Dundas's Records On Wheels marks 40 years in business

News Nov 15, 2019 by Craig Campbell Dundas Star News

A record shop on the edge of downtown Dundas’s main drag has bucked decades of changing trends and increasing competition to continue selling records and CDs, bringing rare music experiences to the masses for 40 years.

Now 58, Mike Clasen himself is surprised he has made his life’s work running the record store he bought as a 23-year-old in 1985.

“I just did it day-by-day. I never thought I’d be doing this so long,” Clasen said.

Records On Wheels originally opened in a plaza across the street from its current 34 King St. E. location in 1979, part of a large chain of stores. Clasen, who studied radio broadcasting at Mohawk College, began working part-time for the store’s second owner in 1982. He’d already developed a strong passion for music — particularly that outside the mainstream.

A career in radio didn’t appear to be in the cards, so he took a job in the chain’s Toronto head office and warehouse — where he learned the music business, what sold and what didn’t.

When the Dundas store owner made a regular Friday drop-in at the warehouse to pick up some stock, he told Clasen he was going to sell the Valley Town store.

“Who’s buying it?” Clasen asked.

“You should,” the owner replied.

Clasen consulted some family, and a friend’s father who was a lawyer, before deciding to take over the store a few months before his 24th birthday.

He didn’t know much about running a retail business, but was already a student of the music industry and record stores. He knew what he wanted his store to be, working out a deal with Records On Wheels to operate independently — ordering stock from his own international distributors while buying domestic product from them. The next 35 years brought lots of learning.

As other Records On Wheels shops disappeared, Clasen stayed open. In 1988, he moved from the 500-square-foot store to the current 1,300-square-foot location.

Clasen has faced digital downloads and online ordering, big box stores and the standard perils of retail — and persevered.

“It can be really challenging,” he said. “I kept riding it out. I brought in interesting product.”

He said the past year — his 35th — has been the toughest of all. The vinyl boom of a few years ago, which originally helped, has died down as record labels increase prices and keep vinyl releases rare. Buying quality used collections has become tougher. CDs are selling less than they were even three years ago.

Clasen started opening seven days some weeks this year — or heading to weekend record shows outside Hamilton to reach a wider market.

From the start, Clasen made it his goal to provide rare releases and obscure music — little known progressive rock, ambient, jazz, Celtic folk and original hard-to-find artists. He provides music no one else has.

For the more obscure stuff, he writes up a review or description of the music and sticks it to the cover so customers can learn something about it. And he’s always there to talk music.

“Anything outside the mainstream that you can’t just get anywhere, and stream anywhere,” Clasen said. “I’m trying to bring in as much interesting product as I can.”

Clasen does special orders for customers. He’s gotten to know his regulars, and orders rare or obscure things he thinks they’ll like, setting them aside for their next visit.

“I’ve just adapted,” Clasen said.

Getting people through the door is key.

“It doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference in a store this size,” he said. “It’s not a lot of people.”

When he started, he figured his personal musical taste was so weird he couldn’t play artists he liked — like Tangerine Dream and Camel.

“I thought I was a weirdo. I couldn’t play that stuff in the store,” Clasen said.

But when he did, people started asking about it. That gave him a chance to talk about different music and he came to a realization.

“I can actually sell this.”

Playing some obscure, original artists that he liked became a staple of the store, introducing browsers to something they never expected.

“I can play what I want to play,” he said. “There’s no reason not to.”

Alan Cross, host of The Ongoing History of New Music, has been a customer at Clasen’s store.

“He’s using a similar in-store model, the focus on rare stuff, the store-written reviews, that we see with Amoeba Records in L.A. and Rough Trade in London, U.K.,” Cross said. “Customers want information and context. They also need someone they can trust to guide them through their musical experience. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer of those people every year. We need more guys like Mike.”

David Soberman, a professor in the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, said Records On Wheels is the kind of store he’d expect to see in Toronto or Montreal. Surviving in the small community of Dundas struck him as very interesting. He said it means having to reach out to a much wider area to get customers — a real challenge for independent retail.

“It shows success of a small retailer can be driven by the commitment, experimentation and creativity of the owner,” Soberman said.

Clasen isn’t sure exactly what the future holds. He suggested record shows might eventually overshadow the store as a business model. Keeping Records On Wheels open in Dundas has never been easy, but he said he’d feel bad for his regulars if the doors closed.

There are still good times. Like those days when 40 or 50 people drop in, he’s playing good music, talking with customers, answering questions and giving recommendations.

“Those are the days you say: This is great!”

 

Dundas's Records On Wheels marks 40 years in business

Owner carves out niche in tough music retail business

News Nov 15, 2019 by Craig Campbell Dundas Star News

A record shop on the edge of downtown Dundas’s main drag has bucked decades of changing trends and increasing competition to continue selling records and CDs, bringing rare music experiences to the masses for 40 years.

Now 58, Mike Clasen himself is surprised he has made his life’s work running the record store he bought as a 23-year-old in 1985.

“I just did it day-by-day. I never thought I’d be doing this so long,” Clasen said.

Records On Wheels originally opened in a plaza across the street from its current 34 King St. E. location in 1979, part of a large chain of stores. Clasen, who studied radio broadcasting at Mohawk College, began working part-time for the store’s second owner in 1982. He’d already developed a strong passion for music — particularly that outside the mainstream.

"Customers want information and context. They also need someone they can trust to guide them through their musical experience ... We need more guys like Mike.”
Alan Cross

A career in radio didn’t appear to be in the cards, so he took a job in the chain’s Toronto head office and warehouse — where he learned the music business, what sold and what didn’t.

When the Dundas store owner made a regular Friday drop-in at the warehouse to pick up some stock, he told Clasen he was going to sell the Valley Town store.

“Who’s buying it?” Clasen asked.

“You should,” the owner replied.

Clasen consulted some family, and a friend’s father who was a lawyer, before deciding to take over the store a few months before his 24th birthday.

He didn’t know much about running a retail business, but was already a student of the music industry and record stores. He knew what he wanted his store to be, working out a deal with Records On Wheels to operate independently — ordering stock from his own international distributors while buying domestic product from them. The next 35 years brought lots of learning.

As other Records On Wheels shops disappeared, Clasen stayed open. In 1988, he moved from the 500-square-foot store to the current 1,300-square-foot location.

Clasen has faced digital downloads and online ordering, big box stores and the standard perils of retail — and persevered.

“It can be really challenging,” he said. “I kept riding it out. I brought in interesting product.”

He said the past year — his 35th — has been the toughest of all. The vinyl boom of a few years ago, which originally helped, has died down as record labels increase prices and keep vinyl releases rare. Buying quality used collections has become tougher. CDs are selling less than they were even three years ago.

Clasen started opening seven days some weeks this year — or heading to weekend record shows outside Hamilton to reach a wider market.

From the start, Clasen made it his goal to provide rare releases and obscure music — little known progressive rock, ambient, jazz, Celtic folk and original hard-to-find artists. He provides music no one else has.

For the more obscure stuff, he writes up a review or description of the music and sticks it to the cover so customers can learn something about it. And he’s always there to talk music.

“Anything outside the mainstream that you can’t just get anywhere, and stream anywhere,” Clasen said. “I’m trying to bring in as much interesting product as I can.”

Clasen does special orders for customers. He’s gotten to know his regulars, and orders rare or obscure things he thinks they’ll like, setting them aside for their next visit.

“I’ve just adapted,” Clasen said.

Getting people through the door is key.

“It doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference in a store this size,” he said. “It’s not a lot of people.”

When he started, he figured his personal musical taste was so weird he couldn’t play artists he liked — like Tangerine Dream and Camel.

“I thought I was a weirdo. I couldn’t play that stuff in the store,” Clasen said.

But when he did, people started asking about it. That gave him a chance to talk about different music and he came to a realization.

“I can actually sell this.”

Playing some obscure, original artists that he liked became a staple of the store, introducing browsers to something they never expected.

“I can play what I want to play,” he said. “There’s no reason not to.”

Alan Cross, host of The Ongoing History of New Music, has been a customer at Clasen’s store.

“He’s using a similar in-store model, the focus on rare stuff, the store-written reviews, that we see with Amoeba Records in L.A. and Rough Trade in London, U.K.,” Cross said. “Customers want information and context. They also need someone they can trust to guide them through their musical experience. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer of those people every year. We need more guys like Mike.”

David Soberman, a professor in the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, said Records On Wheels is the kind of store he’d expect to see in Toronto or Montreal. Surviving in the small community of Dundas struck him as very interesting. He said it means having to reach out to a much wider area to get customers — a real challenge for independent retail.

“It shows success of a small retailer can be driven by the commitment, experimentation and creativity of the owner,” Soberman said.

Clasen isn’t sure exactly what the future holds. He suggested record shows might eventually overshadow the store as a business model. Keeping Records On Wheels open in Dundas has never been easy, but he said he’d feel bad for his regulars if the doors closed.

There are still good times. Like those days when 40 or 50 people drop in, he’s playing good music, talking with customers, answering questions and giving recommendations.

“Those are the days you say: This is great!”

 

Dundas's Records On Wheels marks 40 years in business

Owner carves out niche in tough music retail business

News Nov 15, 2019 by Craig Campbell Dundas Star News

A record shop on the edge of downtown Dundas’s main drag has bucked decades of changing trends and increasing competition to continue selling records and CDs, bringing rare music experiences to the masses for 40 years.

Now 58, Mike Clasen himself is surprised he has made his life’s work running the record store he bought as a 23-year-old in 1985.

“I just did it day-by-day. I never thought I’d be doing this so long,” Clasen said.

Records On Wheels originally opened in a plaza across the street from its current 34 King St. E. location in 1979, part of a large chain of stores. Clasen, who studied radio broadcasting at Mohawk College, began working part-time for the store’s second owner in 1982. He’d already developed a strong passion for music — particularly that outside the mainstream.

"Customers want information and context. They also need someone they can trust to guide them through their musical experience ... We need more guys like Mike.”
Alan Cross

A career in radio didn’t appear to be in the cards, so he took a job in the chain’s Toronto head office and warehouse — where he learned the music business, what sold and what didn’t.

When the Dundas store owner made a regular Friday drop-in at the warehouse to pick up some stock, he told Clasen he was going to sell the Valley Town store.

“Who’s buying it?” Clasen asked.

“You should,” the owner replied.

Clasen consulted some family, and a friend’s father who was a lawyer, before deciding to take over the store a few months before his 24th birthday.

He didn’t know much about running a retail business, but was already a student of the music industry and record stores. He knew what he wanted his store to be, working out a deal with Records On Wheels to operate independently — ordering stock from his own international distributors while buying domestic product from them. The next 35 years brought lots of learning.

As other Records On Wheels shops disappeared, Clasen stayed open. In 1988, he moved from the 500-square-foot store to the current 1,300-square-foot location.

Clasen has faced digital downloads and online ordering, big box stores and the standard perils of retail — and persevered.

“It can be really challenging,” he said. “I kept riding it out. I brought in interesting product.”

He said the past year — his 35th — has been the toughest of all. The vinyl boom of a few years ago, which originally helped, has died down as record labels increase prices and keep vinyl releases rare. Buying quality used collections has become tougher. CDs are selling less than they were even three years ago.

Clasen started opening seven days some weeks this year — or heading to weekend record shows outside Hamilton to reach a wider market.

From the start, Clasen made it his goal to provide rare releases and obscure music — little known progressive rock, ambient, jazz, Celtic folk and original hard-to-find artists. He provides music no one else has.

For the more obscure stuff, he writes up a review or description of the music and sticks it to the cover so customers can learn something about it. And he’s always there to talk music.

“Anything outside the mainstream that you can’t just get anywhere, and stream anywhere,” Clasen said. “I’m trying to bring in as much interesting product as I can.”

Clasen does special orders for customers. He’s gotten to know his regulars, and orders rare or obscure things he thinks they’ll like, setting them aside for their next visit.

“I’ve just adapted,” Clasen said.

Getting people through the door is key.

“It doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference in a store this size,” he said. “It’s not a lot of people.”

When he started, he figured his personal musical taste was so weird he couldn’t play artists he liked — like Tangerine Dream and Camel.

“I thought I was a weirdo. I couldn’t play that stuff in the store,” Clasen said.

But when he did, people started asking about it. That gave him a chance to talk about different music and he came to a realization.

“I can actually sell this.”

Playing some obscure, original artists that he liked became a staple of the store, introducing browsers to something they never expected.

“I can play what I want to play,” he said. “There’s no reason not to.”

Alan Cross, host of The Ongoing History of New Music, has been a customer at Clasen’s store.

“He’s using a similar in-store model, the focus on rare stuff, the store-written reviews, that we see with Amoeba Records in L.A. and Rough Trade in London, U.K.,” Cross said. “Customers want information and context. They also need someone they can trust to guide them through their musical experience. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer of those people every year. We need more guys like Mike.”

David Soberman, a professor in the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, said Records On Wheels is the kind of store he’d expect to see in Toronto or Montreal. Surviving in the small community of Dundas struck him as very interesting. He said it means having to reach out to a much wider area to get customers — a real challenge for independent retail.

“It shows success of a small retailer can be driven by the commitment, experimentation and creativity of the owner,” Soberman said.

Clasen isn’t sure exactly what the future holds. He suggested record shows might eventually overshadow the store as a business model. Keeping Records On Wheels open in Dundas has never been easy, but he said he’d feel bad for his regulars if the doors closed.

There are still good times. Like those days when 40 or 50 people drop in, he’s playing good music, talking with customers, answering questions and giving recommendations.

“Those are the days you say: This is great!”