Covers33 origins story
20th December 2019
We’ve been selling vinyl protection products since 1975, when Barry had his first vinyl protection sleeve made for his vinyl market stock. Sara, in our office, caught up with Barry to find out how it all started and the eureka moment that sparked 30 years of successful business.
So, how did you get into the world of vinyl protection then Barry?
Well, it was the early 70s and I needed enough money for a house deposit, £90 quid at the time. I had a vinyl record at home, I can’t remember exactly what it was, but when I sold it I made quite a bit of money on it. This got me to thinking, if I bought more and started selling them, I could make even more money than I did on that one vinyl. I went to a few fairs, bought some vinyl and sold them, I then carried on doing the same thing. I eventually had a nice little money earner on my hands and had enough vinyl to start hiring a spot at local markets to sell them.
A few months down the line, I noticed that because people were sifting through all the vinyl in the storage boxes that the sleeves were suffering from wear and tear. I had a think about how to protect them, scribbled it down on a piece of paper and got a manufacturer to make me a good few. I was pretty pleased with the results and started covering all my vinyl records with the sleeves.
By this point, I was going to markets up and down the country and some of the other vinyl market sellers saw what I was protecting my records with and they asked me where I got them from. When they found out I made them, they asked if they could order some. I realised I’d stepped onto a bit of a gold mine and then more and more people started to ask for them. A few years down the line, I developed a whole range of vinyl protection sleeves for different LP sizes and from different materials.
Were you a bit of a wheeler-dealer then?
Haha well you could say that, I think I just like getting stuck in and enjoy problem-solving. At the time, all I was thinking about was how to protect my vinyl records so I could still sell them and then found a way to do that. What came after was a happy accident.
I was also lucky with the timing of it all. The 70s were the heyday for vinyl, so it was easy to make money as a vinyl collector. It was also at the start of the vinyl movement, and so vinyl related products were new. I remember attending and selling at huge vinyl fairs across the UK. I then got to know the market sellers and regulars but also had a lot of footfall from new collectors scouring markets for vinyl deals. I was basically in the right place at the right time.
And are vinyl protection sleeves the first thing you invented?
Haha well, I think my family would say that I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak in me. For example, when I was 5, my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I asked for some chickens. I remember my parents saying they thought it was such an odd thing for a 5 year old to want as a pet. They didn’t realise that I wasn’t bothered about the chickens but wanted what they produce – eggs! When I got them, I bought some cages and waited for them to lay their first eggs. As soon as they did, I started to sell the eggs to the neighbours, and used the pocket money to buy sweets. My first little venture you could say!
I’ve also invented some things that didn’t take off at all. Once Covers33 kicked off and grew into a successful business, I started to branch out into other sectors. In the 90s, the age of the first home computers, I designed funny mouse and mat designs. An actual mouse and cheese, a shark in the ocean, a tiger in the jungle, that sort of thing. I know it sounds silly now, but I remember being so pleased with them and thinking I’d come up with the best idea ever. And it wasn’t just a mad side project, I did get a lot of genuine interest when I pitched the idea, even from the likes of big banks. So, I decided to throw caution to the wind and buy far too many without actual orders in place. A rookie error! Just as the boxes and boxes of goofy mouse mat combos arrived in our warehouse, I found out that the plug adapters had changed, and my mice leads were no longer compatible anywhere in the UK! Can you imagine? I’d basically bought hundreds of boxes of mats and mice that I couldn’t sell to anyone. That took a while to swallow believe me.
Maybe it was life’s way of telling you to stick with vinyl?
Definitely! I mean I fell into this field, but I do love it. The people are great and so passionate about what they are buying. I also found out a lot about how to look after vinyl properly and the number of steps you can take to protect them. Armed with that knowledge, we ended up designing and producing not just protection sleeves but also storage boxes, bags, delivery packaging and cleaning products, which do quite well now.
I think for serious collectors, vinyl isn’t just about music, the records they buy are also a legitimate investment and so protecting them with quality products is a bit like insurance or peace of mind, because you are putting steps in place to stop your vinyl degrading over time. And for people that buy vinyl purely to listen to music, protecting them means the sound quality is maintained for longer.
And has the vinyl industry changed a lot since the 70s?
Well, you know the thing I’ve learnt about vinyl is that it’s a constant, even when my customer base changes. Fads come and go but vinyl records have stood the test of time. Yes, vinyl records were more mainstream in the 70s and they didn’t have the likes of CD and DVD kicking down its door, but now vinyl is a growing choice for younger music lovers and a lot of oldies are flocking back to it. Then, of course, you get the diehard vinyl fans that never budge with the ebb and flow of music trends.
I think our mantra has been adaptability. When the CD came out we made CD protectors and the same with CDs VHS, DVD and the like. One period that did worry me was when the mp3 hit the market, because it was the first time that my customers didn’t need to protect something physical. But then it just proves how vinyl will always be around, because our vinyl protection sales have been growing if anything.
Something that is different now is the vinyl revival and the millennial generation taking an interest. I think the older set definitely have a responsibility to show the newbies why vinyl protection is so important. Especially when they are wading into unfamiliar waters and often spending a pretty penny on their records.
Why do you think vinyl will never go out of fashion?
I mean, firstly because of what I’ve seen over the last 30 years of selling vinyl protection. But on a more technical level, vinyl produces better sound quality, because it’s analogue, CD and even mp3 are recordings of analogue, so will never be able to match the quality of a vinyl recording.
I also think buying a vinyl album and listening to it is a completely different kettle of fish to mp3 music. With digital music, you get instant, limitless music at a push of a button, which is obviously an amazing thing and has democratised as well as revolutionised music. But vinyl will always give the listener a unique experience because you’ve chosen to listen to a carefully curated album of tracks, it’s a more conscious way of picking and listening to music I think, and that sort of enjoyment is timeless.
Completely agree with you, do you think there will be different ways of listening to music in the future?
Oh yes, I mean during my time, I’ve seen at least 20 music device fads and it just seems to be speeding up. And even though inventions like the DVD and VHS come and go, it is a very exciting time for music and vinyl definitely has an enduring place. I think people like freedom of choice and quality, so whatever comes next will have to combine the two perfectly.
Thanks Barry! Stay tuned for more interviews with the team. Up next month will be James, the Sales Development Manager who started in Covers33 as a summer temp and never left. We’ll be talking about why Covers33 is a great place to work and what top vinyl records James currently has in his collector’s cupboard.