When I met up with Nick Densmore in a coffee shop on Spadina, he was arriving from a small show at George Stroumboulopoulos’ house. Ottawa indie-rockers Hollerado had just wrapped up their House of Strombo performance and Nick was wearing one of their tees

“I’m that guy that wears a band’s shirt to their show,” Nick commented as he sat down at the table, putting down his shades.

A little more than an hour after our meeting, Nick was due back at work down at Indie 88’s headquarters in Liberty Village. This wasn’t an unusually busy day for Nick. A glance at his Instagram will reveal that if there’s a big show in Toronto, nine times out of ten he’s there, be it for Indie or on his spare time. These are not mutually exclusive.

Somehow on top of his work with Indie as the Street Team Leader, which has him stationed at shows working promo, adding submissions to their socials, and hosting his weekly radio show Thursday nights, Nick also finds the time for his constantly-growing side hustle; making wooden record displays and storage units under the moniker VinylBlox for the last year and a half, completely by himself.

Turning a Hobby Into a Business

Nick has been woodworking since a young age, often designing accessories for his own record collection, but with growing interest from his close friends, Nick turned his hobby into a business in the latter half of 2015. An idea was all it took to work, with ambition filling in the gaps of his small business knowledge.

“As long as you know what you need to learn, then you have the means to learning it. The only thing really holding you back is yourself,” Nick said.

On top of design and production, Nick grew his reach from selling his wares to friends. Creative marketing and his personal touch were critical in getting his creations into brick and mortar record stores like Tonality Records in Toronto and Forch’s Record Store in Cambridge. Using his personal Facebook account, he would message record stores and start a conversation about the types of storage products they sell, introducing them to his own line. When all else fails, nothing beats just knocking on doors.

“Before, if you wanted to sell something to somebody, you just called them on the phone. Now, people don’t answer the phone. Now you’ve got to send an email, or you’ve got to go on social, and now these retailers are getting swamped with in-stores, on the phone, emails, social media. Now the most direct way is the best way, like just walk in and say ‘hey, what’s up?’”

Nick has also expanded his product line from a couple of stylish record displays made from reclaimed wood to record crates and custom shelves. His latest design is a stackable wooden display crate that, unlike similar storage solutions, requires no tools to assemble. A record collector himself, Nick’s personal interest in the market has guided his work.
“A lot of people that buy records are invested in their setup, their listening room, whatever it may be,” Nick said as he sipped his americano. “They are already making the commitment to buy records that are obviously inconvenient to carry around with them for the rest of their lives, so they become more and more invested in what they place around it.”

Finding the Right People for Your Product

Though he’s driven by his personal interest in vinyl, Nick sees the record-buying market as a particularly unique one with huge potential.

“They’re a more motivated investor-buyer group than a lot of other retail spaces. People that go to record shops go to their record shop. They don’t go to their friend’s record shop, they go to theirs,” Nick explains. “I think vinyl is a really great market because inherently when you purchase vinyl, you are investing yourself in the brand, or the band, or the artist…It takes nothing for me to download an album on Apple Music. I really don’t have to invest much time, at this point I’m not investing any money. You could write an album, and I could download it, and I could hate it. It counts as a download for you, but when you come to town, you can’t necessarily count on me coming to your show.

“[With records], bands and labels can pinpoint ‘this many people have bought our record, these people are committed to carrying this stuff around with them.’ These are people who are probably more likely to come out if we play a venue. I like, and I can see why labels and artists would like, those quantifiable stats.”
After finishing our coffee, we stopped by Sonic Boom Records. While flipping through rows of albums, Nick examined every record display accessory in stock, taking a look at the design and comparing them to his own. His passion got him started, but his ambition is his key, and as long as one has that combination, everything else can be learned.

“I think that people are capable of a lot more than they think they are, especially now,” Nick says. “It’s so great to just learn all the things you can learn, then put it all together and see if you can make a go of it.”