Music Sales on the Record
Small but mighty, Kops Records stands on its own to find success in the ever-changing music retail industry.
Opening in 1976, Kops Records is Toronto’s oldest independent record business. With retail competitors, it has still been able to outlive HMV and Sam the Record Man, and still competes with Sunrise Records today.
Behind the longevity of Kops Records is founder Martin Koppel. Ever since selling his first 45-rpm record in 1965 at only sixteen years old, he has been making a name for himself in the music sales industry.
It all started with Billy Stewart’s vinyl, Billy Stewart Teaches Old Standards New Tricks. Two years after its release, Sam the Record Man sold mono copies for only 99-cents. However, by this time everyone wanted music in stereo format, as mono was now viewed as out-of-date in Canada.
But “in northern England, his friends couldn’t believe he had copies of it. They hadn’t seen copies until then, and they didn’t care if it was stereo or mono,” said Koppel’s son and co-owner, Andrew Koppel.
And this was how Koppel’s business of selling records began; all by purchasing the music that people didn’t want here in Canada, and selling them to a what he calls “record starved” northern England.
After that trip to England selling the 99-cent versions he had bought, he started to think about taking his sales to a larger scale. He continued to sell to people in England and expanded to selling records within Canada as well.
By the time the 1970’s rolled around, Koppel’s side business of selling records was growing exponentially. With the success so far, he decided to quit his job as an insurance adjuster and open up a full-time record shop in Toronto.
Photos by Kathy Ip
The first shop originally opened and Queen and Logan. However, as his status grew as an independent retailer, he moved locations four times before settling on the perfect space at Queen and University in 1981.
In the early years of Kops Records, they sold more than just vinyl. Their merchandise previously included band t-shirts, unique printed tees and CDs. Although, around 2008, “we were noticing a marked uptick in sales of vinyl,” says Andrew Koppel.
As the business grew, Martin Koppel had his sons Nick and Andrew Koppel assist him in managing the rise of the establishment. Having the business be family-owned only adds to the uniqueness that sets Kops Records apart from any other retailer. Both sons currently run all the locations in downtown Toronto.
With the demand for vinyl on the rise again, the Koppel’s realized what focusing strictly on vinyl could potentially do for their business. They began phasing out the t-shirts and other items, and by 2010 they were a ‘vinyl only’ shop.
Around this time, Kops Records was looking to expand and open a new location. “When we saw a ‘for rent’ sign on a store in Korea Town near Honest Ed’s [in 2012], we knew it was fate!” says Andrew Koppel.
Even against retail competitors, the Koppel family has never been afraid of competition. “In its heyday, HMV was a serious competitor. But my dad was always about 7-inch singles, so that niche market made us different from them and other shops,” says Andrew Koppel.
Regardless of competitors, Andrew Koppel still sees the business his father built to be a hit, “we figure a store’s success is based on how specialized it is,” referring back to what differentiates Kops Records from name-brand retailers. “We are not relying on items such as t-shirts, mugs, toys…to help [our] bottom line.”
Instead, Koppel’s sons do exactly what their father started off doing years ago. Selling vinyl.
Photos by Kathy Ip
To the Koppel’s, making money and having good sales isn’t the only thing that defines success for them. “We define success as being able to pay your employees a fair and livable wage and still grow…if a company can pay their employees fairly and still grow steadily, that’s success,” says Koppel.
With the current business success and the demand for used vinyl being so high, the Koppel’s are always looking for ways to expand both their business and product.
“We’d love to open a franchise in Kingston. It has the perfect mix of university and RMC kids, retirees, and tourists…Peterborough, London and Burlington are also on the short list,” says Koppel.
As the demand for vinyl continues to rise, so does the future of Kops Records. “Even in these -20 Celsius temperatures, customers are warming up with vinyl,” says Koppel. To find a store close to you, visit kopsrecords.ca.