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Meet John Damroth of Planet Records in Harvard Square

Today we’d like to introduce you to John Damroth.

John, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
At 27 years of age, after a short career in advertising I decided to be my own boss and open a record store in 1983. I managed to cobble together a business plan and get a loan to start Planet Records. Located in Kenmore Square in a renovated parlor floor apartment I did the remodeling with my brother and in November Planet Records opened its doors. We were an immediate success and I paid back my loan at the end of the first year. Our success was due to a large selection, high standards and efficient organization. We carried all types of music and over the years went from LPs to cassettes to CDs. There were some lean years for vinyl but I always believed in the medium and its value. Being able to indulge my own thirst for music and provide a form of elemental happiness has been strong drivers of my efforts. Over a 34 year span we have navigated an ever changing landscape and have managed to survive if not thrive. Now I jokingly refer to Planet Records as an antique store. Appreciation for records has returned and almost every day one or two customers will declare their appreciation for what we do.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The most challenging aspect of our journey has been responding to the changes in the recording industry and the method people choose to access their music. With each emerging format we have managed to evolve our approach to accommodate these variations. As with most retail endeavors rental costs and staffing are always issues that demand careful attention. The biggest obstacle was the loss of our Kenmore Square store to fire in 1998. It was a total and devastating loss. We had opened a small annex in Harvard Square six months before the fire which allowed us to remain in motion. We were able to rebuild from there and eventually regained our footing and continued to move forward.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Planet Records – what should we know?
Planet Records buys and sells recorded music in various formats. Our inventory includes LP records, compact discs and DVDs. We pay extra attention to the quality and organization of our merchandise. We carry a wide range of music genres. We’re always searching for quality collections of all kinds to purchase and in turn sell through the store.

We care deeply about the customer experience and recognize the special power music can have in a person’s life. Now in my 60’s I still use the standard, “Would my parents be proud of me if they walked into the store?” Almost every day a customer will comment on the store in such a positive way that it is empowering and fuels our desire to keep doing the job.

To survive the changes in our business we had to move from our brick and mortar beginnings to exploring ways to sell online. We now have a strong presence on eBay and Amazon as well as the music collector’s site Discogs.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
My dad helped me recognize the value of starting a business. He helped with a business plan that a manager for a small local bank somehow saw the potential in and provided a loan to get started. My brother was a contractor and provided his expertise and time to assist in the creation of the store. My then girlfriend and now wife was kind enough to believe in me and my abilities. Over the years I have had over two hundred employees that for the most part believed in my vision enough to work hard at doing the right thing. In the end the effort is my responsibility. I have always been a DIY kind of person and enjoy applying the expertise I’ve picked up in construction, graphic arts and psychology to my work at Planet Records.

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John Damroth

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