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?