Doug Putman on 100 years of HMV and the future of the last UK music chain

Doug Putman on 100 years of HMV and the future of the last UK music chain

HMV is celebrating its 100th birthday this month - July 20 is the official date.

In the latest edition of Music Week, we mark the anniversary with an eight-page special on HMV, including interviews with owner Doug Putman, MD Phil Halliday and marketing boss Patrizia Leighton, plus long-term events supremo Simon Winter - and we hear from the industry about their HMV memories. 

HMV has been through tough times in the past decade - including two periods of administration - and the lockdowns during the pandemic.

But the retailer is now open again and has seen its vinyl strategy under new owner Doug Putman pay off as the format continues to grow. It’s also becoming an even more vital outlet for physical music and entertainment, following the news that Sainsbury’s is to stop selling CDs and DVDs.

HMV is releasing special anniversary vinyl editions alongside merchandise. The celebrations can also step up a gear once Covid restrictions lift later this month.

“Once restrictions lift [on July 19] we’ll be able to do much more in stores, and given the year we’ve had, we’re determined to have a full year of celebrations,” Doug Putman told Music Week.

Here, Doug Putman opens up about the anniversary and the future of HMV - the last UK music chain...

HMV has been around for 100 years – why’s it endured when every other music/entertainment chain has departed?

“There have been other music chains in the UK, but there’s something unique about HMV that means it has remained relevant. I think part of the reason is that it’s always felt like a hub for music fans, with a vast range of titles and staff who have a huge enthusiasm for music and entertainment, but not intimidatingly so for shoppers who might have a more casual interest. It’s part of the fabric of the British high street, and as an extension of that, of the UK as a whole.”

The last few years have been quite a rollercoaster – how’s it been for you in an exciting and challenging period for HMV?

When I bought HMV it had been through a highly publicised period of turmoil, but at the core was this really exciting and iconic brand that people still loved, and staff who are such fans of music, film and TV that their passion really shone through. The team and I worked really hard to build a stable foundation for the business going forward. We couldn’t have foreseen the impact the global pandemic would have, which means that we’ve accelerated the growth of our online store. But I’m convinced that physical, in-store retail will never be replaced, and we’ve seen that from the footfall we’ve had since we reopened following the lifting of the last set of restrictions.”

What did HMV get right in recent years - and what’s changing?

“In some ways it’s good to be all things to everybody - I’m proud that regardless of whether you’re into music, film or TV, HMV feels like home to many shoppers. But what did change was that we started really testing whether something felt right for us. This year we agreed to sponsor the Coventry Empire – now the HMV Empire - because there’s a symbiotic relationship between live music and music retail: it delivers something extra and truly personal for the fans.”

HMV owns a unique space in the industry

Doug Putman

Do you have a favourite memory since you acquired HMV?

“We opened Europe’s largest entertainment store in October 2019 with The Vault in Birmingham, which offers not only a huge range of music, film and merchandise, but also a stage for both big artists and grassroots local bands to perform. It felt like a moment that put HMV back on the map. Last year we also saw Stormzy visit our stores, drawing huge crowds, and it showed the power that big artists have to drive excitement around music, and that experiencing music is something that can’t just be done in front of a screen.”

HMV expanded its vinyl offering a while back – how has that strategy been proved right and how will it continue to drive physical music sales?

“When we first opened our stores after the latest lockdown was lifted, the first shoppers we saw were those who wanted to shop for vinyl. It’s now not just something for older collectors, it’s gained such huge popularity among younger people who are now collectors and appreciate having beautiful records, and something tangible they can own.”

How did you get through the pandemic – and what did you learn? How did it help HMV in terms of boosting online performance?

“We were able to keep virtually all of our stores going, but it forced us to become savvier when it came to online. We’ve made a serious investment in our online store to make sure we don’t just compete, but that we thrive in that space.”

We’ve seen how physical sales have been the dominant factor in almost every No.1 album this year. How important has HMV been in that performance of physical music?

“We saw some incredible results through our online store during lockdown. A lot of time was spent by the team improving our customer experience, our operations, our technical capabilities and critically, our availability. We connected with our loyal customers and new customers through our digital channels to ensure that we could build the reach to help support artists and partners with some great physical sales volumes whilst our stores were closed. Now with all our stores open again and a thriving online store, HMV owns a unique space in the industry in being able to appeal to all fans of physical music and popular culture wherever they are in the UK.”

Subscribers can click here to read the Music Week HMV 100th anniversary feature.

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