Thursday, 1 August 2013

Side Tracked 2: When Beeching took to the High Street.

Warning: This blog is likely to meander off track a few times…

How sick are you of the phrases 'credit crunch,' 'this tough economic times,' and 'austerity climate.' Well chances are I'm going to be using them a lot in the coming paragraphs. 

Last year HMV went into administration. This followed on from a loss of 'high street names' such as Woolworths, Jessops and Boarders burning up in this bleak, credit crunchy, austere economic climate (there I used them all in one go). 

Frankly, I didn't care. HMV for the majority of my student years had served me well. Providing cheap CD's and DVD's you wanted to buy in an easy to browse environment in most major towns. They even provided me with a generous student discount to keep my custom loyal and media consumption legal. Something of which the also now defunct Virgin Megastores (later Zavvi) failed to provide with the same quality and dedication. 

Then this promptly changed.

"I'm sorry we don't do student discount anymore but would you like to join our points scheme?"

I should have said no. Put down AC DC's Greatest Hits and never looked back. 

Unfortunately, my naive 19 year old self, mindlessly said "yeh OK" and spent the next 18 months eagerly hoovering up HMV points by buying full price CD's and DVD's. I even wasn't too deterred when they said that Tech wasn't included in the points scheme when purchasing my PS3.

Excited I logged onto HMV points scheme to see what I could buy…

Some badges. Or a picture of Olly Murs. What. The. F*ck.

Matters were made worse when I learned some of the points I had gathered had expired many moons ago, and that in fact my frantic gathering of points over the last 18 months had been an entirely POINTless (whey!) exercise. 

It was at this very time that I gave HMV one last chance to redeem itself. I was a loyal chump after all… And on a cold and wintery excursion into Manchester I entered the large store on Market Street to be met with a wall of T-Shirts, sh*tty Beats headphones and Jay-Zed branded iPod docks. Where are the DVD's and CD's are wondered? They were there, all be it shoved at the back all stacked on their side so I couldn't really browse for eye catching album/film artwork. 

This was the end of my loyalty to HMV.

Now you may, ask what has a long overdue rant about a failing media store got to do with model railwaying? Good question. Well a few weeks ago, and rather quietly, Modelzone - a national chain of model shops - went into administration. 

Now, this is really rather sad. For me, the demise of HMV and Virgin Megastores was well deserved. They royally shafted their customers by ditching a successful model, replacing it with badly laid out stores favouring technology no one buys and t-shirts no one wants. Now, there really is no substitute for visiting your local modelshop, you know, not a chain one. And I will get to that shortly, but there's a lot Modelzone got absolutely spot on. 

The trouble with independent model shops is they are few and far between. And I really do mean few and far. My favourite is in Chelmsford, Essex (John Dutfield if you want to know). Quite a drive from where I live in London. You may be thinking - London would surely will host a couple of properly decent modelshops. No. This great capital has merely 3 independent model shops to speak of, Janes Trains in Tooting which is more of a ball ache for me to get to than Chelmsford; The Engine Shed in Leytonstone which although is on my door step really didn't have a great supply of stock nor friendly staff when I last visited; and finally Wheels of Steel which can be described as a glorified market stool in a tucked away Antiques Centre off Bond Street. That is literally it, and I've spent the last week trying to find others…. there really isn't. 

Modelzone plugged that gap of being somewhere to 'pop down to' if you wanted the odd tree or piece of track. And they'd actually have it in stock. What's more they were well located in places like Wesfield, Romford and Holborn. Prices were not unreasonable, they have a plentiful stock of models on display (not always done in the independents) and the staff albeit less knowledgeable than in John Dutfield were always friendly and helpful. It was a great stop gap to scratch the itch of buying something for my hobby without having to do a 50 mile round trip. And what's more they were actually getting better. The one in Westfield started out quite disappointing but after prevailing a few times I found their stock was diversifying and model railway department growing. I saw this diversifying of stock as a good thing. If the range of railway products was only getting greater that must mean they have faith in it right? Opening new stores in expensive new shopping malls?… Maybe HMV felt the same way about t-shirts and headphones but maybe like HMV it was a last ditched attempt to bring in a greater range custom?

I suppose in that sense the failure of Modelzone and HMV are exactly the same. Thinking they can buy their way out of the problem with more stores and more stock. Victim of the internet world, and another high street casualty. Austerity. Blah. Crunch. Waffle.

Except they are not the same. HMV still exists on the high street. Still selling t-shirts. Still selling 50-Centphones. Still not offering student discount, and now that their online effort has been ditched - not offering points. Modelzone on the other hand have not been able to find buyers and have started systematically shutting stores. 

It's a shame I can't swap HMV for Modelzone… But the one crumb of comfort here is that for once the independents have outlived the chain. And for that reason you should continue to support, visit and buy from them… And whilst you're there, persuade them to move to London. 

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