MMDC sat down with Damien Baker and Tonya Dyson, owners of Kickspins and retail tenants of MMDC’s new development BOXLOT.
You are well-known to Memphis! You do so much for the city. For those who don’t know you, can you let us know a little bit about your background and the many things you do for Memphis?
First of all, I tell people I’m a singer-songwriter first and then that kind of shapes everything else that I do around music here in the city. I am a recording artist, a songwriter, a performance artist- I do soul and jazz. Outside of that, I’m very active on the business end of the arts and culture scene here in Memphis. I’m the Executive Director of Memphis Slim Collaboratory, Director of the Soulsville USA Festival, Curator at Large for the Downtown Memphis Commission live programming, owner of Neosoulville- a marketing & promotions company for concert promotions- and, of course, co-owner of Kickspins. I also have a radio show on 88.5 called “Soul School” that airs every Tuesday at 3 o’clock.
Your business model is very unique- 2 stores in one with unique services (shoe refurbishing & customization and music apparel). What inspired this business as well as your partnership with Damien?
Really just a nod to hip-hop. I’m a hip-hop kid. Of course, kickspin is a breakdance move. It was the perfect name/way to incorporate both sneakers and vinyl- both part of hip-hop culture. Kickspins just popped up and came together that way. I love music, but I’m also a sneaker head too, so this was the perfect way to blend the two. I co-own Kickspins along with Damien Baker. We’ve known each other for several years, and have been on the same scene. The hip-hop, soul scene was relatively small back then when we were younger and in our twenties. As an adult, we discussed a joint store idea and he wanted to do something to get out there with his sneaker customization. I told him about this opportunity, and asked him if he was interested in creating something together for that, and he was. That’s where it all came from.
How did this opportunity come about? How has MMDC aided in the process of starting your business?
I original started working with MMDC in 2017 with the first iteration of a record store called OM in the pop-ups that were in Edge Alley when they first opened up. It was a 30-day pop-up. I was one of the first initial incubations in there along with a vintage thrift store, a soap-making company, and an architect. I was contacted by MMDC regarding another incubation opportunity, but around that time, I was working on a big project and was unable to get involved. This past Spring, I ended up getting a call from Vonesha Mitchell asking me if I was still interested in the opportunity, and I got the opportunity to sit down with her and Chris Porter of Creative Punch to workshop what we now know as BOXLOT. I was excited about the rebrand. The proposed branding, marketing, and programming elements proposed for BOXLOT really excited and interested me. At that point, I knew that I wanted to be a part of this project.
How exactly do you go about finding all of the records, CDs, and other music apparel that you stock in the store?
I will be selling CDs soon- a lot of the local artists still have CDs. I am a local artist myself, and I want to support the local scene. Local artists can come to me- e-mail me at email@example.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org if they’d like their CDs to be sold at Kickspins. Anyone that’s selling vinyl can also reach out. I don’t like going to a lot of estate sales—I like buying my records from people that are still alive because I like hearing their journeys—they usually have cool stories. They tell me about when they were a teenager when they bought this, when their wife bought this album when they had just moved in before they had kids…such interesting stories. A lot of times, I’ll connect with these people through word of mouth. I’ll talk to someone’s uncle or someone’s grandfather, dad—someone who had their parents’ collection and they don’t know what to do with it. I talk about vinyl, collecting, and music all the time. I’m an overall music aficionado- particularly for soul music, so a lot of people just reach out to me and say, “Hey, I have this collection. Do you want to buy it?” On the Grand Opening, I had people to come in asking if I buy albums and connected that way. That’s usually how I come across a lot of stuff. I’m always scouring Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. I’m a vintage type of person, I thrift a lot. If I see something that has some good bones or some structure, I can see the vision. For example, I have these Yo! MTV Raps and Rap Packs trading cards in store. I put in a search for hip hop and they just came up. They were collected in 1991 when they first came out. The person figured they’d come in handy and bought boxes full when they first came out and stored them in one of their collector’s storage units. Now, they’re cleaning out their storage unit. I ended up meeting the person and purchasing the whole lot.
As a new business owner in the District, what is some advice you would give other entrepreneurs looking to establish a brick and mortar in the Medical District?
Make sure you have your distribution line setup as far as how you’re going to stock your store. Always keep marketing and branding in mind. That’s the biggest driver, and of course, have some type of social media plan. Think out of the box. Have cool programming around it. It doesn’t have to be huge or super spectacular for it to be effective. A lot of people think they need to host huge events, but drawing in 4 or 5 people is still a win if you can get those 4 or 5 to at least purchase a small item and refer their friends to your business. Don’t think that any of your efforts are too small because the smallest thing can be effective.
Can people expect any events or programming from Kickspins?
I plan on having weekly events including Music Trivia on Wednesday nights from 6-8 and Juke in the Box on Sundays from 1-3. Each week of Music Trivia will have a different theme. The upcoming Music Trivia during BOXLOT’s National Sneaker Day event (October 9th) will be themed “Guess That Sample.” For Juke in the Box, customers can come in and choose what song they want to have playing in-store using our Vintage Sounds Bluetooth speaker. Outside of that, I plan on having in store performances by local artists during weeks of their album releases. This would be similar to a short, unplugged performance where local artists can come and perform a song, sell, and sign their albums. I’ll also be going live on Facebook during those events and integrating Facebook with Paypal so that those who cannot be present can stream and order the artist’s album all on the Facebook platform. That way, those who order online can still get their albums signed by the artist and shipped to them.
What are your signature/most popular items so far?
The records- that has been the biggest thing. A lot of the late 60s and 70s soul music has been selling very well. Now that I’ve gotten t-shirts, those have been selling quickly as well.