Thankfully for the fate of at least this small corner of the world, Essex is home not only to the weirdly attired, vacant eyed, orange creatures of TOWIE, but also to three of the nation's oldest independent record stores: Adrian's of Wickford, Fives of Leigh-on-Sea and Slipped Discs of Billericay. With roughly a century's combined experience between them it's safe to say their owners have seen it all and must be doing something right. I was lucky enough this week to speak with Sandra and Carl, from Fives and Slipped Discs respectively, about surviving where so many have failed and the impact of Record Store Day on shops outside the capital bubble.

We're all well versed by now on the impact of the internet, both legal and illegal, on physical stores, but I was surprised to find that this was not top of the owners' concerns. "We don't actually have a problem with the internet," says Sandra. "It's the supermarkets that hurt us, they have prices we just can't compete with." Carl agrees, "I hate calling it a 'product', but that's how they see it. They've driven the price down till your making only 10 or 20 pence an album." It's a margin the supermarkets can cope with, but independents, who don't have a mountain of alternative stock to rely on, cannot. In fact, "Record Store Day releases are the only things you make any decent margins on," states Carl.

Another common theme of change over the past 20 years is a decline in the quality of communication from the labels themselves and the ensuing difficulty in determining what people will want to purchase. Sandra tells me that, while they are still in touch with each of the major labels, it is "all done by email now" and that she struggles to get enthusiastic about an endless series of promos on screen. They used to receive visits, posters, cds to play instore and notification before any major TV or radio appearances. All these things enabled better ordering practices. "You don't really get any awareness of the demand for something now, until there's someone in front of you demanding it," concurs Carl.

This issue is compounded by the monetary woes higher up in the industry. "Record companies don't do 'sale or return' anymore, so you're loathe to go out on a limb, because these things aren't cheap and you can't have it sitting there. It makes it very hard to take a punt on new bands," says Carl. Sandra agrees, telling me how the bigger labels only push increasingly "boring" major acts, because no one wants to take a chance that might not pay off. And with profit margins tiny as they are, this includes the independent record store owners, too.

So how have they survived? From this very limited study it seems there is no 'one size fits all' strategy. Adrian's is able to trade on the vast wealth of stock accumulated during the heady days of the 70's and 80's. It's a store focused on the collector where, to my bank account's horror, you can find original pressings of Nirvana's 'Bleach' or The Clash's 'Straight to hell/Should I Stay Or Should I Go', Double A side 12.

For Fives Sandra informs me, "Our back catalogue is basically what we live on." The store itself is the classic 'racks fit to burst' style, covering each wall and the centre aisle with carefully ordered merchandise that could take the best part of a day to rifle through. It'd be a great, if poverty-inducing, day.

Carl, meanwhile, has moved to a new premises and turned half the store into a stylish and bustling coffee shop, with brown leather seating, a carefully curated set of racks and album artwork adorning the walls. "The coffee shop pays the bills. This doesn't," he laughs, gesturing to the surrounding CDs. "This never paid the bills!"

While I'm interviewing Sandra a man politely interrupts to ask about the new Ultravox release. He tells me he had tried HMV in the past, but found their customer service lacking - they left him waiting 4 weeks for an order then cancelled it via email. After he leaves with instructions to pop back in a couple of days to pick up his purchase, Sandra tells me he's a regular. "He comes back now. HMV let him down, so he comes here. We just try and get what the customer wants," she clarifies with a half shrug indicating how straightforward that sales message is. "It's what we've always done here."

Sandra's also keen to praise Leigh's local council for investing in the town's life. It is a very "folky, arty town", with yearly art trails, folk festivals and regattas. Fives stocks a lot of folk, a lot of classical and boasts a strong jazz section, all designed to capitalise on the passing trade these events bring in.

Carl, alternatively, says, "Billericay is not particularly young, trendy or arty." In Billericay's defence, it is a very pretty town, with a quaint high street largely devoid (as is Leigh) of the major chain stores. "I could get rid of all this," Carl states, indicating the music half of the store. "Put more tables in and I'd make more money, but I'd hate my job. I come in every day, and have for the last 20-odd years, and I enjoy my job." When I ask why the store doesn't have much of an online presence, he develops this further, "I enjoy this, because I like the physically being here, chatting with the people who come in, the 'if you like this, you'll love these' and they come in for one thing, leave with three new bands to try, just through my suggesting things. That's what I enjoy."

He's right, too. Just doing these interviews, making the effort to get to each store and enjoying the different atmospheres I'm reminded again how much I would miss them if they were gone, how much more fulfilling this is over clicking a button online. This feeling is the point of Record Store Day, getting us back in to appreciate what the internet and HMV can't give you - a sense of community, both in your home town and as a music lover. Sandra recalls the previous years of participation. In contrast to scenes outside American stores, "Everyone's very good. They queue from about 4 'o' clock in the morning till I let them in, everyone comes in in order to look at the stuff." Of this year, "Hopefully it'll be a good day and no one will be too disappointed."

Carl hints at the flip side of the day for the smaller independent retailers: "I do think, seeing faces I've never seen before, or not since last year anyway, you are buying stuff the rest of the year..." The fact is the 'every day is Record Store Day' mentality has to follow the main event if it is to produce lasting consequences and encourage more music consumers to appreciate physical formats. I tell a mildly disbelieving Carl that, at least amongst myself and my friends, there's a shift back to buying vinyl records. "I've had dads in here [last year] pointing out, 'The music's in there' and the kid's all, 'How does that work?'" laughs Carl. "You do forget the difference in sound between an mp3 and vinyl. For all its crackles and pops and getting up every 30 minutes to turn it over...It's got a different sound, a warmth to it, you just can't explain it to people."

Which is the absolute perfect, guilt-free excuse to spend the rent on the plethora of Record Store Day releases this coming weekend, or indeed any releases, any weekend. Sandra's parting advice if there's something you've got your heart set on? "Be here early...And hope!"

Adrian's Records is located on Wickford High Street. They will be opening at 8 am on the day.

Fives Records is located on Leigh Broadway. They will be opening at 8 am. Acoustic performance by Grand Reunion at 2pm.

Slipped Discs is located on Billericay High Street. They will be open at 8 am. No instore performances are planned, but they do have coffee and cake.


For more information on Record Store Day head to www.recordstoreday.co.uk