The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

It Seems HMV’s Management Aren’t Listening …
November 9, 2012, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

So I read recently that HMV – the UK based, music retailer – have instructed their staff to hide tattoos and have presentable hair, in a bid to be more inviting and approachable to shoppers.

Now I appreciate that their business has been severely hit by internet sales – plus they contributed to their own downfall by being late, and stubborn, to embrace online retailing, including digital music sales – but it’s not because some of their sales staff look like fucking freaks … in fact, if it was up to me, I’d encourage hiring even more people like that.

You see while HMV might not be able to compete on price or range, the one thing they can challenge the digital boys on, is service and knowledge.

When I was younger, I used to go to a shop in Nottingham called WayAhead.

While there were a whole host of record shops in the city – from the big boys like HMV, WHSmiths, Woolies, Our Price and the smaller shops like Selectadisc – WayAhead was, for me, literally way ahead.

You see apart from specialising in the sort of music that would make Northern want to kill himself, the shop owners and staff knew their shit.

Buying a record from them wasn’t just a financial transaction, it was a lesson in music appreciation and understanding.

They would given you their view on what you were buying … why it was so good/bad … tracks that were worthy of special notice … the background on the band or its musicians plus a bunch of other artists you should check out, based on what you’ve just purchased.

In essence, it was a music education … something that even Apple’s Genius’ or Amazon’s algorithm couldn’t compete with … and it ensured I went back again and again and again.

I recently told this story to a client of mine who has retail outlet ‘issues’.

I pointed out that one of the things they need to get a grip on, is who they hire.

Rather than base their staffing criteria on ‘who will accept a particular wage’, they should look at who is good to represent the brand and attract the audience.

That doesn’t mean they have to overspend on staff costs, it just means they have to be more discerning on the criteria of employment.

It also means they have to train … train … and train again.

HMV has a special place in my heart. I know that sounds ridiculous, but they do.

My concern is that if the person managing the company thinks that the key to their fortune is ensuring transactional accessibility, then they’re going to end up encouraging what they say they are trying their hardest to avoid.

Music and film are food for our emotions.

They are, for all intents and purposes, what makes us human.

Fuck, they should be on Maslow’s fucking hierarchy of needs.

The last thing HMV needs is neat, tidy and efficient retail staff, they need people who can invigorate and ignite the masses passion and excitement for music, films and gaming on every visit.

In this World of price consciousness, passion – genuine passion, not the poor excuse too many marketers try and pass off as passion – can be a commercially valuable, true competitive advantage.

I hope the powers-that-be at HMV see the light before it’s too late.


As evidence of what I’m saying – even though it’s from a fictional book/movie – here are two clips from the wonderful movie, ‘High Fidelity’. You’ll note I’ve linked the film to the HMV store, rather than the Amazon one – just to do my bit for their sales. Ahem.



70 Comments so far
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“Buying a record from them wasn’t just a financial transaction, it was a lesson in music appreciation and understanding.”

A lesson you have still to learn.

Comment by John

That’s what growing up in Nottingham does for you.

Comment by DH

fucking good point doddsy. where are those fuckers at wayahead now? they better be in fucking prison because what they started was fucking criminal.

Comment by andy@cynic

I walked into this didn’t I.

Comment by Rob

ran in to it more fucking like.

Comment by andy@cynic

Bang goes your chance to work at HMV. That will teach you to surrender to your midlife crisis and get tattoos.

Comment by DH

Similar sentiment expressed in the NewYorker this weeek

Comment by John

That almost sounds like a compliment John. Be careful. We all know you didn’t mean it to come across that way.

Comment by DH

Or an accusation of plagiarism.

Comment by John

Rob only copies from low rent sources.

Comment by Billy Whizz

you havent read the newyorker recently then billy. who the fuck am i kidding, you havent read the bastard ever.

Comment by andy@cynic

Queen and heavy metal fan aside, this is a great post with a great point.

Whether your suggestion would be enough for HMV to counter the price and choice options available at online stores is debatable, but it would certainly give it more of a fighting chance than the decision that has been made.

What HMV’s management have done gives more insight into their character than their audiences. It also shows they lack the ability to distinguish between observation and insight.

Comment by Pete

Shows HMV are owned by money men not music men.

Then, if they follow this through, they’ll be no money men in no time.

Comment by DH

Good point Pete … especially your observation vs. insight comment. It does feel that they’ve approached their business problems in a superficial way or via a methodology that ensured their personal [ego] mistakes are left untouched.

Comment by Rob

And I’m now going to watch High Fidelity again.

Art resembles life. Or at least the 2nd clip on this post.

Comment by Pete


Comment by DH

i will not be a tool of the fucking puppet master. oh fucking no i wont.

Comment by andy@cynic

I think HMV’s retail strategy is a great idea and think they should commit to it 100%. I also hope their management never read this blog post or watch High Fidelity.

Good post Robert. Your point could apply to many retailers in many categories. UK electrical retailer Comet for one.

Comment by Bazza

Moot point. Comet just went into administration.

Comment by John

I know John. That’s why I referred to them or have I missed your point/insult?

Comment by Bazza

Nope – just wasn;t sure if it was a deliberate mention or a coincidence. Should have known better.

Comment by John

Were Comet a large sales channel for you Baz?

Comment by George

Nice try George.

Comment by Bazza

Didn’t Comet get bought by some finance company a while back for 2 quid?

I am guessing that even though Comet are in administration, they’ll be fine and end up walking out with a massive pay off. It used to be called asset stripping [even though I know this isn’t really that], but now it seems it would be more appropriate to call it livelihood stealing.

Comment by Rob

Yep the private equity boys have first call on any money ahead of all other debtors.

Comment by John

I can see what you did there. Andy will be proud.

Where is Andy? He’s never the first to comment anymore.

Comment by DH

fuck you dave. i have much more interesting things to do than run to this blog every fucking time campbell posts some of his shit. i have a daughter to fawn over and a world to save. how the fuck do you think obama won!

Comment by andy@cynic

I can be so stupid sometimes. Thanks for reminding me, you’re Mr generosity.

Comment by DH

look at baz coming across like hes rupert fucking murdoch. good work you evil bastard.

Comment by andy@cynic

Bad Baz. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad Baz.

Comment by Rob

Tattoo prejudiced fucks.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Not sure what scares me more. HMV’s new approach or me liking this post. I’d say keep it up Rob, but we both know that’s impossible.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Well I once thought it would be impossible that you’d like a post I’d written so who knows, maybe it could happen.

Comment by Rob

This is more like it Robert. This is not just a great read with a great, thought provoking point of view, it shows why you’re such a good planner. Understanding retail strategy within the brand and business strategy is something far too few people appreciate, let alone fight for.

Comment by George

fuck me auntie. why dont you get a room with campbell and be done with it.

Comment by andy@cynic

A very enjoyable read Robert. Unless you are in a senior management position at HMV.

Comment by Lee Hill

saying neat hair and no tattoos will save hmv is like saying mexicos crime rate will fall if they clean the trains every fucking night. oh sorry, crazy hair gladwell believes that fucking shit doesnt he. he probably is the consultant for hmv then. twats.

Comment by andy@cynic

yes campbell, thats a semi fucking compliment for this post. not you. just this post.

Comment by andy@cynic

Praising me. Slagging off Gladwell. Is this all a dream?

Comment by Rob

how i fucking wish it was.

Comment by andy@cynic

Interesting. In the early 90’s used to run one of the two main indie record shops in a town of similar size to Nottingham that also included an HMV, Virgin and Our Price, we all competed very well because the big chains knew their role and we knew ours. The HMVs were supermarkets, the indie shops were for the enthusiasts. Everything you mention about WayAhead was exactly our MO.
And the big chains catered for the mainstream who wanted in and out with the top 40 – end of story.
Records that were big for us, on indie labels and on import for example, then went on to be licensed by major labels and then into the chain stores. I would not stock them after that, I’d not be able to sell them once they were in the chains. They got 1:1 deals from distributers because of the volume etc.
Things got messy when the chains wanted a piece of the indie pie.
Perhaps HMV are realising what they are again.
A supermarket.
Incidentally, the last time I was in an HMV it was probably only 25% music, tops. Its a movies and games supermarket.
I might write something a bit longer about this. Ta E

Comment by Eaon Pritchard (@eaonp)

You’re right, HMV is not really a record shop anymore – just like MTV isn’t really a music channel – but I still believe, given the death of so many small, indie shops like Wayahead and Selectadisc – that HMV could, ironically, fill that void even if it means their passion has to extend to movies and games and not just music.

Maybe that wouldn’t work … but they stand a better chance than what they’re doing now – or worse, what they’re planning to do in the very near future.

On a positive note …

When I was in Nottingham earlier this week, I passed a 2nd hand vinyl shop called ‘Rob’s Records’.

It has been located in the same side street for at least 30 years. It still looks an utter shambles but – and here’s the key – because the owner is utterly passionate about music, it still attracts a very loyal following.

Sure, having one little store is very different to having an international organisation, but I’m just trying to highlight how passion can be a competitive advantage when it infects everything you do, not just the words of your ad campaign.

Comment by Rob

for a horrible moment i thought robs records might be your fucking shop till you said is was an utter shambles and i remembered that youre a fucking obsessively tidy twat. who dresses like a tramp. youre a walking contrafuckingdiction campbell.

Comment by andy@cynic

HMV is just another shop, which now has even less soul than before. A mix of record shop, movie shop, mobile store and gadget shop.

They are by no means the only one to mistakenly try and remove their best staff by means of character bleaching.

I was genuinely gutted to hear of the closure of Gamestation. A store that built the most amazing customer bond I have ever seen with it’s key audience. Sure it wasn’t always the most ‘professional’ service, but they knew their stuff, and they were happy to talk to customers for as long as they needed to find the right thing – a huge thing when you need to compete with cheap online prices. (So much so we made it their strapline.)

Sadly GAME bought them, didn’t understand it properly, and turned them slowly into GAME with different branding. Instead of taking two stores with different customers and advantages and giving them different goals, they ended up with two near identical stores.

The tattooed, brightly haired and pierced staff who played obscure game music through the store PA were not what you expect in a game store, but they were exactly what the customers needed.

You might say that watching two staff members play Pro Evo might not be productive, but for any gamer who stood their watching them, you knew instantly that these people know their stuff, they love games like you, and how much is that game? It looks amazing…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Maybe I need to work in a Birkenstock shop.

Comment by Rob

Mind you, when I went into a Birkenstock store in Melbourne recently, the sales assistant was so utterly new-age freaky, that I realised I’m no where near being a true ambassador of the Birkenstock brand. This is no doubt good news for them and also very good news for me.

Or at least Jill.

Comment by Rob

I missed my vocation working in a record shop. I could have secretly slipped Smiths CD’s into all the Queen covers and thrown anyone out who asked for Dido or the fucking Stereophonics.

Comment by northern

Dido? Jesus, are you really that young? Not only is that depressing – but haven’t you got better things to do than come on here and mingle with pensioners?

Comment by Rob

I think you should open two music shops next to each other on a small street. Your attempts to try and sell your respective musical passions would make for an interesting sitcom.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

As it happens there was a Way Ahead in Leeds, though not a patch on Jumbo. I seem to remember buying limited edition Smiths vinyl in there. So exactly what music would have made me want to kill myself?
Ocean Colour Scene?
Carter USM?
Billy Ocean?
Fat Larry’s Band?

On the subject of questionable music, at the age of 14 I was on a training camp in Chicogo and developed a weakness for a couple of Def Lappard tracks – they were on the radio constantly (I played New Order on the Walkman constantly to cleanse myself) – and I now work in a converted school that was briefly a debauched bar owned by said Sheffield poodle rockers. That’s karma for you.
Or not

Comment by northern

1. Nottingham WayAhead was obviously much cooler than Leeds WayAhead.

2. Don’t slag off Billy Ocean, he paid for a couple of my amps and guitars.

3. It’s spelt DEF LEPPARD.

4. I’m guessing you liked Def Leppard around 1987/8 when Hysteria came out … which means the tracks you developed a weakness for were most likely to be ‘Animal’ or ‘Love Bites’ or ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’. While that is impressive, it also makes me think that the titles influenced your future YouPorn obsession.

5. I quite liked Ocean Colour Scene … well, 2 of their tracks like ‘The Riverboat Song’ & ‘The Day We Caught The Train’.

6. I hadn’t heard – or thought of – Carter USM in an unbelievably long time and now I have, it reminds me of a very rude story I know about ‘We’ve Got A Fuzzbox & We’re Going To Use It’.

7. Errrrrm ….

8. Bugger.

9. New Order used to get on my tits. but mainly because I was fed up of hearing ‘Blue Monday’.

10. Despite all this, your comment makes me like you a little bit more.

Comment by Rob

Yes, Hysteria unfortunatey.
On the way to the frozen yoghurt stor after morning training Animal, Pour Some Sugar on Me (basically a song about squirting)
On the way to the drive in ditto.
The only respite was being driven by Cindy, who had a weakness for Rick fucking Astley, which was like having a rest from Media Arts by indulging in a Brand Footprint

There is no excuse for Ocean Colour Scene. None.

And I’m not that young, it’s just the hate for Dido and Stereophonics makes me wish I worked in a record shop in the twenties just to sabotage their airplay
It might have been preferable to working on Morrisons come to think of it, but then wouldn’t be where I am now – oh

Comment by northern

Particularly poignant as Scottish indie stalwart, Avalanche Records, have just announced that they’re lifting the needle on nearly 30 years of service to music, rather than the music industry. I, personally, would rather be seeing the back of HMV.

Comment by Lewis Rosa

Oh I agree, but HMV is still preferable to Tesco

Comment by northern

I am sorry to hear about Avalanche Records but I disagree with your view on HMV.

While they are obviously more commercially minded than an indie label and – it’s fair to say – have helped fuck music by promoting the sorts of artists that should have been killed at birth, they still have/had people working there that genuinely care about music and could help influence and inform more developed sense of sound.

Sure, it might not be as pure as smaller labels but [1] tech has enabled bands to produce and distribute music in ways [& at prices] that are beyond previous generations wildest dreams and [2] it’s still better than relying on a computer algorithm for your musical education.

Comment by Rob

So says the man who made a living making music for the sorts of artists who should have been killed at birth as well as owns a recording studio that he has rented out to an international record label that makes and distributes the sort of music by artists who should be killed at birth.

Just saying.

Comment by DH

In it’s present state, HMV just teaches homogenisation though: homogenisation within music to a soylent green of unit-shifting mush; homoginisation of music with trashy paperbacks, action figures, computer games and movies, and now their employees’ appearance. Fuck it, may as well stop off at the tesco metro on the way home, or a motorway services, and be educated by their top ten listing.

The falcon cannot hear the falconer and I think it’s been a while since Snowy heard his master’s voice. Maybe it is time to put the old dog down.

Comment by Lewis Rosa

Apart from the fact I am trying to work out why you’re up at this time [Isn’t it 5am where you are???] I am also wondering why it has taken someone so to point out those utterly shameful – and unforgivable – facts.

On the bright side:

1. I was/am such a musical kiss-of-death that I probably stopped certain artists from inflicting their terrible music on societies ears far earlier than they otherwise might have done.

2. I made a shitload of cash out of it which let me buy a shitload of gadgets, which keeps me quiet and off the streets … where you might accidentally bump into me.

Errrm, that’s it.

Comment by Rob

I agree Lewis … but the point of this post is less about the HMV company and more about the people who work in it.

Sure. many might be the same parity-pop-pushers that the big record companies are, but there’s a shit load of folk who actually care about music – real music – and now HMV’s owners are trying to stifle their personality and expression, I assume they’ll leave and so the last chance a large part of society had to be positively influenced on their music taste could die.

Comment by Rob

I just don’t think HMV, and others like it, are really aspirational employment opportunities for music lovers these days, in the same way that a guitar shop is for a guitarist or a game shop is for a gamer.

Comment by Lewis Rosa

Fair point … but given the lack of pretty much any other option on the high street, I’d probably rather go there and hope my colleagues give a shit about music than work in the CD section of Asda where I know they wouldn’t give a damn. But that’s just me.

Comment by Rob

I couldn’t wait to get back to commenting on this blog. Or it could be I needed a piss and then couldn’t get back to sleep. But it’s OK, I read the first few lines of this post and I’m tired again.

Comment by DH

I want to call you a bastard, but you’re so elegant in your insulting that it’s almost art.

Comment by Rob

By the way, they’re re-arranging agency desks today. It’s chaos.
I’m in charge of the library. They think I’m going to give D&AD and planning books pride of place. Little do they know they’ll be locked away in place of stuff that’s actually useful.
The Howard Gossage biography will be there, so will the books he wrote that Ciaran kindly pointed me to.
And no one drinks tea in there made in a mug.

Comment by northern

Is this part of Mrs CEO’s dictator wannabe influence or a genuine desire to keep things fresh?

That said, there is no excuse for not drinking tea in a proper mug. You’ll be happy/proud to know that while we were in England, we bought – and brought back to China – some big boxes of ‘Northern Tea’. I know you’ll probably regard that as the chicken tikka of tea, but for me, that’s a big deal.

Comment by Rob

HMV on Oxford St in the “good old days”.

Comment by Stan Lee (@BrandDNA)

It was part of the process of the accumulation of the meaning of music. As the structures disappear, so does longevity. Discuss.

Comment by John

we need to discuss why youve turned into a fucking cock first.

Comment by andy@cynic

I was quoting one.

Comment by John

[…] the brand’s image. In October, W+K’s Rob Campbell wrote a solid little number called ‘It Seems HMV’s Management Aren’t Listening‘ which, in a nutshell, illustrated that the real value in the record store retail experience […]

Pingback by HMV (an obituary) « D.B.F WRITES HERE

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