When rebrands go wrong

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Why HMV should encourage tattoos

The fact that HMV has banned staff with prominent tattoos from working in its stores smacks of management gone mad.

Lucy Handley

I’m often struck by how little the corporate suits within businesses know about what their customers are really like – and how brilliant and useful their shop floor staff can be, regardless of how they adorn their skin.

HMV needs to decide what it is – is it a: A music specialist staffed by people who have personalities, tattoos or piercings who can help ‘curate’ people’s listening tastes, providing them with a really useful service that they love to use, or B: a bland, mass-market music retailer?

It is trying (and so far not doing too well) to be a mass-market music retailer, being beaten by supermarkets and downloading sites. Although hopefully, its stake in download company 7Digital will help.

Going for option A would be scary for the business. It would mean being much more targeted, niche and focused on doing one or two things very well – and therefore discourage some of the general population who shop there. But spending money on store rent doesn’t help its cause. It could reduce the size of some of its shops, go back to its roots and not be afraid of using its original branding much more.

The original ‘His Master’s Voice’ painting is a beautiful image of the artist’s dog ‘Nipper’ listening to a gramophone. Funnily enough, the Englishman who painted it, Francis Barraud, had to modify the painting to include the branding of The Gramophone Company which bought it, so it could be used on the front of its catalogue.

So while the painting has always been an arresting one, it had commercial value from the start. But it is an image that won’t be to everyone’s taste and that is what HMV has to realise: it can’t be all things music to all people.

If it wants to improve how people actually feel when they are in one of its shops, then reducing the CDs look will help – my local shop screams ‘cheap CDs’ from the outside, not ‘premium tech and music specialist’. Again its focus on developing the tech side of the business will help lift its image, but I don’t think that should extend to telling people not to display their big tattoos.

This goes back to an age-old problem that people hire other people who are like them, instead of thinking about diversity properly. A company’s head office might be full of suits but the shop floor will never be like that – which should be embraced.

Telling people not to show their tattoos won’t get more people into its shops. How is my in-store ‘experience’ aided by whether someone has a picture on their arm or not?

Readers' comments (10)

  • This is a shortsighted and stupid move by HMV. In one fell swoop it damages its brand reputation, alienates its customers at the same time as dampening any internal engagement it has with its employees. And all for no gain.

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  • For HMV's 'choices' I think you needed a "C", because in "A", and "B" you talked about a record shop (music specialist) and my HMV hasnt been that in a long time. Like you say, they sell Technology.. and T-Shirts, Xbox games and lots of DVDs. they dont look anything like my favourite record shop from my youth, and that's probably why they are still here cause all my favourite record shops have gone out of business! Nor do I expect or want that experience when i shop there - messy indie kids who look down their nose at my music taste if they can be bothered to speak to me at all, people expect far more these days. I wont tolerate poor service for 60 seconds.
    And is the battleground Music really? "A mass-market music retailer being beaten by the Supermarkets"...? Do you think your local supermarket has a good music offer? You must tell me which you shop in! The Supermarkets seem to have all but given up on Music, I dont think anyone's battling for the Music customer - they've gone to iTunes. If anything HMV should be applauded for supporting the CD format, does anyone else?

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  • Shocking. Discrimination? Will you ban tattoos' from purchasing, or even entering premises? Can't be true.

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  • This is sad really. a 'leading' brand and outlet in technology and media, with an attitude that is reminiscent of the 1950s. I am a tattooist and well aware of the discrimination faced by my clients and others who choose to decorate themselves. Tattooed people are not criminals and sailors. They are everyone in this millenium. This week alone i have tattooed 2 policemen, a dentist and a frontline soldier. Imagine if their employers did the same. This is ignorance of the highest order. The powers that be are once again completely alienated from those they seek to control. No wonder hmv are on the rocks.

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  • I feel this is possibly the worst move/ suggestion by the management of hmv yet. I work in retail and I am covered on both my arms hand and soon to be neck. I have a great rapport with my customers and my tattoos create a talking point for both the young and old. This is an old fashioned

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  • Its ridiculous why would you ban the sort of staff that are most likely to be passionate about your products, i used to work at M&S and i had a colleague with a big full sleeve tattoo that they never once asked him to cover up, and that's a company who's main clientele are retired old ladies. Whereas HMV are supposed to be a "cool/trendy" store but are alienating their customers. Which is why I shop at cex or on line as i would rather be served by a bearded tattooed pierced guy that knew what he was on about than some clean cut boy that knows nothing.

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  • Unfortunately it's not as easy as allowing or not allowing. Some visible tattoos are fine, others could be offensive. Proof by extreme - would you allow a tattoo with a BNP or racist/sexist tone?

    If you allow tattoos you are going to have to decide which ones - a minefield for management.

    No easy answer, but I can see were HMV management is coming from on this!

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  • I recently did a stint in a charity shop, before starting, I asked if my piercings were a problem. "Only if someone complains about them.", I was told. I was there practically every day, for four weeks, and not once did anyone complain.
    The notion that "piercings and tattoos are scary" is ridiculous.
    Most older people are happy to learn about why young people are doing this now.
    HMV have pretty much shot themselves in the foot with this; my local HMV was two doors down from Blue Banana, so alongside HMV, those two shops were pretty much the main place for the alternative people in town - Blue Banana has closed now, and HMV has done this, and a lot of people are saying that they won't feel happy in HMV anymore. But they won't be getting any new customers as a result of policy, because to see that something has changed, you'd need to go in, and if people weren't "comfortable" before, they won't go in to see.

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  • brian m - I understand where you're coming from, but ultimately, if you were a hiring manager or similar how likely is it that you'd take a look at someone who was tattooed with a giant swastika and think; 'you're hired!'.

    Music and art are very closely linked industries, and the people that shop at HMV, and who work there, will see tattoos as expression. By repressing people this way, HMV are slowly but surely alienating their clientele.

    I wonder if this is the first step in a major brand overhaul for the music retailer.

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  • HMV need to understand that this is not going to increase sales. A music shop is the one place I would expect to see the individualism of its staff. We have Been seeing negative press in the media for the past 18 months about the company, it's shares are rapidly losing value, stores are closing and the one thing that was making money (it's concert venues) were sold to recoup some profit. I feel for the poor staff, many of them no doubt casualties of the fallout from Woolworths, zavvi and game who are probably wondering if their jobs are safe and secure. Pulling a stunt like this cannot be good for staff morale!

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