Entertainment retailer HMV has unveiled a new dress code for staff that bans long hair; “extreme body art” such as piercings; flip-flops, and the exposure of tattoos: the very style of self-expression, in fact, that is traditionally associated with music fans. Coming into effect from next Friday, the code has met with derision from certain music-industry magazines, with many observers feeling that the struggling retailer has more important aspects of its business to worry about, and is wrongly attacking one of the unique selling points that sets it apart it from its online rivals.
HMV has been keen to play down the diktats, saying that reports have been “sensationalised” and that it was merely trying to adopt a consistent approach to staff conduct. A spokesman said “we want our work colleagues to feel valued as individuals who can express their personalities” – but went on to state that HMV needed to consider the “needs and expectations of our customers”, insinuating that the two conditions were mutually exclusive.
The chain is currently enduring a host of problems, despite being the only music retailer left on the High Street. Sales recently dipped below £1bn for the first time, with increased competition from cheaper online CD retailers, and the ongoing growth of digital music: an area in which HMV is present, due to its partnership with 7digital – but not dominant. In addition, the firm has no stake in the increasingly popular streaming market.
One of the few reasons for any music lover to go into an HMV shop is to utilise the knowledge of their staff. This move seems only likely to alienate those workers and, by extension, the customers who appreciate them. Perhaps this is merely a precursor to HMV deciding to drop shop sales of music entirely and concentrate further on DVD, Blu-Ray and videogame sales – but as those commodities are also in decline on the High Street, that could prove to be another cul-de-sac.
Music retail’s days in the shops may be numbered, but this managerial decision could bring the end sooner rather than later.