|Gary Nesbitt (founder)
Edward Stollins (founder)
Mike Isaacs (founder)
Lee Skinner (last owner)
Our Price was a chain of record stores in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 1971 until 2004. Founded in 1971 by Gary Nesbitt, Richard Branson, Edward Stollins and Mike Isaacs, their first store was located in London's Finchley Road. Until 1976, the first six stores were branded, The Tape Revolution, and concentrated on selling the then-new compact cassette format and 8-track tapes.
From 1976, the up-start chain rebranded to Our Price Records in response to local demand for vinyl records over 8-tracks. In 1988, it rebranded again to Our Price Music as new CD formats started being distributed by record labels. In 1993, a final brand relaunch occurred with the then, 300-store chain, calling themselves simply, Our Price.
The company was based in London, with a head office above the shop in Kensington High Street. It initially focused on the committed rock album buyer, with regular imports of "cut-out" US albums, a remainder store on Charing Cross Road branded Surplus Records, and a mail-order business driven by advertising in the music press. These different routes to market fell away after the core chain grew in 1980 with the purchase of the Harlequin Records chain. Thereafter, national expansion followed, with the 100th store opening in the Kings Road, Chelsea; the 200th at Stirling, Scotland; and the 300th in Brixton, south London.
In the first half of the 1980s, Our Price established itself as the UK's second largest retailer of records and tapes (with Woolworths the largest). Brand recognition was driven by pun-rich radio advertising built around the "Get Down To Our Price" slogan, which later transferred to TV featuring an animated carrier bag called, Billy. A sister chain, Our Price Video, was established to capitalise on the success of the new VHS tape format, and some towns eventually had two or three Our Price-branded stores. Our Price Video was later rebranded under the Playhouse fascia, but failed to establish a significant market share in VHS sales, and it was wound up by owners, WH Smith, in the late 1990s (the otherwise unconnected Silver Screen retail chain was founded on the same "specialist movies" principle in the early 2000s; it too foundered, and has now closed down). In 1987 the rock star, Shakin' Stevens, chose a branch of Our Price to film the opening scene of his video for, What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?
In 1984, Our Price was the first specialist music store to float on the London Stock Exchange, and two years later, it was acquired by WH Smith for £43 million, with Smith's Sound FX chain immediately absorbed into Our Price. In addition to its high street chain, WH Smith also owned the Do-It-All DIY chain, Sherratt & Hughes booksellers, and other businesses. This changed Our Price fundamentally, and several members of senior management left the company in 1989 to create the rival MVC (that chain would eventually be bought by Woolworths). In 1994, WH Smith bought a majority interest in Richard Branson's Virgin Music retail chain, a move which (with both Our Price and Virgin brands combined) would push them back ahead of HMV in market share. The next year, Virgin/Our Price increased profits by 10 per cent. However, sales dropped by 3 per cent in the year to May 1997 which was experienced industry-wide. In this period, WH Smith opened 23 new Virgin Megastores while closing 19 Our Price stores. Even though Our Price had more outlets, over half the turnover then consisted of sales from stores trading under the Virgin brand with their larger footprints in more high customer traffic locations. Yet, in 1998, WH Smith sold Virgin/Our Price for £145 million to a division of the Virgin Group of companies in response to the stores losing £127 million in the year to date.
After this takeover in 1998, the Virgin Group attempted to sell its newly acquired 229-shop Our Price chain to Our Price's very own management team in a failed management buy-out. In August 2000, it was announced that the Our Price name would be dropped from 102 of its stores in favour of the Virgin name, or VShop, mainly in South East England. During the announcement, Our Price's commercial director, Neil Boote, told Billboard that, "there has been no real investment in the vast majority of [Our Price] stores for a long, long time. Environmentally, they're a long way away from where we'd like to be." He added, "I'm sure Virgin believes that, if the VShop concept works, it has to have international potential. Frankly, Our Price was just too parochial a brand with no [particularly unique selling points]. It epitomised the High Street record store of the '80s." Virgin had no immediate plans for the remaining 127 Our Price-branded stores until they saw how well the VShop chain would be received. The first four of five VShops re-opened on 4 September 2000 in the West London areas of, Kensington, Ealing, Notting Hill Gate, and Hammersmith. The fifth store re-opened in the southeast English town of Chatham, also on that day. VShops continued to stock popular CDs, but would concentrate equally on selling an expanded range of VHSs, DVDs, and Virgin-branded mobile phone products (Virgin Mobile taking up 25% of floor space). These reconfigured stores removed the bulk of back catalogue CDs from display with the hope that customers could order these in-store for home delivery through dedicated computer terminals (Virgin called them 'Find & Buy' kiosks) in a so-called 'clicks and mortar' strategy to combine High Street shopping with emerging Internet shopping trends. It lost out to competitors in the fields of music and mobile phones to competitors such as The Link, The Carphone Warehouse, HMV and MVC, while the increasing popularity of online shopping rendered the in-store ordering terminals redundant. Despite this, the Virgin Group continued to rebrand Our Price stores to VShop, and by April 2001, 100 of the 220-store chain were converted with the stated aim to have all done within a year. Further to this, Virgin closed another 30 Our Price outlets between 1999 and 2001.
The 2000s saw the Virgin Group start to scale down their UK entertainment retail division (in 2007 they sold their domestic Virgin Megastores in a management buy-out, later becoming, Zavvi), so it was decided to divest their remaining 77 Our Price-branded stores to Brazin Limited in October 2001. Brazin was a major Australian entertainment retailer, which operated the 265 store (in October 2001) Sanity chain in that territory. The Our Price stores were bought by Brazin for a symbolic £2, and inturn, the company gained exclusive license rights in Australia for Virgin Entertainment (which last traded there nine years before under the co-ownership of the Virgin Group and Blockbuster Inc.), initially setting up Virgin Megastores in Melbourne and Sydney. In addition to the £2 paid, Brazin paid £900 million to the Virgin Group while getting that exact amount back from Virgin for tax reasons. Brazin's CEO, Ian Duffell said that the UK music market was one of the strongest in the world that year and he expected a, "50 per cent increase in music revenues from day one." Further to the deal, Virgin would get 1 per cent of all turnover in the stores in conjunction to offering Brazin a £2 million loan facility. Brazin also made a commitment to restrict the size and proximity of its Sanity UK stores in order to ensure they do not pose a large competitive threat to Virgin's other music shops.
Early in 2002, Brazin experienced many delays in rebranding the Our Price stores due to landlords, heritage listings, and negotiations with Railtrack. The company also shifted Sanity UK's headquarters from Our Price's central London offices to Alperton. The first rebranded Our Price store with Sanity's darker, urban look opened in London's Waterloo station on 23 April 2002 and the second opened at Paddington station on 9 May 2002 to positive customer reactions and strong sales. The Sanity/Our Price outlets were already starting to return on investments and overall company operating profit rose to 32 per cent in the year to 30 June 2002.
In July 2002, the Virgin Group announced that a select group of three VShops in Brixton (Our Price's 300th store), Hounslow and Notting Hill be relaunched again, this time as, Virgin Megastore Xpress, moving away from mobile phone retailing and returning to larger back catalogue products. Another two VShop outlets in Reading and Colchester were relaunched as Virgin Gamestores, selling both gaming software and hardware. By November that year, a total of 18 former VShops were converted to the Virgin Megastore Xpress fascia, increasing sales by around 30 per cent year-on-year.
In November 2002, Brazin acquired the remaining 41 VShop music and mobile phone stores (former Our Price outlets themselves) from the Virgin Group for £2 million. These stores were added to the network already acquired, in addition to the new Sanity shops being established by Brazin in new regional locations. The first of these new outlets opened in October at Conswater, Northern Ireland, and in November at Southsea, followed by Walton Cross. By early 2003, the Sanity/Our Price/VShop network had grown to approximately 130 stores across the country due to Brazin establishing new Sanity outlets in new locations.
In September 2003, even after increasing profitability across their store network, Brazin Limited sold all 118 Sanity UK stores (some were yet to be rebranded from Our Price, and all VShop outlets were already gone) to Lee Skinner's investment company, Primemist Limited, for an estimated £9 million, citing higher expectations not met.
However, Primemist Limited struggled to operate the chain due to major credit limit reductions from suppliers and had no alternative but to enter into administration in December 2003. Buyers for the entire business or individual parts of it could not be found. By April 2004, administrators, BDO Stoy Hayward, had closed all the Our Price stores - meaning a total of 410 staff had been made redundant. The last Our Price store to close was located in Chesterfield which hosted a closing day party. The remaining stock in the chain was sold in its entirety to the Oxfam shops.
Currently the Our Price and Our Price Records name and brand are used by an online comparison website.
An Our Price Records-branded store is briefly seen in a Virgin Atlantic 1980s-styled nostalgia advertisement screened in the UK from 4 January 2010. The advert was created to celebrate 25 years of Virgin Atlantic and ceased airing in mid-2010.
Several years after its closure, Our Price still had a presence in the CBD of Wolverhampton, West Midlands within the Mander Centre; as that retail unit had yet to be occupied by a new tenant and the empty unit still bore the Our Price name on its front. However, in January 2013, the signs were removed.
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