HMV Canada storefront
An old photo of an HMV Store at the Bramalea City Centre in Toronto. (Photo by Raysonho via Wikimedia Commons)

HMV Coming Back to Canada: Is It A Good Idea?

February 9, 2024: This article has been updated with details from Toys “R” about the new plans.

Remember HMV? Back when physical media was a necessary way to listen to music, HMV sold rows and rows of CDs, vinyl records, even cassette tapes. As the industry shifted to streaming, the retailer expanded to offer accessories, from T-shirts to other swag relating to musicians and music culture. Eventually, the stores closed in Canada, but they’re now making a comeback…sort of.

Toys “R” Us Canada, which is owned by Doug Putman of Putman Investments (who also acquired both Sunrise Records in 2017 and HMV Retail Ltd., HMV’s parent in the U.K., in 2019) will reportedly see HMV sections rolled out within select stores. These music-focused store-within-store concepts will feature CDs and DVDs (for those who still listen this way, or love to collect) along with vinyl and record players, which have been experiencing a resurgence with the younger generation. You’ll also find collector’s items like T-shirts, books, and other collectibles, including licensed apparel.

According to Toys “R” Us, the decision was made to address consumer demand for “pop culture, collectible and nostalgic merchandise,” reports Global News.

“We are excited to be launching HMV shops in Toys “R” Us locations across the country,” the retailer tells WiFi HiFi. “While the footprint and products will vary in each store, shoppers can expect to find everything HMV is known for, from CDs, DVDs, vinyl, and record players to T-shirts, books, collector items, and beloved brands like Manga.”

HMV shops have already opened in several locations in Ontario, including Pickering, Brantford, Mississauga, Argentia, and Burlington. The roll-out will continue through Spring 2024, says HMV, with details provided on the website as new stores join the mix. In total, Toys “R” Us plans to have 45 shop-in-shops in locations by Spring 2024.

Will Music in Toys “R” Us Work?

Doug Putman from Putman Investments outside a Toys "R" Us store.
Doug Putman, founder of Putman Investments, visits a Toys “R” Us store in Hamilton, ON in summer 2021 with his daughter Hadley and niece Anna Gloria. Photo by: Danielle Donville

With Toys “R” Us stores already featuring other dedicated sections, including Babies “R” Us for baby gear and a separate area for electronics, like video games, drones, and electronic toys, a section for music could potentially work.

But thinking practically, it might be a challenge. Gen-Zers have an obsession with music culture and artists like Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, BTS, and Olivia Rodrigo. So a place to find merchandise tied to these artists could be a hit. Right now, kids love shopping at stores like Hot Topic for apparel and paraphernalia pertaining to music, movies, TV shows, and games. For the rest, it’s likely Amazon or Chinese online shopping platforms like Temu (the latter not necessarily for licensed merchandise). But kids also love hanging around shopping malls. Despite every effort to shift shopping online, and massive growth in online shopping, young people still desire immersive, in-store experiences. Could Toys “R” Us become a destination for kids who love to touch and feel shop? There’s just one problem.

Many Toys “R” Us locations are standalone stores not located in malls. You will find Toys “R” Us stores in destination malls like Vaughan Mills in Vaughan, just north of downtown Toronto. You’ll also find one across the street from Sherway Gardens in Etobicoke, west of Toronto. But more commonly, they are in plazas, destinations in and of themselves.

Also, it’s not so much whether there’s a demand for this type of merchandise as it is a question of if parents can convince their tweens and teens, the primary demographic for buying such merchandise, that a visit to Toys “R” Us is actually “cool.” Toys “R” Us is considered, and rightly so, a spot for, well, toys. That means items for younger kids, babies, and toddlers. Adding HMV would require a complete shift in thinking about the brand. Toys are toys. Music is music. Yes, there are grown men who buy Lego sets, but the core demographic shopping in Toys “R” Us are people shopping with or for young children. The two brands by and large attract different customers.

With that said, for families with both pre-teens/teens and younger kids, the older kids might love that they have somewhere go in the store the next time you drag them there to get a birthday gift for their little brother’s friend’s party. But getting Gen-Zers into the store on their own to look for the latest album on vinyl or Tay-Tay T-shirt might be a stretch.

Does this mean the primary customer for this new music-centric section is actually Millennial parents? Those on the younger end of the Millennial spectrum (28 years old) are starting to appreciate vinyl for the first time, while those on the older end (early 40s) are enjoying it for the first time again since their childhood. This poses interesting potential. Perhaps while mom takes the kids to find the perfect Lego set or action figure, dad is flipping through records to grab a new album for his collection. This set-up just might work after all.

Is This A Test?

Toys"R"Us Canada
Photo Credit: Patrick Morrell / @patmorrell_drone Toys”R”Us Canada is expanding with 11 new stores, including two dedicated Babies”R”Us stores, opening summer 2023. All new rooms + spaces stores will also have a 1,500 to 2,500-square-foot Toys”R”Us shop in shop. (CNW Group/Toys “R” Us (Canada) Ltd.)

It’s possible that Putman sees this as a way to test the waters and determine if it makes sense to bring back HMV as standalone stores. He has been doing a lot of cross branding with other shops within his portfolio. Last year, he opened 10 new Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us stores in Canada, including two of the first Babies “R” Us standalone locations. He also launched Toys “R” Us shop-in-shops in rooms + spaces stores, which he also owns.

Sunrise Records, meanwhile, which was established in 1977, is alive and well thanks to Putman. There are currently 85 locations operating across Canada. This brand continues to sell physical music, movies, and TV media, video games, apparel, electronics, toys and gifts, and more.

For Toys “R” Us, it’s a simple way to experiment with extra floor space. For Putman, it’s a clever strategy to observe customer reaction. Where it will lead remains to be seen.

But if Toys “R” Us can be the one-stop shop for everyone from toddlers to pre-teens obsessed with Drake, Juice WRLD, and Doja Cat, that’s one less store to visit. You just need to get them in the door first. And hey, if mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa can find a Phish or Led Zeppelin album and vintage tee for themselves, too, rock on!