With Canadian entrepreneur and music lover Doug Putman taking over the reins of in-administration HMV, in this age of customer experience and Instagramability, can this venerable music chain be turned around?
Article by Rupert Watkins
A Canadian lifeline was thrown earlier this week to struggling high street stalwart HMV. Despite going into administration for the second time in six years, new owner Doug Putman believes there is life in the old dog yet.
A believer in bricks and mortar retail, Putman has revitalised the fortunes on the Canadian arm of HMV. A music fan himself, he is pointing to great service and a deeper, broader catalogue – especially of vinyl – as a route to success.
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Whilst we hope that may be the case, simply getting in more stock, a line of attack that is easily matched by streaming and other web-based services, one wonders if already Putman is missing the point; today it is about creating an experience to get people into the shops in the first place to appreciate that increased selection. Here are a few points that HMV in our opinion should ponder:
- Limited edition items such as records, unique stampings and collaborations (not absorption) with smaller vintage record dealers to appeal to the true vinyl aficionados who are unlikely to be persuaded by a small increase in stock.
- Signings: Putman points to bookshops such as Waterstones as models for what HMV can copy. Getting the soloists and bands in to sign vinyl covers and memorabilia (like bookshop author signings) may both be a way for him to increase footfall and a way he can approach the music industry to rebuild the rapport between fans and artists.
- Fan zones. Given the focus of film and TV on the sci-fi / comic arena, Putnam will also need to take on the comic stores. Again signings, themed weeks, comic tie ins and specific band and artist displays that can be moved from shop to shop so all fans can enjoy them creates a buzz, a reason to linger and take selfies giving HMV that social media buzz.
- Computer game competitions and trial games. HMV has not stocked huge amounts of computer and games console games for a few years. In store and between store competitions get gamers in the door to play, talk, linger – and potentially make other purchases. HMV needs to think in terms of making itself the place you hang out all day on a Saturday. If Putman can approach the games manufacturers to see whether HMV can act as beta testing stations for new releases even better.
- Waterstones, especially the large ones, now have coffee shops and even bars. If people are to come in, game, browse, do q&a’s with artists these will give consumers another reason to walk in the door.
- Dependent on whether Putman can get licensing agreements, in the remaining bigger stores have sofas and screenings; either the latest hot box set, hard to find limited release cut or a re-released art world curiosity, people can come in sit for 10 minutes or two hours and share their passion.
HMV has been such a fixture on this nation’s street it would be a shame for it to limp on before bowing to a prolonged demise. Unfortunately, it is not such a niche provider it can afford to merely focus on the depth of its offering, it will need to think outside the box to re-evaluate the consumer experience.