New Zealand's biggest specialist music chain will early next year launch a digital download store as part of a wide-ranging revamp of the business.

Formerly known as the CD and DVD Store group, the 35-strong chain has been rebranded Marbecks after one of the country's oldest music stores, which began trading in 1935. Parent company the Opus Group bought Marbecks - along with its online business - in 2006. As part of the rebranding, Marbecks has just opened a new format concept store in Dunedin, which includes books and clothing ranges, plus a café.

In addition, Marbecks will go fully digital early in January with the launch of www.marbecksdigital.co.nz, a music download service which will complement its existing mail order business.

Managing director Roger Harper acknowledges that the likes of iTunes and Vodafone are already well-established in the New Zealand digital arena, but he says it's not just about market share.

"What we are saying to our customers is that 'we don't mind how you consume music, we just want you to do it through Marbecks,'" he tells Billboard.biz. "We are promoting Marbecks as a complete destination for music, movies and books."

The digital store will concentrate on music initially, but e-books and movies will eventually become part of the mix. Harper adds that there will be opportunities to cross-promote the "clicks and bricks" strategy online and in-store, although at this stage there are no plans to introduce digital kiosks to the store environment.

He says: "My view is that if people can do it in their home why would they come to a store to do it?" That said, Marbecks is exploring mobile digital opportunities for the stores, which will make use of the company's new listening post technology.

Harper is also encouraged by the initial results from the new format store in Dunedin, which is around three times the size of other stores in the chain. Similar outlets are planned for Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch plus one undisclosed new location and Harper believes that the NZ market could sustain around 15 of the stores.

While the group has continued to trade well, he admits CD sales have declined by over 40% since 2001, so it was important for the group to continue to adapt to the changing music environment.

Nevertheless, he is upbeat about the stores' Christmas prospects. "Christmas always comes late but the early signs are good," he says.

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