In praise of Tower Records

8th May 2013

Recession takes no prisoners. It is dispiriting to pass so many retail outlets which have closed up shop. We have become used to the signals: dwindling stock, a certain tiredness in window displays and then, bang! Gone.

Economic downturn reveals a certain law-of-the-jungle truth. Those businesses which were built leaner,  operated more flexibly and were more careful in creating customer relationships have fared better.

Recessionary survival, like chance, favours the prepared.

For those of us ploughing our furrow in Dublin, Tower Records on Wicklow Street has been a long-term, energy-giving if a little nerdy, music and movie store.

It has always struck me as a humble business which likes what it does.

When I asked for a Ken Burns documentary some months back, the guy helping me waxed lyrical about Burns and his particular style of storytelling. It was great to learn something new, and to get excited by the DVD before ever viewing it (as a recent convert to movies marginally more pushy than The Sound of Music, I like to feel part of the club of cool).

In contrast, HMV – the British high street franchise – fell into a rather noisy (and sad) collapse a few months back. It closed its Irish doors, reneged on its outstanding gift tokens and took leave of its hundreds of staff.

It seemed to me that HMV was a place of impersonal gloss – founded on the combined talents of One Direction, Downton Abbey, and Christmas box-sets of Fawlty Towers. It seemed a business predicated on footfall, not people; music charts, not music appreciation. It sold me music, but did not take an interest in stimulating my musical tastes.

Alas, when brands play in the mainstream, they have to deal with mainstream forces. That great big webbed monster-of-connectivity seemed to swallow HMV’s business model whole. Gulp.

I passed Tower Records today and saw their motto fluttering above the rather wizened, but functional, shop signage:

“No music, No life”

Ah yes, I thought. It’s good doing business with a business that knows its business.


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