Virgin Sings New Notes

On Thursday, February 14th I had the privilege of interviewing Virgin Chairman Sir Richard Branson and Glen Ward, President and CEO of Virgin Entertainment Group at the VIP launch party for the opening of the new Virgin Megastore in Boston. Located at the intersection of Newbury Street and Massachusetts Avenue, the store (Virgin’s 22nd in North America) represents the company’s first entry into the Boston music and entertainment community.

The Company extensively researched the Boston market with the intention of shaping the store to the unique needs of Boston music aficionados. How does the Virgin Megastore plan to compete in the relatively eclectic Boston music scene characterized by strong independent retail chains like Newbury Comics and existing big-box music retailers like Tower Records? According to President and CEO, Glen Ward the Virgin Megastore in Boston will essentially be a “big independent.” The customer will obtain the best of both worlds by being able to choose from the largest selection of entertainment products as well as reap the attention, service and expertise intrinsic to independent music stores. Moreover, Ward emphasized the Company’s use of technology to revolutionize the music and entertainment-shopping environment. “The Virgin Megastore creates a unique social experience in record retailing that will keep music alive!” The key drivers of this music/entertainment community include Megaplay kiosks where customers can preview over 2.4 million CD tracks and 10,000 DVD movie trailers, the Virgin Caf‚, in-store concerts and artist signings, and over 20 flat panel plasma monitors displaying music videos.
I could not resist the temptation to ask President and CEO Glen Ward his candid opinion on the outlook for the record retailing industry in light of the rapid rise in authorized and unauthorized digital distribution of music. How will the Virgin Megastores thrive in an industry characterized by declining record label profitability, uncontainable piracy, and fundamental changes to how people consume music? Despite this challenging market environment, Ward is profoundly optimistic about the plight of Virgin Entertainment Group for many reasons.

“Music sharing is basically good, and its rapid increase is partially a consequence of traditional channels like radio’s ‘inability to get music out,'” Ward remarked.

Virgin’s response has been to embrace technology, make music more accessible, and allow customers to “try it before they buy it” at the Megaplay kiosks and listening stations, which provide over 800 full album listening opportunities.

Ward noted, “customers still want to buy CDs . . .and most people want someone to tell them what to buy.”

Thus, Virgin Entertainment Group remains committed to cultivating strong customer relationships and establishing the Virgin Megastore as a social destination that will drive repeat customer visits. Furthermore, Virgin Entertainment Group will continue to look for other growth opportunities, including 15-20 new store markets, continued product offering expansion into clothing, books and games, and exploring opportunities in the U.S. movie theatre exhibition business.
Before running off to socialize amongst Boston’s most notable entertainment dignitaries, Glen and I had a heart-to heart about some of our all-time favorite artists.

Glen Ward’s All Time Favorite Artists: The Smiths, Nick Lowe (The Convincer), Ryan Adams
Careina’s All Time Favorite Artists: Prince, Sade, Dianne Reeves

So shut down your Morpheus and Kazaa players and head down to the brand new Virgin Megastore at 360 Newbury Street where record retailing is alive and well. If you hurry you can take advantage of the ‘Take Two’ campaign where customers can purchase 2 CDs for $25 and 2 DVDs for $20 or the free travel discount voucher courtesy of Virgin Atlantic Airways for customers that purchase over $75.

February 25, 2002
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