When I first set up my blog a few years ago, it was around the time Woolworths went bust and we were heading into the worst recession for decades triggered by the credit crunch. So today, news has broken of the demise of HMV, hot on the heels of Jessops, Comet and Game and more latterly Zavvi (formerly known as Virgin Megastores).
Record shop culture is something that was a big thing for me during my adolescence. They all had great names too; Beggars Banquet and Our Price and later Rough Trade and Vinyl Solution. They were great places to meet, hang out and listen to new music or pick up orders of ‘limited editions’. There would always be some muso on hand, who probably played in a band as well, to share in depth knowledge and general beardiness. You couldn’t nick albums or 12″ records because of their size, the carrier bags were carried out and shown off and there was nothing better than to hear the needle drop on to the record and the sound of something new.
While we’re no longer a record buying public, vinyl has held up surprisingly well against the onslaught of digital, and will do for some time to come. Rough Trade has a thriving second shop just off Brick Lane now and it has done a brilliant job of creating a unique experience; from selling amazing coffee, to holding one off gigs and events to it’s branded photo booth, it always feels right going in there. Have a look at their website, it’s really engaging and talks both about the staff and customers. It has a sense of community and sharing, something which soulless chain stores find it almost impossible to recreate or imitate.
A great example is my visit to the enormous HMV in Westfield London just after Christmas. I entered the store which was quite busy and started hunting for The Wanted 2013 calendar, obviously not for me I might add. The shop was not particularly welcoming and it’s not really clear what it sells anymore; just music, DVDs (which aren’t very good), music and tablet accessories? It was a bit of jumble. It felt like it has lost what was as the heart of the business – musical experience which is embodied so well in the HMV logo. But where were the music mags, fanzines, calendars and music books? I couldn’t find anything of real cultural value. It all looked cheap, mass produced, and uncared for.
Outside HMV is a small stall selling calendars, so while my daughter looked on the stall, I looked in the shop. It wasn’t a great experience and it just seemed like a duplicate of everywhere else with nothing unique or interesting. I found the calendar we were after and as I walked down the aisle of the shop I found myself followed by a security guard who sped past me to stand by the door as if to block me. I waved at my daughter outside so we could compare prices of the same product. There was just a penny or so between them, so my daughter managing the budget of a 12 year old shopper, popped in and joined the HMV queue.
I waited outside, hating the place for making me feel like some kind of thief.
Thanks heavens I didn’t buy any giftcards from there as the shoe would be on the other foot right now.
If HMV wants any advice, here’s three things. Treat your customers like the paying public that they are and respect them. Bring back a sense of exchange, not money for old rope, knowledge and enthusiasm. And finally, make HMV a place for people to hang out and experience arts and culture, not just pile them high-sell them cheap DVDS. Oh, and honouring the giftcards might help win back the hearts and minds of your much-dwindled customer based.