Jon Tolley - Banquet Records

Jon Tolley, Owner, Banquet Records

What first led you into entertainment retailing?

I used to come to Beggars Banquet as it was back then as a school kid. I was scared of the dark shop and the often moody guys behind the till, but after a while I began to understand what a world of gems existed there, and how much the independent record shop was key to the local music scene.  Pre-internet in your pocket, it was really the only way to find out about these wonderful subcultures I was just discovering. After uni I got a part-time job there while I decided what I wanted to do with my life.  Didn’t realise then that this shop WAS what I decided to do with my life.

How long have you been at Banquet and what’s your role?

I started working there just after uni, and as the Beggars chain sold off its shops we eventually ended up taking it on. So I’ve been here for 20 years but we’ve owned it for 15.  Now I can do everything but aim to do nothing.  Principally I book the events and am the indie-buyer, but mostly the buck stops with me and so stuff like accounts and payroll is also part of the job.

What do you love about your job?

The reason I fell in love with the store was for its place in the community. That is still the thing I treasure most. The things we do just wouldn’t happen if we weren’t here, so we know our place and it’s bigger than the people that work here… It’s never boring, there’s always interesting things happening and being surrounded by music and music fans is great. Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing else, but I wouldn’t swap this for anything.

Describe the Banquet business

“More than your local record shop”. We’ve forever understood that people who buy records are also people who go to gigs, go to club nights, are in bands, have record labels, put on shows etc etc. So we try and marry those people up with other products and events. Trying to be a facilitator.  We’re a multi-million pound company now, and we put on 200 events a year. But we’re still very hands-on, myself and Mike still work on the shop floor and we’re music fans first, shop employees second.

What is the main challenge for the entertainment retail industry today?

Brexit. Unquestionably the biggest problem with supply chains right now and we as an industry are not prepared for what might come. After that we’re worried about HMV’s demise and the lack of a high street retail chain. It’s important that people can browse and physical music exists. A world controlled by online algorithms is not a better world, and no-one wins in a race to the bottom… Then there’s the overall decline of the High Street.  There’s so many things to worry about it’s not worth the time on any of them, so all we can do is to work on the things we can change, and react to those we can’t.

Apart from your own, what is your favourite entertainment retailer and why?

The fun thing about independent record shops is that each store is different and we each do our own thing and we’re not in competition as such. So shops I respect across the country, like Drift, Transmission, Resident et al, they’re not competitors and in recent times particularly there’s been a consensus to work together, and fight as one the battles we have to take on.

What was the first ever film and album you owned and where did you buy them?

Film: Back To The Future! It got me skateboarding! 
Album: Blur – Modern Life Is Rubbish.
Both from HMV Kingston!

What non entertainment retailer do you admire and why?

It’s independent retailers all the way.  For the same reason as independent record shops give back to their community, I feel the same about independent skate shops (so Slam City, Natterjacks), book shops (Regency, Surbiton), coffee shops, pubs, Spuds (my local cafe).  I’m a big believer of supporting entities that care about what you care about, and Banquet financially supports the Kingston Pound which is a local-based currency.

You’re stuck in a lift, name the book, album, film, game and person that you would like to have with you.

I’ve been stuck in lifts at Pryzm in Kingston. It’s not that fun.  Last thing I’m doing is reading a book. I’d like the lift engineer with me.

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