Belfast Telegraph

Stricken HMV keeping rescue hopes alive

Industry shows support for failed retailer after download era takes toll

By Amanda Poole

The collapse of music retailer HMV into administration might not spell the end of the 92-year-old business, according to industry experts.

Despite years of contraction and gloomy Christmas sales figures, HMV chief executive Trevor Moore said he is confident a solution to the company's current financial woes can be found and there is a chance for a fresh, albeit slimmed down, start.

His comments come after it emerged the UK's last major entertainment retailer, which has 10 stores in Northern Ireland, has become the latest casualty on the high street after breaching loan covenants of £220m.

It employs 4,350 people at 239 stores across the UK and in the Republic, and administrators Deloitte said they will keep the chain running while they look for a solution.

It is thought that more than 180 jobs in Northern Ireland might be at risk.

However, there is hope from some in the industry that a solution can be found.

A spokesman for the company, founded in London in 1921, told the Belfast Telegraph that stores are trading as normal and it believes with the support of customers it still has "a future", despite struggling against online music retailers.

And the chair of UK Music, Andy Heath, said he believes there is an opportunity for a "substantial and decent rebirth", and Kim Bayley, director of the Entertainment Retailers' Association said music and video companies are determined to see HMV survive in some form.

In the meantime, the stricken company's shares have been suspended from trading on the London Stock Exchange and it will not be accepting gift cards and vouchers or issuing any more.

HMV's predicament underlines difficulties in the retail sector, which last week saw UK camera retailer Jessops and Virgin France close.

Virgin France, which is not affiliated with Richard Branson's Virgin Group, had 26 stores in the country, including a flagship outlet on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

With internet-based rivals such as iTunes and Amazon, HMV will have to downsize and fight for survival.

Alan Skelton of Belfast-based e-commerce consultants Export Technologies said the entertainment market has undergone a revolution in recent years.

"There has been an explosion in internet downloading. Around 75% of music and films is now purchased online," he said.

"Today's savvy retailer will need to stay on top of their own market trends and think about the combined role of the internet as well as bricks and mortar," he added.

Meanwhile, even those normally championing the cause of the small trader have said the position HMV finds itself in is damaging for the high street.

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, has described it as "another big potential loss". "We are losing too many retail chains and independent retailers. We need radically new thinking to revitalise our retail sector," he said.

"We must make sure our town and city centre destinations attract additional footfall to challenge the growth of online sales."

Amanda Poole spoke to some HMV customers emerging from its stores in Forestside Shopping Centre and Donegall Arcade in Belfast

Tom Bowers from north Belfast:

"We don't have a computer and would buy all our CDs and DVDs at HMV. If the chain closes there will be nowhere else like it on the High Street."

William McLoughlin (33) from Belfast:

"It is sad to think HMV might shut. I hope it doesn't. I have been visiting record shops since I was a teenager and if HMV shuts that will end. Hopefully someone buys it over."

Gavin Fogarty (42) from Belfast:

"I was in the store today and it took so much time to find stuff. It is so much easier to tap in a name online and go to iTunes. In my youth I was always in music shops, but that has changed for the younger generation."

Ethan Harman (23) from Coleraine:

"I'm kind of sad today because HMV is an institution in the UK and Ireland. It will be sad if jobs go. There is no other chain that caters for this kind of medium."

Robin Harman (25) from Coleraine:

"I would miss HMV if it shut. When Zavvi closed it left a big gap. There is still a place for record stores, but maybe independent ones. You get the feeling people working there are really passionate about music."

Zoe Connell (28) from Belfast:

"I would call in to have a look and buy music. I buy CDs and mainly listen to music in the car. I would love to say there is a future for music shops but it's hard to know in the current climate and downloading is so easy."