Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Hold the obits, HMV’s Irish stores are back

The reopening of four HMV shops in Ireland is welcome for the direct and indirect jobs to be provided, but is the chain’s business model sustainable?

Nipper's back

Mon, Aug 26, 2013, 13:57


OTR HQ has joined the modern world. In the last few weeks, we’ve upgraded our TV package and we now have a zillion channels available to watch, from the God Channel to all those BBC 3, BBC 4 and Sky Art channels people kept talking about. Flicking around the other night, I came across Last Shop Standing, Graham Jones’ brilliant documentary on the rise, fall and rise again of the independent record shop in the UK based on his book of the same name, on BBC3. Jones traces where and when the rot set in and then goes on to showcase and profile the shows who are still standing. There are even a few cameos in it.

You don’t have to watch the documentary, however, to note that record shops have had a bad run of luck in recent years. Yes, there are still some beauties out there but they’re the exception not the rule. Jones notes that 540 UK shops were shuttered between 2004 and 2008 and, as this map shows, the days of record shops on every street are well and truly over. It’s a long time since a business like Caroline Records could operate on Dublin’s South Richmond Street, for instance.

Photo by Ronan Conroy

All of which is a bit of a preamble to last week’s news that HMV will be returning to the streets of Dublin and Limerick with four stores opening for business next month. The stores on Dublin’s Henry Street, Dundrum Shopping Centre and Liffey Valley Shopping Centre and Limerick’s Crescent Shopping Centre may well be joined by more in time, according to new HMV owner Hilco.

So, good news all round, right? The stores are back, some of the workers will get their jobs back and the domestic entertainment industry will suddenly turn the corner, buoyed by by a colossal uptick in sales of CDs, DVDs, One Direction calendars and Eminem t-shirts. It will be bonuses all round this year for every label executive in town. The sales of champagne at Christmas will be only fabulous. Right?

There was a vox-pop on the Newstalk Breakfast Show last Friday about the HMV re-openings which showed the caution should be the byword on this occasion. While there’s usually a health warning to be attached to any vox-pop, the people interviewed on the street on this occasion are the target audience for the stores. The return of the chain was welcomed, of course, but it was interesting to note how shopping habits had changed with mention of downloads and streams as much as CDs or DVDs. One person spoke about how HMV can’t surely survive on Christmas sales alone, citing one of the main boom times for any shop flogging entertainment products.

And there’s the rub. As we noted when the shops closed earlier in the year, there are many reasons why HMV closed and chief amongst them were changes in consumer purchasing patterns. Everything from showrooming and Spotify to price (remember that, with the exception of OTR readers, entertainment spending is discretionary for most people) and time (we don’t have that spare hour at lunchtime any more to browse in a shop) has meant that people go elsewhere for their music and movies. This afternoon’s news about the Peats Electronics’ store on Dublin’s Parnell Street further underlines the problems which the traditional retail sector now face.

It will be interesting to see what changes HMV will bring in on their return to address these issues. Will the shop decide to skew younger and attract in those who have time on their hands to browse the aisles? Aside from selling all the bobkes and baubles they can fit into the racks, what else will the shops do to bring in punters? It’s interesting to note how some of the shops featured in Last Shop Standing have changed to suit the new landscape – the excellent Rough Trade East in London being a prime example of this, a store which has great stock and also encourages punters to hang out and hang out without having a beefy security guard following them around for the duration.

If HMV simply does what it did before – stocking ‘em high and selling ‘em cheap – it will fail in the long-run because that is not a sustainable market for an entertainment chain any more. Plus, there is always somewhere that will be cheaper. There may be a belief that the Irish stores are different in this regard (remember those claims earlier in the year that the Irish shops were profitable), but you may also remember people saying the same thing about our property market and we all know how that one went. Our entertainment purchasing habits have changed and the stores who cater to this market also have to change. HMV’s moves in this regard will be fascinating to see.