Networking in Surrey

Sad to hear about HMV today. I spent the first 5 years of my working life at Tower Records, which eventually went in 2006.

In my opinion, the demise of Tower Records, long before online / mail order made the market as tough as it is now, was a fascinating paradox.

Was made them unique, was that there was no central buying. So every store, every section was bought by a kid that was “into” that music. Great for customers browsing who want to try something new and need a little advice. Bad for the company because most customers know what they want, and could get the same elsewhere for less money. Woolworths always had the chart stuff for less, but little else unless you were a grandparent. At Tower Records, the kids ran the stores.

These days online this is talked about as “discovery”, trying to use online to suggest and tempt customers into something new alongside what they were looking for. Nowhere near as much as talking to a 20 year old who lives, dresses and breathes Funk in front of his section of a store. There, in front of his dream CD collection, his enthusiasm may tempt you to buy a couple of albums you wouldn’t have otherwise.

But the clue there was in the language I used. “CD”. “Album”. It’s all drifting further into the past. As importantly, customers can’t afford to take a risk on something new these days. Most have a list of stuff they know they want and haven’t been able to afford yet. And you can download one song for 75p anywhere, any time.

Tower Records had shops full of stuff the staff liked listening to, next to overpriced chart music you could get anywhere. It was its USP, its strength, but only if the staff were good. One buyer bought 400 big pink boxsets of Barbara Streisand because he was a big fan and the Rep gave him one free. They were vastly overpriced, and ended up being sold at a loss off of a pallet near the front of the store.

Such a shame when the USP and strength of a brand is also its undoing.

HMV had outlasted Tower Records in the digital era, but probably has been the last big music store retailer. Awful for staff, families of staff, and a little bit of something lost for consumers. These days the music shop is on the music player.

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