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20 March 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Shasonic shuts up shop on Tottenham Court Road

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Independent consumer electronics retailing empire Shasonic is closing its three Tottenham Court Road stores in London – Shasonic Megastore, the Sony Centre Galleria and the dedicated Samsung brand shop.

Today (Friday, March 21) will be their last day of trading. All 33 members of staff will lose their jobs as a result of the closures.

Speaking exclusively to ERT, owner John Shah (pictured), managing director of Shasonic, described it as, “a sad day”.

He said: “Next week will be the first week in 41 years that I’ll end up on Tottenham Court Road feeling empty – I’ve been associated with the street for so long. It’s the end of an era.

“Unfortunately – or fortunately – depending on which way you look at it, all three stores are owned by the same landlord, who has plans to redevelop the property. They obtained the planning permission ahead of our lease expiring on March 24. They’re going to reconfigure the stores, as part of the Crossrail development – it’s an appropriate time for the landlord to do it, which means we were left with no choice but to force the closure. I think the timing of us coming out of Tottenham Court Road is perfect because the products and the shopping habits of consumers have changed. Tottenham Court Road was all about choice, the knowledge of the staff and the competitiveness of the street, which was what attracted people. With the internet, that has all gone and footfall has dropped dramatically.”

He added: “Tottenham Court Road has changed beyond all recognition. It used to be the Mecca for electronics – the Akihabara [Tokyo’s electronics retailing district] of London. It will die – it’s pretty much dead now – the remaining operators are being edged out and I think the majority of them are desperate to get out. They’re all hanging in there because of the liability of their leases.”

Mr Shah has worked in electrical retailing on Tottenham Court Road for 41 years. He joined consumer electronics store Lindair in 1973, and then moved to be sales director of Sonic Sound Audio. He started his own business, Shasonic, in 1982. His first store, which sold portable audio, telephones and watches, was in the building that is now occupied by the Samsung brand store.

The Sony Galleria, which was Europe’s flagship Sony Centre, opened in 2002. It has remained Europe’s highest-turnover Sony Centre and the biggest-grossing Sony Centre in the Shasonic business. At its peak, Shasonic ran 17 Sony Centres – it now has seven, in Harrow on the Hill, Kingston, Newcastle, Milton Keynes, Ruislip, Staines and Watford. It is closing its Bromley Sony Centre, in Kent, today (March 21).

The Shasonic business restructured two years ago and went through a consolidation process to cut its operating costs. It closed its non-profitable stores.

Commenting on the Sony Centre Galleria store, Mr Shah told ERT: “When we opened it, the product range was so huge. The Tottenham Court Road business was all about small, portable products that people could carry away – TV has never sold big volumes in Tottenham Court Road. We started selling computers in 1991, in our Shasonic Megastore. It was the old Laskys store, which I bought from Comet – we converted it into the Shasonic Megastore.”

The Samsung store, which was the first dedicated Samsung brand shop in Europe, was opened by Samsung’s then European chief executive and president I S Kim in 2007.

Asked what his future plans were for the remaining seven, Shasonic-owned Sony Centres and whether he was confident going forward, Mr Shah said: “I think it’s going to be challenging. Sony has got a lot of hard work to do to regain the confidence of consumers and retailers. Retailers need to be convinced that they’re going to make money out of the brand. We were considering reopening a Sony Centre, but on a smaller scale, on Tottenham Court Road, or nearby, but when Sony made its Vaio announcement [it is to sell off its Vaio laptop and PC business to Japan Industrial Partners (JIP)] that was the final decision made for us.

"In the Sony store on Tottenham Court Road, Vaio was 55 to 60 per cent of our business – there’s no future. The era for that business has ended. Sony has got to rebuild confidence with a very limited product range, which will be interesting, but they’re committed and innovative.”