|Headquarters||Kensington High Street, United Kingdom|
|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, 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, by Bob Fowler of Fowler Coates Ltd and concentrated on selling the then-new compact cassette format and eight track tapes.
From 1976, the chain was rebranded Our Price Records by Bob Fowler of Fowler Coates Ltd, in response to local demand for vinyl records over eight tracks. In 1988, it was rebranded again as Our Price Music, as record labels began to distribute the new CD format. In 1993, the by then three-hundred-store chain was renamed simply Our Price.
The company's headquarters were in London, with an office above the store on Kensington High Street and promotional offices in Wood Lane, White City. It initially focused on the rock album buyer, with regular imports of "cut-out" albums from the United States, a remainder store on Charing Cross Road branded Surplus Records, and a mail order business driven by advertising in the music press.
These markets fell away as the chain grew from 1980 onwards, when the company purchased the chain Harlequin Records. 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 United Kingdom'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 television 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 then owners WH Smith at the end of the 1990s.
The otherwise unconnected Silver Screen retail chain was founded on the same "specialist movies" principle in the early 2000s; it too foundered, and later closed down. The expansion of HMV by owners Thorn EMI in the late 1980s established a chain of newer, larger stores, which threatened and eventually overtook Our Price in popularity.
Flotation and sale to WH Smith
In 1984, Our Price was the first specialist music store to float on the London Stock Exchange. Two years later, it was acquired by WH Smith for £43 million, with Smith's Sound FX immediately absorbed into Our Price. Several members of senior management left the company in 1989 to create the rival MVC, which itself would eventually be bought by Woolworths.
In March 1994, WH Smith also 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%. However, sales dropped by 3% in the year to May 1997, a contraction experienced throughout the industry.
Around this time, WH Smith opened 23 new Virgin Megastores, while closing nineteen Our Price branches. 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 locations with higher customer traffic. 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.
Sale to Virgin
After this takeover in 1998, the Virgin Group attempted to sell Our Price to its 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 stores, mainly in South East England, in favour of the Virgin name, or VShop.
During the announcement, Our Price's commercial director, Neil Boote, told Billboard: "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.
Five VShops reopened on 4 September 2000, located in Kensington, Ealing, Notting Hill Gate, Hammersmith and Chatham. VShops continued to stock popular CDs, but would concentrate equally on selling an expanded range of VHS video cassettes, DVDs, and Virgin branded mobile phone products, with 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 instore for home delivery through dedicated computer terminals, which Virgin called Find & Buy kiosks. The so-called 'clicks and mortar' strategy aimed to combine high street shopping with emerging internet shopping trends.
Virgin lost out to music and mobile phone 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 Our Price branches had been converted, with the remaining 110 intended to be completed within the year. In addition, Virgin closed another 30 Our Price outlets between 1999 and 2001.
Sale to Brazin
The early 2000s saw the Virgin Group start to scale down its entertainment retail division in the United Kingdom. In September 2007, it sold its domestic Virgin Megastores in a management buy-out, and they were subsequently renamed Zavvi. The group sold their remaining 77 Our Price branded stores to Brazin Limited in October 2001.
Brazin was a major Australian entertainment retailer, which operated the 265 Sanity stores. It paid £2 for the Our Price stores and gained exclusive license rights in Australia for Virgin Entertainment, which had last traded there nine years earlier, under the co-ownership of the Virgin Group and Blockbuster Inc. Virgin Megastores were opened in Melbourne and Sydney.
In addition to the nominal £2 paid, Brazin paid £900 million to the Virgin Group while getting that exact amount back from Virgin for tax efficiency purposes. Brazin's CEO Ian Duffell said that the music market in the United Kingdom 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% of all turnover in the stores, in conjunction with offering Brazin a £2 million loan facility. Brazin also made a commitment to restrict the size and proximity of its Sanity stores in the United Kingdom to ensure they did not pose a large competitive threat to Virgin's other music shops.
Early in 2002, Brazin experienced multiple delays in rebranding the Our Price stores due to difficulties with landlords, heritage listings, and negotiations with Railtrack. The company also moved the group's headquarters from the former Our Price 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% in the year to 30 June 2002.
In July 2002, the Virgin Group announced that a select group of three VShops in Brixton, which had been Our Price's 300th store, Hounslow and Notting Hill would be relaunched again as Virgin Megastore Xpress, with a move away from mobile phone retailing and return to a larger number of 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% year on year.
In November 2002, Brazin acquired the remaining 41 VShop music and mobile phone stores, all former Our Price outlets, 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. The first of these new outlets opened in October at Conswater, Northern Ireland, and in November at Southsea, followed by Waltham Cross. By January 2003, the Sanity/Our Price/VShop network had grown to approximately 130 stores across the country.
Sale to Primemist
In September 2003, even after increasing profitability across their store network, Brazin Limited sold all 118 stores of Sanity in the United Kingdom to Lee Skinner's investment company, Primemist Limited, for an estimated £9 million, citing higher expectations not met. At this stage, some stores were yet to be rebranded from Our Price; however, all VShop outlets were gone.
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, resulting in the redundancy of 400 staff members.
An Our Price Records branded store was briefly seen in a Virgin Atlantic 1980s styled nostalgia advertisement, screened in the United Kingdom from January of 2009. The advert was created to celebrate 25 years of Virgin Atlantic, and ceased airing in mid-2010.
www.ourprice.co.uk was a comparison website owned by Our Price Records Limited, which was established in 2003, and featured products which extended further than the music and entertainment industry. As of September 2019 the website is defunct with the following message:
“Our Price Records Limited (‘the Company’) was placed into Administration on 25 April 2017.
The Joint Administrators, Paul Boyle, Tom Bowes and David Clements of Harrisons Business Recovery and Insolvency Limited, act as agents of the Company and without personal liability. Paul Boyle and Tom Bowes are licensed by the Insolvency Practitioners Association and David Clements is licensed by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales, all Joint Administrators are bound by the Insolvency Code of Ethics.
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- "Virgin Atlantic: 25 Years, Still Red Hot". Retrieved 14 April 2013 – via YouTube.