Business News Retail

HMV opens massive new Birmingham store today

By | Published on Friday 11 October 2019

Doug Putman and HMV Vault

HMV today formally opens the doors on its new HMV Vault, a 25,000 square foot retail and performance space in Birmingham. Very much banking on the UK high street not being quite dead yet, the company boasts that the shop is Europe’s largest entertainment retail unit.

Taking up residence in a former Ikea warehouse, HMV says that the vault will hold over 100,000 individual vinyl and CD releases, every 4K UHD Blu-ray release currently available in the UK (there are 20,000 of those), 40,000 DVD titles, 7000 music books, plus turntables, headphones and music merch.

That sort of thing not proving massively successful when it comes to getting sufficient numbers of people through the doors in recent years – hence the HMV company going into administration at the end of last year – the store will also include a permanent stage set-up. The new HMV says that this is “designed to lure internationally-renowned and up-and-coming artists to perform live in the city”. Birmingham’s two arenas and various small and medium-sized venues apparently not doing that already, in HMV’s eyes.

Opening this massive new outlet is the first big, bold move from new HMV owner, Canadian retailer Sunrise Records, after months of positive talk from its boss, Doug Putman. Since rescuing the firm in February, Sunrise’s main activity has been opening, closing and moving around HMV UK’s stores in a bid to get better deals on rent – which is very much how previous owner Hilco spent its early months and years in the record selling business.

However, alongside all that, Putman has been talking up his plan to capitalise on the vinyl revival, while drawing people into his newly acquired UK music chain with in-store performances. And this massive new Birmingham store boldly puts that plan into action.

“I am a firm believer in the potential for British high street retail, and HMV will play a fundamental role in ensuring that our shopping districts continue to thrive”, he says. “Retail offers two things a purely digital experience of music simply can’t – the opportunity to experience the biggest acts live in our stores and our ability to offer a platform to new artists in the communities where we operate, as well as opportunities for fans to come together and share their passion for music and film with our dedicated staff”.

“The HMV Vault has been built with the needs of the modern music and film fan at its heart with a permanent live performance space and an unparalleled range catering to the full breadth of our customers’ tastes”, he insists.

Of course, meeting the modern fan’s needs by radically increasing stock levels is quite risky, and many will question the logic of opening such a massive space. HMV points to BPI research showing that UK consumers buy higher than average numbers of CDs and vinyl when compared to many other territories. And that a large number of Brits, particularly young people, class themselves as big fans of music.

Presumably the hope is that those people who want to buy physical media will go to the store happy in the knowledge that they are very likely to find what they want in stock. Meanwhile, others drawn to the shop to see the live performances might be more likely to then buy something if anything they could possibly (or probably) want is immediately to hand.

It’s also interesting that the new store is in Birmingham, when HMV’s flagship operations in the past have always been in London.

In 2014, previous owner Hilco even spun a positive story out of HMV returning to its original Oxford Street site, even though that actually meant a significant downsizing of its central London store. But the capital’s Oxford Street was nevertheless the retailer’s spiritual home. Once Putman took over, that expensive Oxford Street store was one of the first to go.

Its new Canadian owner being much less tied up in the nostalgia of the old HMV company may well prove to be a benefit. There was talk of HMV dumping its Oxford Street store before the administration, but it never happened.

In Canada, when Sunrise took over HMV there (also from Hilco), it rebranded all the remaining stores under its own name. And while there’ll be no rebrand here, the new owner is possibly more willing to make more radical changes where necessary. Though, despite Sunrise’s seeming success in Canada of late, the question remains whether Putman’s confidence in the long term prospects of physical formats and high street shops is misplaced.

“I want our stores to be at the heart of a community of music and film fans and a place where they can not only satisfy their passion, they can also meet each other and discover new artists as well as see some of the biggest names in the business perform”, he says. “The HMV Vault will become the home of music in Birmingham so I can’t wait to welcome the city’s fans through our doors”.

If you’re heading down there today to check it all out, you’ll be able to see live performances by Liam Payne, James Arthur, The Murder Capital and various local bands. Plus, you know, maybe buy some stuff.