Urban Outfitters is not just the world’s foremost supplier of music festival-related laughs, misguided convictions related to hats, and massacre-related kitsch. It now also claims to be the world’s No. 1 seller of vinyl records. “Music is very, very important to the Urban customer,” Calvin Hollinger, the company’s chief administrative officer, recently said to industry analysts (as quoted by Buzzfeed), speaking not only of its customers’ desire for pre-“destroyed” Pink Floyd tees, so others can tell they’ve obviously been into them for years, but also the incredible numbers of vinyl records it moves these days.
While Hollinger wouldn’t share specifics on how many records they sell to kids who then likely go home and play them on terrible, Urban Outfitters-procured Crosley turntables, his claim is fairly believable. As Nielsen analyst David Bakula points out to Wondering Sound, Urban has around 180 locations in the U.S. alone, and most of those stores now have entire walls devoted solely to new vinyl releases, as well as reissues carefully selected to appeal to the young Urban customer’s desire to educate and/or decorate themselves. “It’s a little bit like when Starbucks started carrying CDs,” Bakula says of the Urban “stamp of approval,” offering up an analogy to the reason why your mom owns a Jason Mraz album.
As we’ve noted before, vinyl sales have had an enormous resurgence even in a stagnant industry for music releases, with around 6.1 million LPs sold last year. Meanwhile, Forbes reports that all independent record stores can collectively account for around 64 percent of those sales, leaving a fairly large portion to chains—which is where Urban Outfitters stands alone, as one of the few mass-market retailers to even carry vinyl. With dedicated music retailers such as Sam Goody and Tower Records all but disappearing, Urban’s chain competition is now limited to the likes of Best Buy, Target, and even Whole Foods (which recently began stocking vinyl on the basis that, hey, you’re already spending a shitload on quinoa, you might as well get Bob Marley’s Legend to go with it).
Also, as Hollinger revealed, likely while keeping his voice low, Urban doesn’t actually “own” those records. Rather it just sort of “rents” the physical and digital shelf space to the more than 100 vendors that sell through it. And this helps the company maximize profits, while allowing other tastemakers to pick out what’s cool for them—just like shopping at Urban Outfitters.