Better Late Than Never
After three months of playing kisschase through the dirty cubicles of Princess House, Hilco have finally done the decent thing and bought HMV for the princely alleged sum of £50m. Apparently the new regime will refocus the company on the core ranges of music and film, stripping out the unsuccessful Poundland-style ranges of tablets (never buy anything with Arnova on the box. You have been warned!). This can only be a good thing as far as I’m concerned, as far as the entertainment industry is concerned, and as far as the High Street in general is concerned. (It surely can’t have escaped your attention that since HMV’s collapse both supermarkets and the internet have increased their prices on chart lines…)
I can imagine the sense of relief that is flooding through stores such as Leamington Spa and Leeds White Rose, both among the 25 “Red Stores” that have been given a last-minute death-row reprieve (for now, at least). Bloody good luck to them. I know for a fact that it won’t have been pleasant to watch surrounding stores as they fell one by one, emaciated racks boxed up and shipped out before the shutters were pulled down one last time, wondering all the while when the axe would fall on them. And I don’t have to imagine the bitterness and anger that comes from the staff of the stores formerly sited at Ashford, Ashton Under Lyne, Ballymena, Barnsley, Bayswater Whiteleys, Belfast Forestside, Belfast Boucher Rd, Bexleyheath, Birkenhead, Birmingham The Fort, Blackburn, Bolton, Boston, Bournemouth Castlepoint, Bracknell, Burton Upon Trent, Camberley, Chesterfield, Coleraine, Craigavon, Croydon Centrale, Derry, Dumfries, Durham, Edinburgh Gyle Centre, Edinburgh St James, Enfield, Falkirk, Folkestone, Fulham, Glasgow Braehead, Glasgow Silverburn, Hemel Hempstead, Huddersfield, Kirkcaldy, Lancaster, London Leadenhall, Lisburn, Loughborough, Luton, Moorgate, Newbury, Newcastle Silverlink, Newry, Newtownabbey, Orpington, Redditch, Rochdale, Salisbury, Scarborough, Scunthorpe, South Shields, St Albans, St Helens, Stafford, Stockton On Tees, Swindon, Tamworth, Teesside, Telford, Torquay, London Trocadero, Wakefield, Walsall, Walton On Thames, Wandsworth, Warrington, Watford, Wellingborough, Wigan, Woking, Wood Green, Workington, Wrexham, and the Heathrow Terminal shops.
To say that we were all let down by Neil Taylor, Michael Neil, Trevor Moore, Steve West and the other A-grade shitehawks at board level is a massive understatement. Trevor Moore should never again hold any form of company directorship. He, an absolute joke of a CEO, Taylor, Neil, and West should count themselves lucky if they are allowed to pick up litter in the local park.
As an ex-employee of HMV, I appear to have become a Known Preferential Creditor. That is to say that under paragraph 52 (1)(b) of the Insolvency Act 1986, and pursuant to Rule 2.106 of the Insolvency Rules 1986, it falls to secured and preferential creditors to (a) give or withhold approval for the basis of the Joint Administrators’ remuneration and expenses, (b) grant the Joint Administrators’ discharge pursuant to paragraph 98(3) of Sch B1 of the Insolvency Act 1986, and (c) approve of the Joint Administrators’ pre-administration costs. I hope this makes more sense to you than it does to me, but unless I am wrong, they are asking a now-redundant member of store management to approve Deloitte’s butcher’s bill. If that isn’t the turkey voting for Christmas, I don’t know what is.
Let’s see what this involves, shall we? Like other tradesmen – the type who whistle through their teeth and tell you it’s gunna cost when they look at the state of your pipes – Deloitte charge by the hour. The first thing to note is that the three Joint Administrators charged between £605 and £950 per hour. Each. And no, there aren’t supposed to be any decimal points in those numbers. Seriously. Even the assistants and support staff are due between £240 and £325 per hour. That’s an expensive fucking coffee monkey.
The pre-administration costs incurred (in other words, costs incurred before the company even went into administration) came to £56633 over a total of 81 hours. Jesus. If you needed any more proof that the outgoing board intended all along to lead HMV over the cliff, it’s this. Nobody spends nearly £60k on a spur of the moment decision. Contrary to what the fuckers would have you believe, they were planning this all through Christmas.
The costs for the period between 15th January and 15th March are even more alarming. In total the administration has cost HMV at least £6.2m just on Deloitte’s fees alone. With that in mind it would probably have been cheaper to keep running the business without getting these leeches involved.
Well, it’s nice to note that at least somebody is making money from the continuing death of the High Street.
Me? I’ve already moved on. To be honest, working at Meadowhall for over seven years drained me of any residual loyalty to the company. It wasn’t HMV’s fault per se (though they had a habit, at board level, of shooting themselves repeatedly in the foot); it was more that the shop itself had become a refuge for selfish and insular timeservers who still clung on to the ideal that High Fidelity espoused. If you weren’t part of the clique, worshipping at the too-old-to-be-cool pointy shoes of the shop’s self-appointed pontiff, then you weren’t really welcome. For example, you could nip out for a fag, come in to work drunk, pretend to be someone else on the phone, kick lockers in, sneer at every other store in the region and refuse to help them, duck out every Saturday afternoon to watch football, shag temp staff in the remote storage building, and steal stock – and if the Holy Roman Emperor was on your side, you’d keep your job. Serving actual customers? Well, that came a long way behind organising your social life in terms of priorities. You either worked, or you were “cool”.¹
Woe betide you if you tried to rise above your alloted position in the shop, however. If you tried to do the stuff that the pontiff should have been doing, or failed to take up the slack caused by a critical mass of circle-jerking over Mojo double-page spreads in the stockroom, then it was Cold War time. Not a pleasant place to work, at the end of days. For all that Barnsley was full of shoplifters, the team there were far more professional and friendly, and a joy to have worked with. I think the most positive thing I can say is that my time at Meadowhall taught me, by omission, how to be a retail manager. How to assist, and how to manage.
One thing HMV must do if it wants to survive until as far as its centenary year (it’s 92, you know!) is change that “old-school” culture I’ve described. Meadowhall will undoubtedly disagree: it is still open, therefore it must be right. Going back to core product is an important step; realising that the product is now more purely a commodity than an investment is equally as important. Many people no longer buy entertainment to treasure it; they’re buying product with a shelf-life just as they would in a supermarket (and yes, I know that’s rich coming from me. But like I said: I moved on. Deal with it.). HMV has to get seriously professional about its business. And if that means shedding those members of staff who prefer to wander the floor with their hands in their pockets muttering that “it’s not my job to stand on a till”, then so be it.
¹That’s not to say that there weren’t some good people in that shop. Because there were, and there still are.