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“We love entertainment. And we love entertaining people”: How HMV is doing it for the fans

Traditionally the go-to destination for music and movie fans, HMV has become equally well known for its pop culture offering. Following the retailer’s triumphant return to its original Oxford Street site and its first foray into Europe, head of pop culture Gary Williamson tells about the must-have licensed products in store for 2024.

While it retains a strong online presence, HMV’s return to London’s Oxford Street reflects a resurgence in IRL retail – with younger consumers leading the charge.

“There’s been a renaissance on the high street when it comes to pop culture, and fans are looking for a place to come,” says HMV’s head of pop culture Gary Williamson. “There are independents who do it, but for major chain to do it is what was needed.

“All my team, myself included, are collectors, and we want somewhere to shop ourselves. I want HMV to be the place where the store staff and the customers are all likeminded fans, where people can come in, and for an hour or so get away from the worries of the world and just enjoy loving Star Wars, Disney, or whatever else they’re into.”

HMV1From eight year olds on the hunt for Pokémon cards to middle-aged Mad Beauty fans, HMV’s pop culture offering caters for everyone – and is constantly evolving. Gary explains: “We used to consistently sell £14.99 figurines; now, we have figurines in stores priced at £200, £300, £400… We have everything from those truly special items for customers who want something unique, right down to our general lines, which are focused on Star Wars, Marvel and other big film or TV franchises. Netflix is very heavy now on activity, so we get a great reaction to them. But the same could be said of Apple TV or Disney+.”

The entertainment retailer’s offering has expanded to include beauty products, fashion, food and beverage and homewares (if you’re after a My Chemical Romance-branded chopping board, you know where to come). Apparel, in particular, is a growing category. “Everything started from a conversation I had with my team about how we want to dress the fan head to toe,” says Gary. “That could be a wristband, a head band, make-up, a bag… Talking of which, Loungefly has been massively successful for us. Who knew we could sell £80 bags with franchises on? But we’ve got stands in all our stores, we’ve got exclusives waiting to drop which are going to blow people away.”

Footwear – including a recently launched range of collectable gothic-style shoes – is also flying off the shelves. This spring, the retailer will introduce its collectable sneaker offering, which will be franchise-led, with a strong focus on anime.

HMV2Then, of course, there’s that HMV staple: the branded T-shirt.

“T-shirts present a massive opportunity for us,” says Gary. “Right now, we’re coming at it from three angles: we’re going after the fashion lines – anime in particular is underrepresented on the high street and it’s challenging some of the bigger franchises; we’re targeting the goth kids, and we’ve got our classic t-shirts with, say, Metallica, on them.

“We’ve got a fantastic supplier base, which includes Heroes Inc, Bioworld and Pyramid International, and we employ kids who totally buy into the fandom. So, from the licensor down to the supplier down to us, we’ve got all three wings working together to deliver the best product possible.”

With new trends popping up almost overnight, quick turnaround times are vital. Gary says: “We put Zombie Makeout Club in one single store a year ago, to test it out. It was hugely successful and within three weeks, it was in all our stores. But we can only do that with the help of our amazing suppliers, who are really supportive.”

HMV3While customer feedback – be it at Comic Con, on social media or in-store – is useful for keeping abreast of the latest fads, Gary takes a more ‘eyes-on’ approach, visiting busy London stations for a couple of hours at a time to see what people are wearing. “More and more people seems to be goths right now, and so we’ve introduced some goth-inspired product in our stores. Some of our best sellers are Vampire Tears candles.”

There’s more in store for goth fans later this year, when HMV is set to launch a range of products based on Universal horror movies, both classic and modern, as well as a collection celebrating the 1980s. Also joining HMV’s roster in 2024 are cult icon Emily the Strange and Care Bears. Gary says: “I put a few Care Bears teasers out, and immediately had suppliers come back saying, ‘We’ll be a part of this.’ Hundreds of our staff members replied straight away saying it was best thing ever and they wanted it for their stores. So I know they’re be able to sell it to our customers really well.”

The HMV team collected the award for Best Retailer of Adult Licensed Products at The Licensing Awards 2023.
The HMV team collected the award for Best Retailer of Adult Licensed Products at The Licensing Awards 2023.

Meanwhile, HMV will continue to expand across Europe – it opened a Dublin store in June 2023, and its first Belgian store in Antwerp in November. Add in HMV’s recent Best Retailer of Adult Licensed Products win at The Licensing Awards 2023, and it’s understandable that Gary is feeling upbeat.

“The award was all down to the hard work put in by my team,” he concludes. “We love entertainment. And we love entertaining people.”

This feature originally appeared in the spring 2024 edition of Licensing Source Book. To read the full publication, click on this link.

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