HMV owner Doug Putman on the return of the music chain after lockdown

HMV owner Doug Putman on the return of the music chain after lockdown

HMV is back.

After three months of lockdown, the music chain is reopening this week (June 15) after the government eased restrictions on ‘non-essential’ retail. 

In the latest issue of Music Week, we report on the return of music retail, including HMV’s 93 stores in England and Belfast. Restrictions remain in place in Wales and Scotland, where a further 15 stores will stay closed for now.

HMV owner Doug Putman said the response from customers to news of the reopening has been “awesome”.

“I couldn't be happier with the reaction, which is great,” he told Music Week. “I think HMV is a really special thing. Obviously, I'm pretty proud to be able to be a part of it. Yeah, it's exciting to get them back open on Monday.” 

However, HMV will be a very different experience under the government’s Covid-19 safety guidance. The stores will employ strict safety measures, including signage to ensure social distancing among shoppers, screens at tills, and compulsory use of hand sanitiser during vinyl browsing.

“The reality is people have been going into grocery stores for months now, they pick up a cereal box and they put it down and they move on,” said Putman. “So, ultimately, there is some comfort for most people in that you can shop and remain safe, you can choose to wear gloves, you can sanitise.” 

Putman said that browsing still needs to be a key part of the HMV experience.

“When we look at HMV, you need to be able to flick through the [vinyl], that’s a critical thing,” he said. “So from our standpoint, we need our customers to sanitise to do that. We just need to be hyper-vigilant on the cleaning, and keep an eye on everything. At some point, someone's going to sneeze on something, that's just the way life is. Our staff need to be aware of that and maybe close that section down, sanitise the section and take the necessary precautions. 

“We've spaced things out more, we've taken out some fixtures, there’s a lot more front-facing product. For those who are super uncomfortable, shopping online is still there. For those who are [more comfortable], we've got click-and-collect and the personal shopping where you can give us the list and we'll go get it for you. And for those who feel very comfortable, you can get in there and start browsing.”

HMV is a pretty special thing, it’s exciting to get them back open

Doug Putman

With HMV’s new personal shopper ‘list and leave option’, customers will be able to drop off a list of the items they wish to purchase and a member of staff will have the goods packed for collection. 

“There is some interaction but it’s very safe – the customer can wear a mask, staff will be wearing a mask,” said Putman. “There’s a lot of safety measures that go into it. So, for someone who's a bit more concerned about where things are at it's a really great option for them.”

The return of music retail has coincided with a strong sales week for physical music. Physical album sales were up 5.19% week-on-week to 301,575, the first time weekly sales have topped 300,000 since before lockdown. HMV and indies have increased sales via online mail order during recent weeks of the lockdown, following a sharp market decline in March and early April.

Putman said that he was confident that customers would return to HMV, following early indications from his Sunrise Records chain in Canada and the FYE stores in the US. Putman acquired 200 FYE stores in the US earlier this year from Trans World Entertainment.

“We’re obviously going to limit the amount of people in [HMV stores], we're taking all the right precautions,” said Putman. “Based on the last three or four weeks we've been open in Canada and the US, it's been a really good experience and customers are super respectful.

“That's the culture, if you love being in an HMV. I think we just have really great customers. We understand everyone feels differently about this pandemic. Some people are less worried, and some people are more worried. What we've seen in the stores we've opened is that there's just this mutual respect.” 

While sales are likely to take a hit because of the restrictions and lower footfall, Putman is confident about the reopening plan.

“We're pretty unique in the experience [we provide] and what we sell, so I feel pretty good that it's going to be a good first week and second week,” he said. “We then just need to see, what does it look like after that?” 

* To make sure you can access Music Week wherever you are, subscribe to our digital issue by clicking here.

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