Economy

New Allans Billy Hyde owner: How he plans to transform the iconic music chain

Patrick Stafford /

The new owner of the Allans Billy Hyde music chain has told SmartCompany he plans on running a leaner operation more focused on customer service, as he attempts to rebuild customer confidence in the iconic brand.

Con Gallin, who runs Australian Musical Imports and the Gallin’s music chain, also highlighted what he believes were several problems with the corporate culture of the former owners, who he says didn’t specialise in marketing to professional musicians – a key focus for the new owners.

“Now, they were very professional business people. But when they came to our industry…you have to run the culture the business requires,” he says.

“Our vision is to try and change the culture a little bit. Instead of filling out forms, get staff talking, trying out stuff, offering a better service all around. We want to inspire them, and make them feel a little happier during the day.”

The company collapsed with $13.5 million in debt in August, while employees were understood to have been owed $3 million in entitlements. It was a huge blow to the industry, as the chain owned 25% of the local market.

“Our vision is to link the music stores to musicians. I don’t want to discount the former owners, but they were focused on making the stores another JB Hi-Fi. We want to have musicians in the store, and work with them to get the stores going.”

Gallin has bought stores in Melbourne, Blackburn, Sydney, Alexandria, Parramatta, Adelaide and Southport, with most staff to keep their jobs. While stock has been liquidated – and those sales will continue – new inventory has started shipping into those locations. Gallin expects them to be filled up next week.

And while Gallin couldn’t buy all 25 of the remaining stores, the locations being purchased will get a tune-up. Minor renovations will commence, although Gallin says he wants to improve on the current locations rather than spend a lot of money transforming them altogether.

“We got in just in time,” he says. “By the time we finished all the contracts and organised leases with landlords and spoke to staff, it was just in time.”

“We’re just going to try and present the stores a little better. We’ll do new fit-outs, improve them. We want to retain what was there. We don’t want to transform them into anything completely new.”

The fate of Allans Billy Hyde was all but certain until this latest news. Receivers Ferrier Hodgson had already confirmed the company’s stores would be closed and liquidation sales had already commenced across the entire chain.

The collapse of the company sparked a discussion about whether music stores would remain viable in the face of online retailing, which allows musicians to buy instruments for significantly cheaper prices.

The industry also faced talk that musicians simply didn’t have enough disposable income to buy instruments often enough to keep local businesses profitable.

Neither of these ideas is correct, Gallin says.

“There’s all this talk that people don’t have enough disposable income. But musicians don’t fall into that category. I’ve seen people who don’t have much money find the money to buy expensive instruments, because it’s driven by passion. It’s a creative thing.”

Allans Billy Hyde still has some industry clout. Australian Musical Imports still acts as Australia’s sole distributor for Gibson guitars, and the chain will maintain relationships with festivals like the Byron Bay Blues Festival. Gallin says those relationships will remain key as it attempts to drive sales through relationships with musicians.

Overall, Gallin says, he wants to change the culture from one based on corporate team management to a musician-led group of stores.

He references another store near the Adelaide location that has also been re-opened by its owner, also a musician.

“It just seems like musicians are coming back into the industry. We know what customers want.”

 

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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