When Waterloo Records opened its doors on April 1, 1982, Austin was not quite the same town that it is today. The computer industries had arrived in the mid-seventies, but had yet to begin drawing the number of people into town that they would start to bring by the turn of the decade. Nor had Austin’s reputation as a premier arts town – especially in both music and film – swelled its ranks of the creatively inclined. The boom years of the eighties had yet to fully take hold of the sleepy town. Simply put, Austin was a lot smaller.
But while a good deal more modest, Austin’s music scene was well established. Texas music had always seemed to be vital and important, not only at home but far beyond the confines of our own barbed wire fences. From The 13th Floor Elevators to Willie Nelson, Texas artist were known internationally and their music respected around the world. Austin, however, had yet to become recognized on a national, let alone international, level as a live music mecca. The birth of South by Southwest still lay 5 years into the future and the Austin Record Convention, now one of the largest in the country, was no more than a suckling itself, having only come into being during the Spring of the previous year. Even Stevie Ray Vaughan wouldn’t release his first album with Double Trouble, Texas Flood, until 1983, igniting a blaze of guitar still burning its way down the strip on Sixth Street. The Austin scene was vibrant and alive, but it was different.
Some things about Waterloo were different too. A building a mere 1,200 square feet housed the store at a location 2/3 of a mile further South on Lamar. Compared to the relatively roomy dimension of 6,400 square feet that Waterloo’s main store enjoys today it’s hard to imagine how cramped that original store must have seemed. Size, however, certainly didn’t seem to matter to our customers, voting us best record store in the Austin Chronicle readers poll that first year, an honor they have granted us every year since.
Back then, what Waterloo really had going for it wasn’t all that radical. It came more out of understanding the customer’s viewpoint than planning a marketing strategy. It rose from the kindred soul of merchant and customer. Instead of catering to the music consumer, Waterloo catered to the music lover, if only because we were music lovers too. It was true then, it certainly still is today.
From the outset, Waterloo’s policies were a success. Customers could listen to any album in the store before buying. Not unprecedented in the history of music retail sales of course, but since the advent of shrink wrap, a virtually forgotten practice.
The logical extension of this listening policy was our attitude towards returns. Even after purchasing a record, taking it home and playing it, customers still had ten days in which to return it – for whatever reason they chose! Whether they accidentally bought a live album by mistake, forgot that they already had the record at home, or just didn’t like it, no questions were asked and a full exchange was provided. As long as the product returned to us in the same condition it went out in, both customer and store enjoyed a symbiotic relationship – we provided the leeway and trusted they wouldn’t abuse it.
These ideas, which served us so well in the beginning, have never changed. Along with a knowledgable staff and an emphasis on customer service, they form the cornerstone of what Waterloo Records is, has been, and will always be about. Add to that an extensive selection of music spanning all styles, a special propensity for Texas artists, and a simple genre free a-z filing system, then it becomes readily apparent what Austin’s music lovers have been shouting about.