As threatened, throughout April - in celebration of Record Store Day - I offer up a daily post related to all things record shop.
And if any of it sounds like a Manifesto, consider it good practice for my election campaign next year.
Day Fourteen of this steaming pile of japery, kinghell boring bullshit and contentious nonsense...
The World Conquering Chart>Range>Back Catalogue> Centipede
Tonight I'm going to talk to you about stock control systems. You might want to go and do something else, like watch paint dry, and then come back for the explosively contentious reveal about HMV hard-wiring carefully programmed staff members with Scart sockets. Or not. Some people don't want to know how the World is gonna end...
In the late 90s, HMV annihilated every single music retail competitor with a bespoke automated stock control and inventory system called Track. An average store manager and team armed with a Track system could more than hold their own against their competition. An excellent Store Manager and Team armed with a Track system could lay waste to endless shopping malls full of Our Prices, Virgin Megastores, MVCs...indies. They had no defence against it.
Here's how it worked. Everything released by the music and video industry was 'built' and catalogued by HMV technoids on a central server. Every detail about the individual product was presented on screen - distributor, barcode, catalogue number, cost price, retail price, name, title etc - and when a shop took delivery of a product additional information was added - date received, date last sold, date last ordered etc.
So far, so standard stock control, so boring.
Each product created was flagged as a Back Catalogue item. Back catalogue products had a MODEL STOCK option. Setting a Model Stock of 1 meant that the shop should always have 1 copy of that product in stock; as soon as the item was sold at the electronic till point, an automatic replenishment order was generated to reorder the product back up to it's Model Stock Level. Replenishment reports were generated daily, as and when items were sold. Reports could be viewed and interacted with on screen, or hard copies of everything could be printed off.
Transmitting the replenishment reports to the respective distributors for reorder was at the discretion of the Store Manager. In most cases it was best practice procedure to release back catalogue orders daily. At Christmas, I did them twice a day. At month end, if I was up against a tight closing stock figure, I'd cherry pick or hold off reordering completely; managers missing their monthly stock target generally didn't last very long.
It's 7pm. I'm in my well-appointed second floor Managers Office overlooking College Green, Bristol. My team left an hour ago and now I'm flipping through old copies of Uncut that I've brought to work, going through the albums of the month lists, model stocking the items we don't have that I think we can sell. A couple of weeks later, and the items I model stocked for one are selling regularly and showing up on the stock replenishment reports. I reward myself by getting stinking drunk in the The Hatchet.
*End Of Interlude*
New releases set for big sales and promotion were built and CHART flagged at creation. Every store 'ran' CHART PREPRINTS on a regular basis. Preprints were hard copies and if you were a shopper in HMV at the time, you'll probably remember staff walking around with rolls of paper stuffed into the back pockets; in smaller stores especially, most team members had a buying role - Video Buyer, Singles Buyer, Chart Buyer etc - and they would write their order quantities on the preprints according to the sales patterns revealed on the preprints - daily sales over last 7 day, weekly sales over last 7 weeks. On screen, these reports could be toggled to show monthly and even yearly sales totals. Learning to read sales patterns, especially singles sales patterns in the days when an appearance on Top Of The Pops or a TV advert could affect sales in a huge way was an art form. Whichever format it was, YOU DID NOT SELL OUT OF CHART FLAGGED ITEMS. Doing so, and on a regular basis lost sales. Ergo, you lost your job.
When a product dropped out of the charts, but remained a BESTSELLER, it became a RANGE product. Each month, the Range flagged products sales were reviewed centrally, titles with dwindling sales dropping out to accommodate the new additions. Each major format had 500 Range products. Range preprints were used in the same way that Chart preprints were used, and because Range products sales were collated from every store in the chain, and therefore represented the bestselling products, every shop stocked the core Range. Also, when a product dropped off the Range, a report was generated in store for the manager/buyer to review to decide whether they would model stock it or add it to their LOCAL flagged items.
LOCAL flagged items did exactly what they said on the tin; they let individual shops flag products that had relevance to their particular store. Reasons for flagging a product as Local might be: the local indie cinema is running an Asia Extreme festival for a month, so the Manager and DVD Buyer flag the Asia Extreme DVDs Local. Or a local band has got a new CD out. It's built on the system with a model stock and the manager has taken a load of copies on consignment and wants to monitor sales over the next couple of weeks. Or an ex-Range product is still selling very well locally.
Like everything else, Local flag items with zero sales or very few sales triggered an automatic report that managers reviewed and made changes to Locally flagged product. This was called BEST PRACTICE HOUSEKEEPING.
Prior to opening the College Green Bristol shop, my boss sends me to every corner of England; sourcing stock in warehouse in London, working on the model stocks with a senior company Range Buyer in Newcastle.
Since opening, I've stayed in touch with the guy from Newcastle. He enjoys working with a 'proper record shop again' (it's the first time he's worked with a Fopp/HMV hybrid). Lots of punters are asking for classical CDs and my current range is pretty poor. I call my Newcastle connect and ask him to 'dial' into the flagship HMV on Oxford Street. As a senior buyer for the company he can dial into any HMV shop and run reports. I ask him to run Oxford Street's bestselling classical CDs. While he's on the job I ask him to run their bestselling Reggae and Dub CDs too. He redirects them to the printer on my desk. A couple of months later my boss is asking me to explain to a roomful of managers how I've increased my classical sales by 500%. I reward myself by getting steaming drunk in The Hatchet.
*End Of Interlude*
In addition to all of these product reports, there were hundreds of other reports that could be run to increase efficiency and sales; obsolescence reports (product on hand with zero sales over a set number of months); negative stock reports; stock awaiting return; faulty product on-hand...etc etc
All of these Track reports combined gave individual shops incredible control over their product offer and a huge degree of autonomy, something the competition didn't have - most of the competitors relied almost exclusively on centrally ordered product fulfillment - shops might be able to request items to be ordered, but they couldn't be as proactive or reactive as their counterparts at HMV.
A few days ago I was talking at someone about 'back catalogue' and how multiple factors have made the idea of a 'core range' obsolete; the likes of Amazon can source and deliver product within 24hrs; manufacturing back logs and limited pressing numbers means that product is no longer on tap - Phoebe Bridgers' Stranger In The Alps fulfills all the 'old' criteria of a Range product but it's been out of print and unavailable for almost 12 months (and the same can be said of most 'bestselling records' of the past 24 months); and streaming platforms have redefined how people consume their music.
By this point their eyes had glazed over and they'd begun to drool. I felt like Colin Robinson, so I said, "...and then HMV figured out a way to upload data via an embedded live Scart socket in the neck of a Human host, and that's when things really got interesting. In fact here, I'll show you mine".
Jolted and bolted, they did.