'It such a passionate industry': HMV's Doug Putman on why he got into the music biz

'It such a passionate industry': HMV's Doug Putman on why he got into the music biz

In the latest issue of Music Week, new HMV owner Doug Putman has given the industry an insight into his plans for the last UK music chain. He will continue to be based in Ontario, with the UK business headed up by MD Neil Taylor and CFO Sally Wood.

So far, the Sunrise Records CEO’s rescue of HMV has gone down well with the music business here, with execs describing a “passionate” music lover. In the second part of our Music Week Q&A, 34-year-old Putman returns the compliment as he opens up about why he got into record shops, his favourite format and the “critical thing” he wants from the biz…

What are your investment plans for HMV? 

“We know it’s going to be eight figures that we’re going to have to invest in this. So it’s definitely a sizeable one, but one that we believe we’ll get a return on.”

What kind of support would you like to see from the industry – would less focus on D2C help HMV?

“Definitely, we want to see less of that. We want to see less digital market first, or in some cases only digital. Clearly those things really hurt the business and the reality is that there is a segment of [music consumers] that wants to buy it physically. So when an artist decides just to do it digitally they’re really limiting themselves, because I still believe there’s that element that will not buy it digitally and that sale is just lost. We just want to make sure that all our labels are pushing this, ‘Let’s keep doing this physically, lets make sure we have as few releases digital-only as possible’. That’s the most critical thing.”

You’re closing several Fopp stores, will you keep the name?

“Yes, we’re still going to keep the Fopp name, we still see a lot of value in it, so we’ll continue on with it.” 

You acquired HMV Canada in 2016 and rebranded to Sunrise Records. Why did you want to keep HMV in the UK? 

“Look, it’s got such great heritage, it’s got a great name. The customers love it, so it just made a lot of sense to keep it. You’ve got a 100-year anniversary coming up [in 2021], there’s just a lot of great things with it.”

Was the separate ownership of the HMV brand – under a company not in administration – an issue for the acquisition?

“Every business is a negotiation and it’s got its unique parts to it. But the reality is that the brand owner wanted to see it continue. Whenever you have someone who wants something to continue and you want to buy it, hopefully you can figure out a solution that works for everyone.”

Would you like big releases to be spread out more throughout the year, rather than crowded into Q4?

“Sure, that would be great, but we’re just happy to get the releases. The bigger the releases, the better.”

This industry is so easy to be excited about and get engaged in

Doug Putman

What’s your preferred music format?

Vinyl is my preference, I love it. I like the sound, I like the way it looks on the shelf. I like everything about it. I like the artwork, I like the size. For me, that’s my preferred format for sure.”

You have a family-owned toy distribution business in Ontario. Why did you get into record stores back in 2014 with the acquisition of Sunrise, which then had just five branches?

“It’s just such a passionate industry. Whether you work at HMV, whether you’re at Music Week, wherever you are, if you’re in this business, it’s people who are passionate and that love it. There are some things money just can’t buy. There are lots of other industries out there and it’s hard to be really excited about it. This industry is so easy to be excited about and get engaged in. Honestly, the people are amazing, I don’t think there’s an industry with better people, so it makes it really easy to want to be in it - everything is just fun, it’s enjoyable. I think it’s the best industry, I really do.”

Have you bought any albums while you’ve been over here?

“I’m always buying something, it seems every time I go into a store I’m always just like, ‘Oh, this looks nice’. I haven’t got anything recently on this trip yet, but previously when I was at home I had to buy another Supertramp album. I actually ruined my copy of Crime Of The Century. I was foolish enough to put it on a chair and knock it over and then step on it. So I ended up having to go and buy another one - but that’s good for business, it’s another album sale.”

What are the plans for the growing online business?

“We’re going to have to revamp the site and make it better for our customers. I think there was a lot of feedback that the site needed to be better, we’ve heard that and we’re going to work on that to make it a much better experience for the customer.”

Can HMV compete with both supermarkets and Amazon for physical music

“I think so. You get asked a lot about the Amazon effect. Ultimately, more and more people are becoming aware that the likes of Amazon don’t support the communities they’re in and I think that’s becoming more and more relevant to people. So as much as online is doing great, we’re going to come to that point where people are saying, ‘You know, I want to support someone who supports me and my community’. Clearly I think that’s an important message that sometimes gets lost in all this.

“I don’t think a customer should have to pay more to go into a store and buy [an album]. But when you’re evenly priced that’s when it’s great to support that local business. Of course, everybody buys something online, it’s just about how much. We need to make it easy for our customer to come in and have that good experience, so that when they have that choice of Amazon or us they say, ‘You know what, I really want to support them’. Frankly, the biggest part of this turnaround and making HMV stay around is that those people choose us and support us. Without them, we’ve got nothing.”

Have you been to stores and noticed the outpouring of affection for HMV?

“Yeah, I’ve been out to a few of the stores, not as many as I want. There definitely was an outpouring. It’s great to have the people out to the store and we’ve just got to make sure that they keep coming out and supporting us and that this isn’t a short-term thing. It all comes down to the support of our customers.”

Do you subscribe to a streaming service?

“No I don’t. Look, I’ve got an iPhone so I’ve bought digitally, there’s no doubt. But my preference is for physical, and I’m the same with books. I’m not a big book retailer but I still like to have my physical books. I think there’s great value in that, there’s great value in supporting the retailers that have bricks-and-mortar. What are we going to do if we can’t walk around in their stores and it’s just all boarded up? We all have to be aware of that and think about that. Of course, I’m biased, I do own stores, but even before I did I always thought about it. We’ve got to support these people or they go away.”

How can your suppliers help HMV?

“All we ask of our suppliers is to continue the great support they’ve always given. I think they’ve always been great with HMV. We just want to continue that great partnership and relationship, honestly I can’t say enough about the suppliers.”

You self-financed this acquisition. Will HMV look to expand into any other areas?

“I think we’re really focused on the retail. We want to make sure that the retail experience is the greatest it can be. Down the road, who knows what you’re going to invest in? But for now, I want to make sure that we’re getting that to be as good as possible.”

To read the first part of the Q&A click here. Subscribers can read the Music Week magazine article on the acquisition here.

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