of music, with a deep stock of used and new selections in all genres filling the store. Only narrow walking paths are opened up among the display cases for music fans to find mainstream and rare releases, as well as clothing and stereo equipment, including eight-track players.

Milan estimates 25,000 records, 10,000 CDs and 3,000 cassettes are currently in stock at the store. That’s not the entire inventory, though. He says another 12,000 records are stored off-site – back stock that came in addition to the store purchase. Prices range from $1 up to $200 for very rare or out-of-print titles, with free records also occasionally offered with a purchase.

On the rise
The shop got a big boost from this year’s 12th annual Record Store Day, an independent music retailer celebration, held April 13, Milan says. According to Nielsen Music, 827,000 vinyl albums were sold in the U.S. for the week ending April 18 – the most-ever for the week around Record Store Day.

“This year was the best one we’ve ever had,” he says, adding the store did $11,000 in sales that day, up from about $7,000 in 2018.

In addition to a successful Record Store Day, the U.S. music industry as a whole is experiencing a revenue boost. According to a 2018 report by the Recording Industry Association of America, 2018 was the industry’s third year of consecutive growth, with retail revenue up 12% to $9.8 billion. Streaming comprises 75% of total industry revenue, but vinyl is a physical market standout, increasing 8% to $419 million – its highest revenue mark since 1988.

“It’s definitely thriving,” Milan says of his business, noting 2018 revenue was around $400,000 and sales this year are on par. Last year’s revenue was up from 2017, which was $365,000, he adds.

The vinyl trend is good news for Stick It In Your Ear. Milan says 70% of sales are vinyl, followed by 20% for CDs, 5% for cassettes and 5% for miscellaneous purchases, such as posters and T-shirts. Sales are generally trending up across all areas.

“It’s definitely becoming a collector’s game,” he says. “It’s people that are actually collecting cassettes, collecting CDs and collecting records. The music industry is really trying to cater to them.”

Taking stock
One of those collectors is Tommy Fulscher, a customer of the local shop for the past decade. Although he lives in Nashville, Tennessee, he makes trips to Springfield about three times a year to shop at the music store.

Fulscher says his collection runs up to 10,000 records, and he conservatively estimates 1,500 of them were purchased at Stick It In Your Ear.

“It’s a jewel,” he says of the store, recalling one visit he snatched up every Bob Dylan album except for two. “Sometimes I wonder if the folks who live there and are into music, if they’ve ever been and dug through there. It’s impressive.”

Milan estimates the store inventory is a 70/30 split of people bringing in used product versus new releases he gets from a distributor.

Chris Felton, independent sales manager with Sunrise, Florida-based Alliance Entertainment LLC, has worked with Stick It In Your Ear for six years. Of the 85 client accounts she manages, the store is the only one in Missouri.

“They order every week consistently, on the dot, on Thursdays,” she says, adding the majority of the product is vinyl. “He is really good about letting me suggest new titles, new artists that I’ve found.”

The orders vary each week, she says, ranging from 700 to 1,700 copies of music.

“The dollar amount on those also changes weekly,” with prices generally in the $12-$20 range per item.

As a lifelong music fan and drummer in local rock band T.R.O.Y., Milan says his job allows him to talk the topic all day with customers and fans. Plus, his new ownership role allows him to advocate for the local music scene by selling merchandise and show tickets.

“If you told me five years ago that I’d own the place now, I never would have believed you,” he says. “I always wanted to own a business, but I never thought in a million years I’d own this one.”

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