Following the closure of Woolworths, in the brand new licensed retail landscape several stores are staking their claim on our market. HMV is a growing presence and, as Samantha Loveday discovers, has the ambition to go even further...
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“I’d like to see us become the ultimate destination for licensed product, and to give our customers the confidence and experience of HMV being the ultimate entertainment store,” states Fran Jones, the entertainment product buyer at HMV.

It’s a bold statement, but something which is potentially achievable. HMV is currently in a pretty boisterous mood: it recently purchased 14 outlets from its former rival Zavvi, taking its total number of stores in the UK and Ireland to 260. And with more traditional routes to the High Street for licensed product shrinking (with Woolworths being your prime example), brand owners are now looking at other ways to market. So, step forward the likes of department stores, clothing retailers like New Look, Next and Topshop and entertainment chains, such as HMV.

Jones explains that the majority of HMV stores carry licensed product in some form or other. “It can be the complete offer, including everything from posters, clothing, board games, gadgets, plush and trading cards, or it can just be some of these elements. It partly depends on store size and also on local demand. We generally offer our licensed and other related entertainment products under the ‘Cool Stuff’ sub-brand in-store.”

In terms of sales, a large part is derived from DVD/Blu-ray and visual products (just under 45 per cent of turnover), followed by music and games and technology, which both account for approximately a quarter each of all the firm’s sales. This leaves around five to six per cent made up of mainly related entertainment merchandising and licensed products – a figure which HMV firmly believes is set to grow.

“Our main contacts are licensees and suppliers such as GB Eye and Danilo, both of which have sole supply in HMV, Bravado and CID for clothing and Esdevium for all our games, gadgets and quirky stuff,” continues Jones. “We work closely with all these companies and, in strategising our long-term goals with them, we have been able to achieve steady growth in the licensed product category.

“We are always seeking the best complete entertainment offer for our customers and key franchises are becoming more relevant in our retail environment. Working closely with all our departments enables us to optimise cross-merchandising on music, DVD and games.”

This is illustrated by a number of engaging campaigns from last year. “I’m pleased to say there are quite a few successful campaigns I can think of. A few recent ones we have done well with are The Dark Knight, High School Musical and Transformers The Movie – with all of these posters and t-shirts led the way. For Transformers we also brought in toys as well as collectables. We also tend to do well with character-branded adult clothing such as Sesame Street and Superman, while not forgetting the metal t-shirt. The likes of Metallica, Slipknot, AC/DC and Guns n’ Roses consistently perform well for us.”
Jones admits she considers most things – “I’d be foolish not to!” – but there are two main criteria she looks for: it’s got to be cool and also relevant to the HMV brand.

Immediate plans within the licensing sector include continuing to work closely with current licensees and suppliers, while longer term the goal is, of course, to grow market share and, with Woolworths out of the picture of the High Street, can HMV come through to take the lion’s share?

“Obviously an opportunity has now presented itself, but it’s important we understand these customers and what their requirements might be if they differ slightly from the typical HMV shopper,” states Jones. “The key thing is we have to earn this custom and to work for it – we can’t presume it will come our way just because we are one of the last entertainment specialists still trading on the High Street and online.”

It’s a sensible approach, and one which is clearly already paying dividends. Last year, HMV was nominated in the Best Brands Retailer of Licensed Products category at the Licensing Awards and, while it missed out to Debenhams, Jones and her team must be keeping their fingers cross for this year.

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Founded in 1998 by two internet entrepreneurs, initial focus was on DVDs. Ten years later, and the site is the UK?s third most visited online retailer with over seven million customers. And now it?s making its mark in the licensing business in a big way. Samantha Loveday reports...

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