Warning: this post will contain strong language, as well as opinions that Trevor Moore will not agree with.
I wondered for a while whether it would be worth writing this post. If nothing else, I decided it would be cathartic; I wouldn’t have to publish it if I didn’t want to. The world and his wife knows that HMV has gone into administration, as the public furore (quite rightly) over the board’s sharp practice of selling gift vouchers even while considering administration has made clear, and many commentators such as Steve Allen of LBC have decided that they are qualified to comment on the situation. Of course, unlike Steve Allen (whose incoherent and asinine rant identified him as the poor man’s Moyles), I still work for HMV and I know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve met people like Steve Allen before, and they are without exception bullies and cowards, preferring to do their dirty work from a distance. You won’t catch them out in the open.
Let’s get this straight: I do not agree at all with the strategy taken by both the original board (headed by Trevor Moore, Neil Taylor, Michael Neill, Steve West, and Ian Kenyon) and by the administrators Deloitte to effectively steal the balance of issued HMV gift cards from the customers who possessed them. I think it’s a reprehensible, indefensible policy, made all the worse by cynically leaving shopfloor staff to deal with the wave of anger that washed over the counters last week. (At the time of writing, Deloitte appear to have finally seen some sort of sense: from Tuesday 22nd January, HMV giftcards can once again be redeemed instore. I wonder if those customers who piled abuse onto shopfloor staff will return to apologise….)
Trevor Moore called all stores onto a conference call on the morning of 15th January, cheerfully and confidently exhorting us all to keep our heads up – easy to do when you have no intention of facing the customers you have cheated. Did he apologise for having not kept staff in the loop? Did he hell. The board had sent out an email on Monday night (7:53pm) to order all stores to stop selling and redeeming gift cards. That was the first step into administration, and Deloitte took over at 11am the following morning. We had been selling gift cards in good faith, as ever, all through Monday, confident in our ability to trade; one customer traded in 70-odd DVDs at £1 a time, and the balance went onto a gift card. In fact many shopping centre stores, open until 9 or 10 at night, would have issued a gift card one minute and then been unable to take it as payment the next. The board clearly knew it would be placing the company into administration on 15th January, there’s no way anybody can tell me that was a spur-of-the-moment decision, it had to have been on the cards all through the month. So why keep selling the gift cards? Why not inform the 4500 staff you are responsible for in a timely fashion so that most of them don’t have to hear the news through Twitter?
Needless to say, Trevor wasn’t interested in answering those questions. The “conference call” settings involved all stores being on mute. The only voice to hear was his. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that was the last we heard from him. The rest of the board have also been remarkably silent this last week. I wonder if they’re updating their CVs. Or maybe holidaying in the bloody Maldives.
To be fair to the general public, we’ve seen more support and sympathy than we have seen abuse, and each expression of support has been greatly appreciated. In a town such as Barnsley, where yuppie-filled stylish boutiques and art galleries are at a premium, and where there is already a general dearth of commerical pulling power, the council and other surrounding shops really need chains like HMV and Game to raise footfall. And yet both those names have entered administration in the last 12 months. I wrote, early in 2012, that
…it isn’t just HMV; it’s the rest of the High Street too. Do you really want your town to look like this? Because, seriously, it ain’t that far away. If you tolerate this, then your workplace will be next.
It’s even more true now than it was back then. Tescopolis is coming, and it won’t be fucking pretty. Perhaps some people are starting to realise that now – not just in Barnsley but across the entire country, as footfall in HMV rose so much that many stores saw an 80%+ year-on-year sales lift in the last week. Where the fucking hell were these people when we weren’t doing the money?? HMV won’t be the last company to go under this year (indeed Blockbuster have gone even as I write this) and Britain’s High Streets will only change for the worse as towns get progressively emptier, progressively poorer. You might not notice this in London, browsing Amazon (non-taxpayers) on your iPad 4 while sipping your overpriced skinny Machiottoberry in Starbucks (non-taxpayers), but out in middle Britain, towns are dying. You want irony? How about this – Grantham, home of the Bitch, the Milksnatcher, the Destroyer of Society, the alleged Goddess of Free Enterprise: shops dropping faster than mayflies. Even M&S have pulled out of Grantham; now the embittered Tories must travel to Nottingham for their beige slacks. Soon Grantham will be like Rotherham – a paltry collection of pound shops, charity shops, and boarded up units. And a retail park where Morrisons and Asda hungrily suck the life from all surrounding businesses.
Do you want to live in a town like that?
Well, you’re going the right way about it. Support your local High Street.
Back to the pained gruntings of LBC’s Steve Allen: a DJ – allegedly – who decided that there’s no target like an injured target, since it probably can’t fight back. So, instead of railing against the undoubted incompetence of the board itself, he decided to have a pop at shopfloor staff. What a fucking hero. Here’s a sample:
They all looked exactly the same. Tattooed and pierced. I never saw anybody who would walk around in a suit looking as though they were the manager. It looks like the whole thing was run by degenerate, drug-taking students.¹
It’s HMV, you twat. Who the fuck wears a suit to work in a record shop? Even the Divisional Managers don’t wear suits. If I asked a man in a suit to recommend some music to me he would probably recommend Simply Bastard Red. Or Eagle-Eye Cherry. If that’s what you want, Mr Allen, then you really should be shopping in Tesco. That’s all they stock. Don’t pretend to be edgy and with it when there are yogurts with more culture than you.
And the rest of it? I’m a manager. Like most of the managers I know – and I learned from some of the best – I manage from the shopfloor. I have neither tattoos nor piercings, though I do rock a mean beard. I have a colleague who has both piercings and tattoos – he is smart, well-spoken, people conspicuously fail to run away from him in terror, and he always goes the extra mile for his customers, to such an extent that since HMV is bust and we cannot fulfill a particular customer order, he is willing to give his own copy of the item to that customer. Degenerate? If that’s degenerate, then I’m the fucking pope. I maintain that Steve Allen, on the other hand, is a moron who is too fond of the sound of his own voice. What on earth LBC actually see in his sub-Moyles ranting, I really don’t know. A very, very bad advert for commercial radio.
Okay, back to the main subject. Is there a future for HMV on the High Street? Does anybody care? The answer has to be yes to both question, but it isn’t an easy “yes”. The company’s management has to get its head out of the sand and adapt to change far more quickly than it has done in the past. When DVDs first emerged, we stuck them at the back of the shop, hidden away behind the laserdiscs (remember them? No? Nor does anybody else.). The board must be pro-active now, not reactive, and it must get ahead of the game in looking for ways to incorporate the digital age into brick & mortar stores. Back in the noughties the company tossed around ideas such as enabling customers to select & burn catalogue onto discs² – instead, it opted to go for an expanded range of t-shirts(!) that conspicuously fell on its arse a few months later (at Meadowhall in fact, it actually fell off the wall and narrowly missed killing a member of staff).
Over recent months, Moore and his board retreated from trying to actually serve customers to send staff outside instead, handing out expensively-printed pointless leaflets to people who plainly did not want them. What a waste of fucking money. Myself, my store manager, and my supervisor have 35 years total retail experience between us; I think we know what we’re talking about now. But no, head office have panicked, clamped down on all expressions of individuality, and made us all into mutinous pink-shirted clones. To quote HR director Steve West, when he chose to comment on the reaction of loyal long-serving staff to a raft of backstabbing contract changes – “disappointing”.
The record companies might bail HMV out once more, but there must be a limit to their generosity and their tolerance. The general public has to come along with them and meet HMV halfway: as much as the internet is wonderful and convenient and people want to wank over downloads and itunes and Lovefilm, the shift towards that sort of online life is part of what is destroying the High Street. These days you don’t actually have to ever leave your house to get what you want – unless what you want is to talk to and interact with real, physical people. Society might be crumbling to pieces around you, but as long as Netflix brings you every episode of CSI Bawtry, you don’t care. Download everything, and if you don’t have to pay for it, even better.
On the other hand, you could make an effort. Buy online, and only Amazon profits. Buy in town, and you’re making an economic choice and supporting the jobs of everyone in the retail sector. Because not everybody can work online. People might have realised this already, as I said above – more people have come into the shop in this last week than in all the rest of January put together. If you don’t want the High Street to die, put your money where your mouth is and shop there. Before we all get turned into Tescopolis.