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Avalanche – Future Plans and HMV/FOPP

Understandably I’ve been getting asked a lot if I still intend to close on the 6th and if I still intend to reopen. The short answer is currently still yes. Business before Christmas was poor and I just didn’t take anything like the kind of money that was needed given the stock we have. Since Christmas Eve which unusually was our best day of Christmas trading things have been as I would have hoped. Quite simply the difference has been the number of visitors, many having been to Avalanche before and very keen to show their support. There has as well been a reasonable if not fantastic amount of passing trade.

It has become very clear that our new music sales are very much in the hands of others. Last Christmas as HMV/FOPP struggled they stocked up on Scottish indie releases as others denied them stock and we were left with a lot of our best selling stock unsold. Customers would come in with a bag full of CDs looking for the couple they hadn’t been able to get at FOPP. This year the opposite happened and with their usual poor selection I had customers with lists looking for James Yorkston, Admiral Fallow, Malcolm Middleton etc and soon I was cleaned out of titles myself. Similarly after Christmas customers started to comment how poor the selection of vinyl was at FOPP and a quick visit confirmed they had obviously done well before Christmas but not restocked meaning again more business for us.

As has been well documented recently HMV and FOPP under any normal circumstances would have been closed down by now but to quote the CMU website “Incredibly favourable supplier terms from major music and DVD companies is currently helping HMV to continue operating”. Meanwhile if we don’t pay our bills on time we go on stop at one minute passed midnight on the first of the month. At the same time no matter how careful I am I constantly get caught with stock as it simply isn’t possible to predict the sales of everything from Animal Collective to Muse. Again HMV have regulary been given consignment over the last year and were given a 40 million pound lifeline in consignment stock just before Christmas which they only pay for if they sell. 

Sensibly we simply can’t compete with FOPP in particular if they are given such advantages. Understandably most customers especially at Christmas are simply looking to buy what they need and are not thinking of supporting an independent versus the corporate HMV. Most indeed are unaware HMV owns FOPP. Many vinyl customers are more concerned with supporting the format than any particular shop but even so it still amazes me when customers turn up with a bag of vinyl from FOPP, all titles we stock and often have cheaper, and then buy a single or cheap second hand album only to tell me they hope I stay open.

There have been glimpses of support from record companies and distributors and more positive help from some labels and bands but mostly distributors prefer the easy sales of online sellers who mainly only order once they have a firm sale but of course do nothing to promote the music they sell. Several years ago it was universally agreed that high street shops would need hugely preferential terms if they were to pay for their expensive locations and spend time supporting the music they stocked but now that is all forgotten.

So on the high street shops have to compete with an HMV backed by the record companies and if they are really unlucky a FOPP too. Against this backdrop it is very difficult for me to make decisions. At least the record companies will need to make their own decision this month if as expected HMV default on payments again. It has only become clear what a big part of the picture this now is over the last couple of months. If core fans continue to buy directly from the bands and casual fans from FOPP then the decision in terms of stocking new music becomes easy.

The difference of course is that for others that would entail shutting down while for Avalanche it will involve a change of direction. Exactly the form that direction will take is still undecided.

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