James Cooke - Sainsbury's Argos

James Cooke, Category Manager of Books, Music and Film, Sainsbury's Argos

What first led you to working in retail?
I started in HMV in Birmingham High Street when it opened in 1991. I’m a proud brummie. We are a happy lot. I had just finished at University but was happy to learn the ropes and get stuck in. Seeing customers in action is a life changing eye-opening moment in your life. You learn to be more respectful. 1991 feels like a long time ago! And the world has changed a lot. Online did not exist. We did not open on Sundays. Music used to launch on Mondays! Yet I still bump into people I met back then. There is a great feeling of family in our industry. I moved to HQ in the summer of 1993. The first Jurassic Park had just launched in the cinemas. It felt like something new, the first CGI mega-hit.

How long have you been at Sainsbury’s and what's your role?
I have been at Argos since 2012. And moved across to the Entertainment team which is mainly a Sainsbury's role in Autumn last year. I look after the three areas of Music, DVD and Books. With my time at HMV, WHSmith, Virgin Retail, UK and Best Buy I had been in and out of the industry on Music and DVD a lot. Books though is new to me. The bulk of my roles have involved the gaming market.

How long have Sainsbury's been selling entertainment?
Since the late 1980’s!

What do you love most about your job?
Working with a passionate team who strive to challenge and deliver great results across all our ranges. My job is to bring a clear direction and focus across the Entertainment areas and to integrate us into the wider business. From the early days in my career, I have enjoyed identifying new brands and working with them to grow in the UK market. At HMV in the VHS days, I helped identify something called the X Files and we produced a box set which sold very well.

What is the main challenge for grocers today?
Managing the changes and declines in the market. What is interesting is that despite the technology changes the new release part of the market is still relatively healthy. I also think as an industry we should put our hands up and say that 4K has not been launched properly from a content point of view. We know loads of customers splash out on 4K but don’t understand they are not watching 4K content. This is something we can work on together.

Who is your favourite entertainment retailer and why?
I have had the pleasure of working for, or with, many of the retail brands over the years, but the first one I worked for is HMV and its great to still see them about. It’s a great atmosphere in the store on launch day or at the start of a big sale event.

What was the first ever film, album and game you owned and where did you buy them?
Status Quo from Woolies, Pacman on the Atari 2600 from some dodgy mail order firm and Beverly Hills Cop from the local video rental store.

Which non-entertainment retailer do you admire and why?
Primark. My kids drag me into there every weekend and it is constantly evolving. They move quickly to react to trends and clearly understand the customer.

You’re stuck in a lift. Name the album, film, book, game and person that you would like to have with you.
Album - The Stone Roses. I was a student in Leeds when this launched, I remember hearing this music wherever I walked in the City, I even managed to go to the Spike Island gig. When you look back I was a student at a great time, loads of awesome music and the whole Manchester scene.

Film – The Empire Strikes Back.  The bravest sequel ever. So dark.

Game – Super Mario World on SNES. Hours spent finishing this one off back in the day.

Book – How to fix a broken lift.

Person – being stuck in a lift is one of my absolute worst nightmares. I would want someone calming like David Attenborough. 

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