Start Licensing’s Ian Downes checks out HMV’s new store format in Oxford city centre this week and discovers lots of opportunities for licensed brands.
As has been widely reported, the retail sector is facing tough challenges at the moment. These challenges range from delayed deliveries to concerns over footfall.
Against this backdrop it is great to see a retailer doing something new and facing the challenges head on. Inspired by some posts I saw on LinkedIn, I decided to take a visit to a newly opened HMV Shop in Oxford city centre. Many LinkedIn members had been full of praise for HMV’s new store format and I was curious to see one of the new shops myself.
HMV is, of course, a retail brand that has faced a number of challenges itself over recent years. It has had some very dark moments. Rather fittingly, it is now owned by Canadian company Sunrise Records.
HMV is a retail brand with history and heritage. It is also one that has a long history of working with licensed products and licensing in general. Of course it has an illustrious history in music and its brand logo featuring Nipper the dog is one of the most recognisable retail idents on the high street. As an aside I have always loved the fact that there is a Nipper Alley in Kingston. The alley is adjacent to the last resting place of Nipper and the alley was named in his memory. Might be worth using that as a quiz question next year.
Seemingly HMV recognised that it needed to do something different this time round to remain competitive and succeed in a challenging retail environment. Hence the move to a new shop format and a new shop inventory.
The first thing I noticed about the Oxford shop was its large windows and clear signage. The shop seemed very welcoming and was communicating what it did well. Its shop sign spelled out clearly what it was selling: pop culture, vinyl, 4K Ultra HD, headphones and turntables. It also used the iconic Nipper brand device prominently and there was a nod to the brand’s heritage with the call out for the fact that HMV was established in 1921.
The shop trades under the The HMV Shop banner now. In the shop signage call out it was good to see that music still plays a key part in the shop’s offer. I think this is a sensible and welcome strategy, not least as it will help retain some older customers who generally have a higher level of disposable income while it will not alienate younger consumers many of whom are growing to appreciate ‘original’ vinyl. In this case records rather than figurines. I think.
The HMV Shop used its window displays well with features made of hot toys like Among Us and cool pop culture lines such as Funko. These sort of products work well as displays from a design perspective, but are also attention grabbers. They are the Del Boys of display – crowdpullers and pleasers. It is a clever move by the shop merchandisers. The shop layout with the large windows makes the store very welcoming – it was possible to see in and take in other displays. Too often shops are not inviting and seem to hide their goods away. The Oxford shop is a fairly large one set on two floors.
Inside the shop product is well displayed on a combination of display tables (formed out of wooden palettes), FSDUs and custom shelving. It looks very fresh and contemporary. There is a sense of space while it is clear the shop is well stocked and has a good mix of products. A strong theme in-store was Japanese characters and products including lines such as t-shirts, confectionery and drinks. I suspect much of the product in-store was licensed.
There was also a K-Pop section celebrating South Korean pop music. Both these categories of product show a shift in HMV’s approach and a real desire to reflect pop culture trends. I can imagine for fans of anime and manga HMV is now a destination store.
There was also a commitment to specific product categories and a sense that HMV was backing these in-depth. For example novelty and figural mugs. Licensed lines such as Looney Tunes and Ghostbusters were part of a dedicated display area. Again merchandisers had recognised that these products displayed well and added to the overall appeal of the shop.
Of course, they have to sell well but in a category like mugs, packaging design is a core part of the product’s appeal and it certainly helps push them in-store.
There was good space given to books including graphic novels with characters like Batman and Joker featuring. There were also classic graphic novels such as V for Vendetta on sale. Signage was well used throughout the store to highlight specific products and genres. Under a ‘East meets West’ banner there was a fabulous range of Pokémon products.
The displays also carried the message ‘You Love It! We Get It!’ A positive message and one that customers would respond well to. There is a sense that The HMV Shop is a social shopping experience. I can imagine younger consumers in particular calling into the shop with friends as part of a day out, not least as they hunt out the newest and latest products. HMV will need to keep stock fresh and keep an eye on trends. Of course licensees and licensors can help with this intelligence gathering.
It was also good to see that there was a good mix of products on sale including retro arcade gaming machines such as Pac-Man. These items are also good ones for social media sharing. They make a good selfie backdrop.
Reassuringly it was good to see that The HMV Shop had retained the t-shirt wall and this particular one had a number of well known licensed brands on sale. The wall was supplemented by display tables of t-shirts. Again these were themed by subjects such as Rock’n’Roll with bands such as Led Zeppelin, Oasis, Joy Division and Fleetwood Mac featured. I am sure these tie into the vinyl on sale as well. I am sure they cross reference sales stats between departments.
Other highlights on the ground floor included displays of boxed Bandai action figures and an end cap of Among Us product to tie in with the range on show in the window.
The upstairs of the shop was dedicated to vinyl. This area was set up like an independent record shop with bays of records that you can flick through and browse.
I think finding that record is part of the pleasure of buying vinyl and HMV seems to have recognised this with the way this department is set up. The vinyl floor also features other items like turntables and headphones. It is in keeping with the ground floor, set out well in contemporary fashion and plenty of space.
Overall I think The HMV Shop seems to have hit upon a really strong proposition and has created a shopping experience that will appeal to a broad group of consumers. It is good to see that licensing is a core part of the offering and it is to be hoped that HMV’s new store format leads onto further success for it.
It is and should become an important destination shop for licensed products. I would recommend a visit to one of the new shops, not least to see a fresh approach to retailing and an example of a shop that is encouraging consumers to visit. It might also inspire you as it did me to dust off your vinyl collection and revisit the early 1980s. Although I promise not to parade around BLE in my 80s band t-shirts. That 80s revival can wait.
Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.