Sunday, February 11, 2007

Interview: Bryan Townsend of THE POKEY PUP

Bryan Townsend (pictured here with son, Gaines) is the owner of The Pokey Pup, a unique online store for cool kid music & hip stuff.

1) What prompted you to start up Pokey Pup?
I've owned a "traditional" indie record store (Underdog Records) since 1997 and have worked in the music industry for all of my life (from marketing at major record labels and music licensing for advertising to working at one of the original online music download companies). With my background in the music industry and especially in owning a record store, I wanted to challenge this expertise in a new direction, providing great music and media for kids and their parents. However, I must say the biggest prompt in starting The Pokey Pup was when my wife and I were expecting our son, Gaines. It really made me think of the things that I loved and wanted to share with my child (music, art, movies, books, cartoons, etc.). So, The Pokey Pup is an extension of my love of great music and wanting to share great music with my own son and I figured that there were other parents out there that wanted to do the same thing and I hope that I can provide that for them.
2) How did you come up with the name?
Like I mentioned my other record store is Underdog Records. When I started thinking of a name for the children's record store I wanted to continue the "dog" theme and naturally something with "Pup" in the title was the logical connection. The "pokey" part came from a more sad thing. Our family dog, Copper, was an Australian Shepherd who was suffering badly from epilepsy. Since he was herding dog he was constantly at our feet and walking in front of us. His epilepsy was taking a toll on his stability so he would walk in front of you very slowly and often stopping right in front of you. It was a struggle to walk from one room to the other in our house because he was constantly "herding" us. Because of this my wife and I would constantly be telling him to move it along and we would start referring to him as "Pokey". "Move it along pokey" was heard throughout the day in our house and after saying that phrase constantly, we started then starting referring to him "pokey pup" and that's where everything connected for me to call the store that. It's a connection to my other record store and a tribute to my dog, who sadly died last year before the store was launched. So, The Pokey Pup is not named after the book, "Poky Little Puppy", in fact I don't think I even owned that book as a kid or could even tell you what that story is about.

3) With all the established online music store (Amazon, CDbaby) & children's music distributors how do you plan to compete?
First of all we are a niche online retailer, so Amazon is not really a competitor. Who can compete with them anyway? Although we carry some of the same independent artists that CD Baby carries, they are not really a competitor either. I have a great respect and admiration for Derek and CD Baby, but our focus is very different from that of CD Baby. They are like a shopping mall consisting of all kinds of independent artists products (not just children's music) and we are like your small independent record store, selling not only independent artists products, but many other unique things that you can't find as readily in the big stores. So, how we compete is by being different from everybody else, by offering unique products, by providing personalized customer service and by having one store where parents can find some cool things for themselves and their children.

4) Are there unique features to Pokey Pup?
I think the uniqueness comes from the products that we choose to carry. Since we are a niche retailer, we handpick the items that we offer to our customers. I think that our store in itself is very unique since there is not really a store online like it.

5) How do you select what gets on the site?
In keeping with our indie kids's music store mentality, we try to select products that are unique and fun. Some of the selection process is subjective. If I like it then it will probably find it's way in the store. We try to carry a little bit of something for everyone. We want to carry a broad and diverse collection of items. That's why we have several sub-genre sections in our store. Most stores that carry music, both online and physical, will have one section (usually very small) that is labeled "Children's Music." That's what parents have been stuck with for many years now when shopping for music for the children and the Pokey Pup is trying to play its part by expanding that Children's Music section to include all kinds of great music.

6) I'm very impressed with your "For The Parents" selections. Pixies, Devo, Shins, & a few others are my faves. Is that the music you enjoy?
Thanks for the complement. Yes, much of the product in the "For the Parents" section like the Pixies, The Shins, Devo, etc. are some of my favorites as well and that's why they are there. I like to offer a unique selection of items that many people would think does not belong in a "children's" store. I think back to my own childhood and yes I had some Sesame Street records and other things that I listened to, but what I really enjoyed was digging through my parents album collection and listening to that. I discovered the Beatles, the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, old country music, etc. by listening to those albums with my parents. I definitely think that it helped shape my listening tastes today and I want to my children and other children to maybe have those same experiences. Not everything that a kid listens to has to be "kid's" music. I don't believe in forcing children to listen to your music, but I do think exposing your children to the music that you love is good thing that you can share with your children. By the way, in keeping with that inclusiveness, we have recently rolled the "For The Parents" section into a "For the Whole Family" section.

7) Is there a trend you like (or hope to see) in children's music?
I think we all have been enjoying the exposure of great children's music as of late. I hope that it continues to shine the light on some well-deserved artists. I am glad that the children's music genre has broken out of it's stale, cookie cutter routine. Only a few years back, almost all children's music released looked the same on the outside and sounded the same on the inside. I am excited that some new record labels dedicated to good children's music is starting up. The "trend" that I am looking forward to is the continuation of great music that families can enjoy together.

8) How's your "pup" doing? Are you seeing some success?
The Pokey Pup has been doing great for a start-up. We only officially launched in September 2006 and we have had success so far. We had a very good holiday season and we hope that more and more people continue to get exposed to our store. 2006 was our start, but 2007 is shaping up to be our building year.

9) What's next for you?
As I just mentioned, this year we are planning on building on the small success that we have had so far. We are starting a national publicity campaign this Spring, we are looking to sponsoring some tours and festivals this Summer and we are planning to offer some more contests, promotions and giveaways. We plan to add some new features to the site such as continuing to add audio clips for the CDs and additional organization of products by age group. We are also planning to add more products to the store, expanding our book selection and possibly adding some toys and other unique products. That's just for this year. We do have some other cool things that we considering expanding into as well...tune in later for that.

Thanks Bryan!
Check it out folks:

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