New Robson Street HMV Switches On with Electropop Singer ‘Lights'

Why should you be excited that a flagship hmv store is back in downtown Vancouver, just in time for the holidays — selling not only music & movies but also books, graphic novels and yes, Sharknado Christmas tree ornaments? See below for all the reasons.

Music and movie lovers rejoiced on twitter this month to learn that hmv is back in downtown Vancouver, taking over former Lululemon Athletica Store at 1148 Robson St between Thurlow and Bute.

The origins of hmv go back over a hundred years, and HMV stands for "His Masters Voice" (remember the dog staring at the gramophone?). 

The new store, which opens this Monday, will celebrate with an in-store acoustic set by singer-songwriter Lights on Wednesday December 3. Fans are already abuzz over the 100 limited wristbands that will be given out on December 1 to people who want to attend the show. 

hmv Canada CEO Nick Williams, who hails from Manchester and loves British rock bands like Oasis and Arctic Monkeys, told The Vancouver Observer the new store will be quite different from what many remember from the enormous downtown location that closed in 2012.  

“The store downtown will have a different look and feel -- a different colour palette,” Williams said. What will be the same, he said, is the excitement of a bona fide music store.

“We pride ourselves in that impulsive experience – you go into a record store or an hmv store… you should feel inspired to buy more than just one thing, a DVD, music, and the gifts – that’s the distinguishing factor."

Staying ahead of the curve

With Christmas coming, the store is going to be stocked with merchandise such as headphones, and collector items (anything Star Wars, he said, is a high-in-demand item), in addition to best-selling music, movies, and television series.

Williams said the rise of digital downloads hasn't meant the end of business for music stores like hmv.  

“If it were just a music store, I’d say absolutely yes -- that’s one of the reasons we stayed slightly ahead of the curve," Williams said. "We recognized 10 years ago that there was going to be an erosion of physical sales -- and that has happened.  But it's not as quick as people might think, so it’s still 50 per cent physical [purchases] and 50 per cent digital.” 

Even though buying products online with the click of a mouse, or a tap on a touchscreen, has become commonplace, it has yet to replace the experience of walking into a physical store, browsing through the selection of items, and having a real human interaction before a purchase.  

"Hopefully you’ll meet an enthusiastic in-boy (at hmv) who wants to talk about music or film, that perhaps you hadn’t come in the store for in the first place,” Williams said. 

It's helped that the store has moved beyond selling just music, into more diverse products. Hugely popular bands or pop culture icons inspire gifts like Game of Thrones keychain fobs and an adorably cranky Grumpy cat pillow, and the store has made sure to keep such items in stock. 

“Star Wars, Doctor Who, are big brands for us," he said. "And that crosses over – not just t-shirts, but gift collectibles as well,” he said. Many of these products are licensed and exclusive to hmv.

These days, he said, about 35 per cent of hmv's product mix is music, while 55 per cent is DVDs, and the rest is made up of gifts, tech items and T-shirts (which are so popular he calls them a "category in and of itself'", with young people getting into legendary bands from the past).

hmv is also building up successes by doing what iTunes and Netflix can't, with a customer-loyalty reward program called pure, which grants points for every dollar spent at an hmv store or hmv.ca. Already, there are 1.6 million members of pure (including 100,000 in B.C.) who are building up points to get exclusive and autographed items that are normally not for sale -- such as a signed and framed Adele 21 album cover and a trip to England to visit the real Downton Abbey Highclere Casle.  

Canadian market 

Williams said hmv Canada had to sell its last mega-store on Robson and Burrard because it was simply too immense to maintain -- that 50,000-square-foot location has now been taken over by Victoria's Secret. 

Sales were taking a hit in 2008 as hmv Canada was sold to U.K.–based Hilco Capital. But today, the comeback of hmv on Robson Street indicates that the brand is still very strong, with 109 stores all over Canada, everywhere from Quebec City to Fort McMurray.

Williams said music sales hadn't decreased over the last year, with more young people rediscovering a love for vinyl.

“The distinguishing factor between hmv and all the other competitors, from a consumer’s perspective is it’s more polished," Williams said.  

"You certainly feel the offer is more polished and more sophisticated,” Williams said. 

 Williams said Vancouverites should keep an eye on the Robson Street location, as the company intends to feature live bands regularly in the store. 

"There’s still demand for the experience and the product that we sell, albeit that it is changing, and we have to keep it interesting, new and fresh,” Williams said. 

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