FEATURE: A New Master with a Masterplan: What Next for HMV?




A New Master with a Masterplan


IN THIS PHOTO: The original logo/design for HMV (His Master’s Voice)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images  

What Next for HMV?


EVERY time a big company or chain...


 IN THIS PHOTO: Doug Putman has taken over 127 HMV stores in the U.K/PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

is threatened with closure, it causes my blood to run cold. I get this impression of multiple shops closing and hundreds of jobs going. There has been talk of chains like House of Fraser closing many of its stores and it seems like, although most are still open, there might be some problems ahead. We can say the same of Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and other chains. Supermarkets like Tesco are cutting people and it seems like the high-street is fading before our eyes. I walk around various towns and villages and you see all these shops boarded up. It is sad to see this happen and you know, as soon as another business fills the space, their time is limited and uncertain. I cannot imagine a high-street vista without HMV being in it. HMV has been a part of my life since I was a child and it was great, in the 1990s, having a choice of record shops. I recall growing up somewhere that had an HMV and an Our Price and one could brose both shops and ensure they got what they needed. This was back at a time when cassettes, C.D.s and vinyl were big; when there was a big appetite for physical music and we did not have streaming services. Now that the landscape has changed and we are all digested music/film online, HMV has been threatened and struggled to keep up with the competition.

One of the biggest problems with the company is the fact that its model and look is very similar to how it was years ago. Services like Spotify and Netflix have led to a decline in the popularity of DVDs and C.D.s. More of us are streaming T.V. shows and films so there is less of an appetite for physical purchases. Although C.D.s still exist; many of us are streaming our music and it means fewer of us are walking through the doors of HMV. It saddened me to see HMV threatened and the fact is this: many of its stores are going to disappear and leave a black mark on the high-street. Not only do shops like HMV invite casual browsing and curiosity but it is often the only source of music (physical) for many people. A lot of us do not go to independent record shops and HMV is that all-under-one-roof emporium where you can get all your music needs and a whole lot more. Every popular shop that gets shut leaves a gap and it is sad we are so reliant on the Internet. Not only does one get to interact with knowledge staff members at somewhere like HMV but there is that chance to browse and actually look at products in the flesh. The Internet is fine but there is no social aspect and it can be a little boring scrolling through pages and not actually looking for music in a real shop.


 IN THIS PHOTO: The flagship HMV store on London’s Oxford Street was opened on 20th July, 1921 and was presided over by composer Sir Edward Elgar (it was opened by the Gramophone Company at 363 Oxford Street)/PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Thomas/REX/Shutterstock

Although there was a fear all HMV shops would be closed, its new owner has come in and is intent on preserving every single shop. Doug Putman has big plans and he is the boss of Canada’s Sunrise Records. He gave an interview with The Guardian and was asked about whether all the stores will be closed:

The new owner of HMV is hoping to reopen the chain’s flagship store on Oxford Street, and is in talks with landlords on the rest of the 27 outlets which closed down earlier this week.

Doug Putman, the 34-year-old boss of Canada’s Sunrise Records, rescued 100 HMV stores from administration, beating off a bid from Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley. But branches such as Oxford Street, with higher rents, were not included in the deal.

Speaking to the Guardian, Putman said he was optimistic that these outlets could be reopened: “Where certain stores have closed, our public have really rallied around and I credit that with some of the landlords coming back to us,” he said. “They can see how much support we are getting

That flagship store on Oxford Street is an institution and essential for London. There are not many big HMV stores in the capital and it is in a perfect location. It is set on three floors and has a whole range of C.D.s, DVDs; T-shirts, merchandise and vinyl. I hope Putman and his team can find the money to keep this store alive and make sure the rest (threatened with closure) are saved.


 PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

There is one problem with Oxford Street’s store: the cost of rent and ensuring it can remain open:

But the site is expensive – rent on the Oxford Street store is £3.2m a year, and the rates bill is £1.4m, according to HMV’s former owner, Hilco.

Putman said if he could not cut a deal with the landlord, he would look for another central London flagship with a more affordable rent.

He is investing more than £10m into HMV as he revamps the website, ensures the latest releases are in stock and gives store managers more freedom to buy what their local customers want.

“We are getting away from the corporate mentality where every store is set up the same – we have to move away from that and let each store have its own personality,” he said. “I want to unlock the passion and creativity,” Putman says.

The stores will “double down” on vinyl, not just because he is now a self-confessed vinyl nut – he owns four record players – but because it’s what shoppers are asking for”.

One of the big criticisms that came out of the news HMV might cease trading was the slightly generic and old-fashioned look. Many people walk into HMV and they are greeted with DVDs rather than music. I can understand people love DVDs and there is that demand but HMV was set up because of the music – the logo sports a dog listening to a record on a gramophone!


 PHOTO CREDIT: @_sharon_garcia/Unsplash

HMV diversified and expanded to cater for technologies like DVDs but, as the Internet starts to take away the market and a bigger share of the profit, it is a good idea to let each store monitor what they sell most of us and promote accordingly – rather than be beholden a general and indiscriminate HMV model. I do like the fact a chain might be able to adopt this flexible approach so the head office and managers can interact and set up their stall how they like it. The demands are different in smaller towns as they are in the city. Many people who do not have access to a lot of record shops and options prefer an HMV that has a general spread and looks as it does now. Many in larger cities have streaming passes and subscriptions so they are not reliant on stuff like DVDs and prefer vinyl. Putting records back in the forefront – as they were at the very beginning – is a really interesting idea and one that might not have seemed possible a few years ago. Vinyl sales have been tracking upwards but one wonders, when CDs were more popular, whether there could have been this record-heavy look. Putman, as he explained in this interview is keen to put records front-and-centre:

Crucial to Putman's plans will be sales of vinyl records. They offer, he says, a 'huge opportunity'. Vinyl record sales in the UK fell to just over 200,000 in the middle of the last decade but by last year had hit 4.4 million – back to early 1990s' levels...


PHOTO CREDIT: @priscilladupreez

'Customers are saying very loudly, 'Hey, we want more vinyl, give it to us.' And I try never to turn down someone's money.'

He wants to move vinyl records racks to the front of shops – as in his Sunrise stores in Canada.

Can he raise vinyl sales which are estimated to be less than 10 per cent of HMV's turnover? 'I think we can get vinyl to close to 30 per cent,' he says”.

Putman’s aims seem to be three-fold. He wants to keep all stores open and protect jobs; he wants to keep DVDs and merchandise but put vinyl at the front. He also wants to ensure the chain is making a profit by the end of the year. He has plenty of passion and ambition; a lot of money to get the chain back on its feet and almost start from scratch. HMV is in a rare position where it is almost alone in regards the bigger music chains. It can organise itself so the bulk of the stores have vinyl at the very core. When you walk in, you see all these organised and categorised shelves of vinyl and, at the sides, you can get your DVDs, C.D.s and other bits. I think there are some great independent record shops that are definitely worth a visit but many of them are quite small and crowded.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @fstop64/Unsplash

You can get a few records you want but the choice is not always there. I have seen HMV increase its stock of records but there remains an issue: the high prices and the lack of cheaper options. Maybe it is fair enough paying twenty-five quid for a double-album or slightly less for a new album but can we be expected to shell out twenty pounds for a single album that is a few years old?! I know vinyl production is expensive but there is a way to cap prices and provide greater value and still be in profit. Even if most records were fifteen quid then that would entice more people in. I think a lot of people are put off buying records because they are more expensive than streaming services. I wonder whether Putman has a pricing strategy and whether his profit forecast takes in the current price of vinyl. If HMV were stoked with a huge range of vinyl and they provided this complete experience – ensuring people did not need to go online to find what they want – then there could be this huge boom. Keeping the prices lower and more accessible means younger listeners would be tempted to browse and you’d get these impulse purchases. Maybe there should be loyalty schemes where members could get discounts or there could be a promotional deal where you could get three records for, say, forty pounds.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @samueldixon/Unsplash

Most of us dream of owning a record shop and we often have idea of what the place will look like and the range of records that will be included. I hope Putman is true to his word and looks at some of the most successful independent shops, like Resident in Brighton, and sees how they do things. I think you can bring the charm and familial aspect of an independent to a chain. The reason I love Resident is the fact it lists its vinyl by category and has C.D.s too; there are music books and you can get more obscure records and singles. That might be racing ahead but I think HMV, now that it seems safer, has a chance to not only get into profit but actually re-establish its crown as the king of the high-street. We need a stable chain that can exist in various towns and cities so, if people want, they can get out and buy music. The Internet is important but it cannot be everything – we still need shops to exist. I am glad there is this music-loving owner who is putting music above profit and his own ends. Putman will look out for the consumer and staff members; he knows how important it is for HMV to exist and I am pleased he is fighting to keep all stores open.


 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

2019 has only just started but it seems like HMV, by the end of the year, can find itself on solid ground and start to grow. I am interested to see whether this records-first approach will extent to all stores and how far it will go. I have been reliant on HMV since childhood and I hope to visit stores until I am old. We all want HMV to thrive and be a part of the high-street tapestry and, with Doug Putman dropping the needle and choosing the records, a revival and evolution is in the air. Putman, in this interview, talked about the generational split and how many technology-focused youngsters are seeing people buying records and reacting:

'The younger people are seeing the older ones buy it so it's cool, it's hip. When we grew up we had cards, we had vinyl, there was lots to collect. I think you are seeing a generation that never really collected anything, but want to'”.

It is a changeable time and the future is a less unclear. I think Putman will steer HMV where it needs to go and I cannot wait to see the day when my local store has records at the very heart of what it is about. I have a romantic vision that HMV, when we do our Christmas shopping this year, is thriving and there are masses of people flicking through record racks and buying music gifts for their friends and family. If this can happen then I think it will make the high-street, and people who love their music, so much happier...


 PHOTO CREDIT: John Rennison/The Hamilton Spectator

AND better off.