|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, and concentrated on selling the then-new compact cassette format and eight track tapes.
From 1976, the upstart chain rebranded to Our Price Records, in response to local demand for vinyl records over eight tracks. In 1988, it 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 was headquartered in London, with an office above the store on Kensington High Street. 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 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 November 1987, Shakin' Stevens filmed the opening scene of his video for "What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?" at an Our Price branch. 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 industry wide.
Around this time, WH Smith opened twenty three 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 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.
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 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.
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 with the year. In addition Virgin closed another thirty outlets of Our Price between 1999 and 2001.
Sale to Brazin
The early 2000s saw the Virgin Group start to scale down their entertainment retail division in the United Kingdom. In September 2007, they sold their domestic Virgin Megastores in a management buy-out, which were subsequently renamed Zavvi. The group divested their remaining seventy seven 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 to 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 three hundredth 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 eighteen 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 Walton 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. The final Our Price to close, located in Chesterfield, hosted a closing day party. All the chain's remaining stock was sold to the shops of Oxfam.
An Our Price Records branded store was briefly seen in a Virgin Atlantic 1980s styled nostalgia advertisement, screened in the United Kingdom from 4 January 2010. The advert was created to celebrate twenty five years of Virgin Atlantic, and ceased airing in the middle of 2010. www.ourprice.co.uk is a comparison website owned by Our Price Records Limited, which was established in 2003, and now features products which extend further than the music and entertainment industry.
Several years after its closure, Our Price still had a presence in the Mander Centre, Wolverhampton, West Midlands as the empty retail unit had yet to be occupied by a new tenant and still bore the branding. In January 2013, however, the signs were removed.
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