HMV is planning to shake up retail with Oxford Street comeback

HMV is planning to shake up retail with Oxford Street comeback

HMV is planning to shake up retail with Oxford Street comeback


Everybody loves a comeback story, and it is good news for music and pop culture lovers as HMV reopened its flagship store on London’s iconic Oxford Street at the end of last year.

After a four-year absence, the return to 363 Oxford Street is a full-circle moment as it was also home to the very first HMV store back in 1921.

Customers can expect the location to become a hub for entertainment in the capital and the largest entertainment outlet in London offering an unparalleled range of music, film, merchandise and technology products as well as performance spaces.

It has been a rollercoaster ride for the business that had to close the London location along with 27 stores in 2019 after HMV went into administration.

Nevertheless, the new store signals a dramatic turnaround under Canadian owner Doug Putman, who took the reins back in 2019.

“Having the store there and open is great and the excitement around the business that its generated,” HMV Managing Director Phil Halliday told indy100.

“Whenever I speak to people outside of work or wherever it really seems to mean something to people that we've reopened on Oxford Street and in that store.”

On 24 November last year, the store reopened and special guests Madness, Rachel Chinouriri, Baby Queen, Hard-Fi and the Reytons welcomed excited shoppers on what was a “unique” and “special day”.

“There were hundreds of people outside waiting to come in which was really great for the staff that were there. There's some staff who have worked with us for 40 years,” Halliday explained.

“So the people who were involved in getting the business back to the point where we could open the store, for a lot of them it was quite an emotional moment when they opened the doors and everyone kind of flew in, especially with all the work they've gone into actually getting that project live.”

Returning to one of Europe’s busiest retail destinations was always on the radar, as the business began looking at units back in June 2021, while an adjustment to business rates made the deal earlier this year “viable”.

“It was a lot of work to get the building back into a workable shape and workable condition. So we spent a fair bit of time planning and then a fair bit of money executing the aesthetic that is in the store now.”

Of course, this process has not been without its trials with Covid being “massively disruptive” to businesses due to the fact “no one really knew how that was going to play out,” while the cost of living crisis, fuel prices and inflationary pressures were all factors to contend with too.

The “overarching challenges” that remain revolve around business rates, and increases in cooperation tax, according to Halliday.

The reopening of the HMV store is a welcomed sight given that data from Local Data Company in March last year found 42 of Oxford Street's 269 stores - around 16 per cent - were vacant, and this was higher than both London high streets as well as high streets across the country.

Meanwhile, there have been complaints regarding the amount of American candy stores that popped up on Oxford Street in recent years. This eventually led to a crackdown by Westminster Council which has seen the number drop from 29 stores down to 21. More than £1m worth of illegal and counterfeit goods were seized by the Met Police by March 2023 from these shops.

The council also launched the Meanwhile On: Oxford Street initiative where up-and-coming businesses can open a store on the iconic street and get free rent for the first six months along with a 70 per cent cut in business rates.

Halliday believes “there’s probably a better use for the spaces,” as the return of the HMV store has created over 70 jobs and is also “somewhere for the local community to come and play their music".

On social media, users have expressed how happy they are to see HMV return to Oxford Street.

Over the decades HMV Oxford Street became renowned as a community hub for music fans with performances and signings from global artists such as The Weeknd, Kylie Minogue, The Spice Girls and Blur, with the latter performing an iconic rooftop gig at the shop in 1995.

With a purpose-built performance floor in-store, the new shop is expected to draw performances and signings from similarly renowned artists.

Some of the musicians who have already performed in-store include Rachel Chinouriri, Miles Kane, Billy Bragg and Shed Seven.

“So the live floor, which is the state-of-the-art facility upstairs, has been getting good feedback and great interest from some artists as well. There's some real excitement about the place,” Halliday commented.

Grass roots local bands and artists will also have the opportunity to share the stage graced by global superstars. Those who want to get gig experience can contact staff in-store for details on how to perform through HMV’s Live&Local programme which has already seen over 2,000 performances and events in stores.

“We have an open door policy if you want to get up with a guitar, bass drum on your back whatever it is. Then we’ll give you a stage and you can start to learn your craft and play in front of some people.”

When it comes to consumer habits, there is always the default debate surrounding bricks and mortar versus online shopping, but Halliday believes HMV provides the best of both worlds for customers.

“We've probably reached a bit of an equilibrium, to be honest where bricks and mortar experience lives side by side with e-commerce, and people want a bit of everything, don't they?” he said.

The managing director noted that online shopping can provide “great range selection and convenience,” and “price comparison”. He also believes there remains a “compelling” demand for the in-person shopping experience despite the additional competition of streaming services.

“But you don't want to spend all your time online, people want to get out and about it's a different experience and I think that's what we offer.”

Although streaming services are popular, there has been a vinyl record revival in the last few years.

BPI analysis based on Official Charts data reported vinyl LP sales in the UK increased by 11.7 per cent in the first 51 weeks of 2023 to 5.9 million units, the highest annual level since 1990.

Gen Z is the driving force of this resurgence as they desire to have physical copies of their favourite albums which they share on social media platforms like TikTok.

Some fans also post a video of themselves going to purchase the album in-store or post their vinyl shopping haul afterwards.

HMV staff have been able to appeal to this particular audience on TikTok with their content such as the “What you favourite album says about you” series.

Artists such as Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo include bonus tracks exclusively on vinyl as well as selling vinyls with different album covers for fans to collect.

A 2021 MRC Data survey of 4,041 individuals aged 13 and over found that 15 per cent of Zoomers bought vinyls in the last 12 months compared to 11 per cent of Millennials.

This trend will no doubt have been beneficial to HMV’s success since the business sells nearly 50 per cent of all vinyl sold in the UK “in some weeks”.

“There is a lot of the vinyl that gets sold wouldn't go into production if we weren't taking it because it has to hit a certain production quantity to make it worthwhile,” he explained.

Halliday described how “the fortunes of vinyl products and HMV’s own fortunes are intertwined”.

“As we've stabilised and been able to grow, then I think that's been positive for everyone involved in the vinyl industry.”

What products have been a particular hit with customers so far?

According to Halliday, K-pop albums are in high demand – (I visited the store before Christmas and can vouch that this was a popular area of the store).

“We sell a lot of K-pop so ATEEZ’s new album was flying off the shelves so we do a really good business on K-Pop there's a massive demand for that physically as well and a lot of it is sold on CD.”

While HMV’s top five include Arctic Monkeys and “evergreens” such as Fleetwood Mac, and Amy Winehouse.

All in all, a “good smattering of new and old”.

After a successful reopening, Halliday says “further expansion into Ireland and Europe is top of the list,” as a Dublin store opened in June last year - the first store in Ireland for almost 10 years - and a Belgium store in Wijnegem, Antwerp opened in late November.

He also mentioned Fopp – a retailer that also sells music, film, books etc. and is owned by HMV – where they are “trying to find some locations to open them,” and the stores tend to be in “quirky buildings,” so the search is on for units that “do justice to brand”.

Doug Putman, owner HMV and Fopp believes the re-opening of the central London store will result in HMV “mainstay on the UK high street”.

“The return to Oxford Street and re-opening of our flagship is a culmination of the team’s hard work over the past four years and as a business we see it as the launchpad for an exciting new era for HMV.”

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