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Early days and Expansion
Andy Gray started selling second-hand jukebox 45s and old 78 rpm records on Felixstowe pier in 1969 and within five years had acquired a stall on Cambridge market. The market stall was successful, and in 1976 Gray opened his first retail shop in Mill Road, Cambridge. Initially, Andys was well known for undercutting competitors by importing records from Europe at a bargain price and then passing the savings on to customers. The chain's expansion was slow and steady, and by the early 1980s, the company had 12 stores across the east of England with two shops in Cambridge and others in Bury St. Edmunds, King's Lynn, Peterborough, Haverhill, Colchester, Bedford, Lowestoft, Norwich and Ipswich.
By 1983 the company was trading as Andys Records & Video, capitalising on the success of home video and the VHS and Betamax war. Gray listed the chain as a limited company, AHG Records. By this time, Gray's brother William (known as Billy) had become marketing director. Early advertising was often humorous and sometimes self-deprecating. The company slogan around this time was "Possibly the greatest music stores in the world". This was replaced in the early 90s by "Where music matters" and again later on by "Where music REALLY matters".
The company, buoyed by the relatively new formats of VHS and CD, started to aggressively expand out of the Anglia region. Deciding that southern England was too expensive, the Gray brothers concentrated on opening stores in the Midlands and northern England. By the late 80s to early 90s, Andys Records was fast becoming a well-known name on the UK high street. It became the UK's largest independent music retailer in 1992, a title it retained for 10 years.
In 1993, the company won the prestigious Music Week Independent Retailer Award, and continued to win this award each year until 1999. The chain also came third in 2002 as National Music Retailer.
By the mid-1990s, the company had climbed into the Top 500 of UK companies and boasted an impressive 30+ store portfolio. By this time, Andys had stopped selling cheap imports and started to compete with HMV and Virgin Megastores as a premium music retailer. The chain was too small to compete with these two, but too large to undercut competitors.
New stores started to be opened as Andys, dropping the Records tag as it was considered too old-fashioned. In November 1999, Andys opened its 40th store in Leamington Spa.
In August 2000 it was announced that the Warrington and Doncaster stores were to close. With supermarkets getting even cheaper and increased competition from online stores, the chain started to flounder. When major competitors, such as HMV or Virgin, were present, their campaigns were better than Andys, and recent chart albums were available at much lower prices, due to their bulk buying power. Andys' marketing was not up to the standard of the bigger chains.
After more store closures in 2001 and 2002, the chain was down to a roster of just under 30 stores and lost its claim to be the largest independent chain, being replaced by the up-and-coming Music Zone. Following a disappointing 2002 Christmas, Gray decided to go back to his roots and started to sell imports at cut-throat prices. Thousands of titles were slashed in price in January 2003, many normally retailing at £10.99 were reduced to £6.99, and £15.99/£16.99 became £10.99/£12.99. Around this time, the chain had a minor facelift with new styling and decor in most stores and new uniforms for staff.
The directors realised that they would be unable to meet the next quarter's rental payments and called in the administrators RSM Robson Rhodes in conjunction with Barclays Bank. Gray, now a multi-millionaire - he came 94th in the Sunday Times Rich List one year during the mid-90s - was unwilling to fund his company after three years of letting it rack up massive losses.
All 23 stores were put up for sale as a going concern. Both HMV and Virgin looked at stores but decided not to purchase. In July 2003, southern England-based music retailer Powerplay bought four stores (Lowestoft, Bedford, Hull and Lancaster) from the administrators. The company purchased a further two (Hereford and Worcester) in September 2003. All stores have since shut their doors and Powerplay now concentrates on online sales under the name Powerplay Direct although it has now opened a new store in Leicester.
After some immediate closures due to unprofitability, the chain was whittled down to 10 and started to sell all of its stock at discounted prices. All stores eventually shut on Saturday 13 September 2003, although the Beverley store was eventually bought by its management team. It stayed open till late 2005.
Andy Gray continues to run a successful reissue record label, BGO Records, from Bury St. Edmunds (actually behind the old Andys Records head office). The initials 'BGO' are shared with 'The Beat Goes On', the name of Andys' former second-hand, rare and deleted specialist shop in Cambridge. BGO is now the fourth largest reissue label in the UK and specialises in niche genres.