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HMV’s retail renaissance, storytelling and street art… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes rounds up another busy week of Looking Out.

I made a return visit to HMV’s Oxford shop this week. I visited it not long after it had opened and was very impressed by the new format. It is on two levels in a high street location.

On my first visit I spent most of my time on the ground floor which is the ‘home’ of pop culture which features products like graphic novels, confectionery, Pop! vinyl and t-shirts.

LL7Upstairs is the home of music with HMV remaining very close to its retail roots. I decided to spend a bit more time upstairs on this visit.

The first thing that struck me was the space. The shop floor is laid out in a clear and uncluttered way with good use of space. HMV has avoided the temptation to fill every nook and cranny with product. This works well and I think it is a format that consumers like, particularly those visiting to browse and hopefully buy vinyl records.

There is a well stocked vinyl section which is well set out and easy to shop. For a lot of people who buy vinyl one of the attractions is browsing, sifting and sorting through stock trying to find the records you want. This is the bedrock category for HMV in this space, but it is a foundation stone for it to offer a broader range of music-related merchandise and audio related products. Licensing features prominently in this offering.

Products that are featured include mugs and tin gift sets which have their own display space. HMV uses display well, allowing consumers to see the product easily and encouraging impulse purchase. I imagine there is a lot of self purchase, but also a lot of gift purchases as well. Rather like the mix of vinyl on sale, there is an eclectic mix of bands and artists featured on the mugs including Elton John, Johnny Cash and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Given it is selling vinyl, I guess HMV is able to track which artists and bands are popular in-store and adjust its product offer accordingly. A kind of product playlist.

LL8HMV is also selling audio accessories and equipment, helping to position itself as a one stop shop for music fans. Products on offer include record players and accessories such as record slip mats. Record slip mats are placed on the record turntable to improve performance I guess. I must say I missed out on that when I was playing my records in the 1980s!

HMV has a dedicated section for record slip mats which features artists like Bob Marley, Guns ’n’ Roses and The Rolling Stones. It is a visually lead product so bands with iconic designs and styling like The Rolling Stones are particularly well suited to the category. Again, this will tie into vinyl sales.

LL6Other products that HMV sells include headphones. A stand out brand and range from a licensing perspective was the Marley range of headphones. This is a really good example of how a music brand can make an impact outside of traditional music merchandise categories. A category like this requires a long-term plan – it is not a quick win category and I imagine all of those involved have entered the category with a long-term vision. Interestingly, there were examples of non-music brands being used in the accessories category including Harry Potter and Friends. These brands featured on Wireless Charger products. I guess this is a recognition from HMV that there is a crossover between music and pop culture fans. It is sensible to mix entertainment licences into the product offering.

Another feature of HMV’s music department offering I liked was the way that it had curated product collections into product bundles. I saw the ‘Ultimate Reggae Bundle’ which included products such as a Marley Stir It Up turntable and speakers plus Aswad and Bob Marley records.

While this kind of curated offer may not appeal to all consumers, it certainly will appeal to many particularly those who need some guidance and inspiration. I also think it reflects the age of online shopping where consumers have become more used to being offered bundles or ‘top up’ purchases. It also made for a very effective retail display.

LL5As you might expect, HMV is also selling a good range of music related t-shirts. Some of these are cleverly displayed on the stairs up to the first floor and feature bands such as Oasis, The Cure and Joy Division. It also sells bags and backpacks including Rock Sax’s bags featuring bands such as Metallica. I like the way that items like rucksacks are displayed alongside vinyl. There is a really good mix of products.

In this regard it is easy to view HMV as a destination store and it has further enhanced this position with initiatives like inviting local bands to play live in the store. It is good to see that it is working to become part of the local music scene and supporting emerging bands. It is good to see a retailer taking such an active role in the local community and a good example of a high street retailer making the store relevant.

LL4While in Oxford I also popped into The Story Museum which celebrates story telling with a focus on books, book characters and publishing. It has had a refurbishment in recent times and is a museum that blends the attributes of a traditional museum with the benefits of new technology well.

It has a well presented gift shop which features a lot of book-related licensed merchandise. It has developed a product offering that focuses on key characters presented with groups of well chosen products that suit a museum environment and visit. This naturally includes books. Featured characters include Peter Rabbit, Miffy, Moomins and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Products included plush, stationery and mugs.

LL3At the time of my visit it was featuring Mother’s Day products which included licensed lines. I thought this was clever buying on the museum’s part. It also had a well stocked greeting cards area which featured cards from Hype including Mr Men and a number of classic illustrators cards from Museums & Galleries. It also carried gift wrap from Hype. Other featured properties included The Gruffalo and Harry Potter. I thought it was a really nice shop and one where the buying team had made good product selections and used this well to give the shop a distinct style.

Rather like HMV, I imagine The Story Museum gift shop has become a destination store for consumers seeking out book-related products and gifts. It is also a good reminder that there are retail opportunities within the museum and gallery space among the more specialist venues that suit licensing.

LL1I also noticed that one of my family received a Wordle-themed Mother’s Day card this week. I am pretty sure it was unlicensed but it was a really clever card that was ‘on brand’ for Wordle.

It showed how Wordle has made an impact in the market so quickly and how it is a brand with a distinctive visual identity. Rather like Scrabble there are creative opportunities in licensing for Wordle, but it will be a programme that needs to be managed carefully and arguably quickly. The Wordle GENIE is seemingly out of the bottle.

LL2As previously reported, I love street art and like to call in on places like Waterloo’s Leake Street Arches to see what new art has emerged.

My visit this week was rewarded with lots of new art including two great examples of character driven street art. I spotted Tweety Pie and Garfield. Characters are part of pop culture and seeing characters featured in Leake Street is a great endorsement of this. Retailers like HMV have recognised this and are doing a great job of embracing this opportunity commercially.

They are also inspiring people like me to dust off our LPs and get playing our records again. I might even buy a record slip mat this time round!

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.

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