HMV boss seeks rebirth of UK record store giant

AFP . London | Update:

In this file photo taken on 28 December 2018, pedestrians walk past a HMV store in central London. Despite the UK retail crisis, Doug Putman, the new owner of the HMV record store, says he can reinvent the famous brand just saved from bankruptcy, backed up by vinyls, pop-koreans and brand new stores. Photo: AFPThe new boss of long-troubled British music retailer HMV told AFP it can overcome "tough times" on the high street -- with help from keen demand for vinyl records and K-Pop.

HMV's first store was opened by English composer Edward Elgar as 'His Master's Voice' in 1921 and helped propel the Beatles to fame -- the group signed 40 years later with EMI, the record label which HMV owned until 1996.

Yet it has gone bust twice in recent years, ravaged by booming demand for online music and home entertainment -- and souring consumer sentiment.

The ailing chain was rescued in February for an undisclosed sum by Canadian company Sunrise Records, after failing to make it through last year's busy festive holiday trading period.

"Retail is having a tough time right now," HMV UK owner Doug Putman, 35, said in a telephone interview with AFP.

"But our belief is that there is opportunity out there. And we know that customers still want physical products ... and ultimately we are going to offer that. "

The Canadian businessman, who is chief executive of Sunrise Records, snapped up 100 stores from administrators earlier this year, rescuing almost 1,500 jobs.

Some 27 branches were closed by administrators, including HMV's original first store on London's Oxford Street, but HMV has since reopened a number of outlets and currently has 114 in total.

'Doing something different' 
HMV is now seeking to listen more closely to its customers and respond rapidly to changing musical tastes, in order to differentiate itself from the likes of US tech titan Amazon.

"Everybody is going to have to change not only how they think, how they work, how they sell," Putman told AFP, when questioned about the struggling British high street.

"Because if all you are doing is offering what Amazon offers, then it is going to be really hard to compete. So you definitely need to do something a lot different."

Most recently, that has meant that the group has embraced nostalgic demand for old-style vinyl records, as many customers choose to shun top-end technology.

And it has also sought to tap into strong demand for Korean K-Pop music that appeals far more to the younger generation.

"We recently just did a survey in the stores to see who is the demographic coming, and it was really split in all ages," Putman told AFP.

"So what we are seeing is they are buying different things.

"But that younger demographic is certainly coming in to buy K-Pop from us. They are certainly coming in to buy vinyl from us, record players.

"And ... when you look at the technology offering we have, you know, they are buying our headphones.

"So we are getting them in and they're buying; they just may not be buying exactly what they were ten years ago."

Putman was speaking to media ahead of Friday's opening of HMV's biggest store in Britain's second biggest city of Birmingham.

In recent months and years, Britain's traditional high street shops have been buckling under pressure from souring consumer sentiment ahead of Brexit.

'Remaining authentic' 
And the high street is also battling rising costs and rents, high taxes on business property, fierce online competition and stretched household budgets.

Most recently, debt-plagued British travel agent Thomas Cook -- a staple of many of the nation's city centres -- declared bankruptcy.

Putman insisted however that HMV, which filed separately for bankruptcy in both 2013 and 2018, would still be around as long as it remained relevant.

"I have no doubt we are going to be here in two, three, four, five years," he told AFP.

"As long as we keep listening to the customer, we remain relevant, we remain authentic, I think we will be here."

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