#878: Building Empires

GETTING MORE TALE #878: Building Empires

On multiple occasions I’ve said the best years working at the Record Store were the early years.  1994, 1995, into 1996…I’d never been happier working hard, and maybe never will be again.  There was no corporate head office, no regional managers, and minimal pre-fab signage that all looked the same.  It was just a few of us, die hard music fans, and a Record Store.  We were in the process of building empires!

The boss was always looking to expand our CD inventory.  Rarities of any kind were hard to find in Kitchener.  Be they singles, Japanese imports, or live bootlegs, they were hard to come by.  Periodically, let’s say once every couple months, the boss would drive to Toronto to pick up our weekly inventory orders from Records on Wheels.  R.O.W. didn’t carry anything particularly rare, just the major label hits that we needed.  Occasionally the boss would stop at other retailers in Toronto to pick up live bootlegs.  Nirvana, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Guns N’ Roses, whatever was popular.  There were a couple stores in Toronto that had massive amounts of bootleg CDs.  He’d bring them back here and sell them for around $40.  Nobody in Kitchener had access to that kind of stock.  They weren’t cheap and we didn’t make any profit off them, but they sure made us look better.  A lot better.  It gave us a chance to catch up a little bit with Sam’s and Encore in the “cool” stakes.

We also tried some more obscure distributors.  One of them carried UK, US and Japanese imports.  But again they were expensive and we had to hope they’d sell.  These distributors were really unreliable.  Long backorders were a problem, and there was no guarantee we’d get what we ordered.  We sometimes got lucky.  Nirvana’s Hormoaning was in demand, and we did get a few of those.

I’ll never forget this one Nirvana kid who wanted Hormoaning so bad.   He didn’t have enough cash so he kept trading in discs until he had enough credit to cover it.  You had to trade in a lot of CDs to cover $40 plus tax.  But he got his Hormoaning.  Until he had to trade that one in, too.  And he did.

There was another guy (he kind of looked like a little troll doll), and he worked up at Carry On Comics in Waterloo.  I think his brother was friends with the owner, and that’s why he started coming in.  He had his eyes set on an R.E.M. bootleg, specifically because it had a song called “Where’s Captain Kirk?”.  It was one of R.E.M.’s non-album singles, a cover of a band called Spizzenergi.

I was beamed aboard the Starship Enterprise,
What I felt what I saw was a total surprise,
I looked around and wondered can this be,
Or is this the start of my insanity.
Oh but its true,
As we went warp factor 2,
And I met all of the crew,
Where’s Captain Kirk?

The comic book guy salivated over that CD until he finally had enough cash to buy it.  I didn’t think he was serious.  He used to talk about buying this vintage Millenium Falcon toy and hanging it from his ceiling.  He was serious this time!

I managed to snag a couple live bootlegs.  No discounts on these!  Nine Inch Nails – Woodstock ’94, and Guns N’ Roses Covering ‘Em were both favourites of mine.  Money well spent and still in the collection today.  The boss hated that we took some of his good Toronto stock.  He was selling them virtually at cost, so that’s why we had to pay full price.  But he really, really did not appreciate when T-Rev and I bought stuff like that.  Here he was, stocking them to make our store look cooler…but in swoops T-Rev and metal Mike!  Maybe he should have charged more for them, across the board.  Where else in town were you going to find them?

On one of those early Toronto runs, the boss was one of the first victims of the Ontario NDP government’s photo radar project.  In order to curb speeding, the NDP launched the 400-series highway photo radar.  The boss was caught speeding on the 401 and found a nice photo and fine in his mailbox.  It was from one of the trips back from R.O.W.  The project was only semi-successful.  Drivers experimented with methods of covering up their license plates from photo radar cameras, and over 5000 photos were deemed useless.  The incoming Mike Harris government campaigned on getting rid of photo radar, and they did immediately after taking office.  The great experiment was over, but the boss was one of the drivers dinged.  All he was trying to do was bring us some rock and roll!  But it was the first and only photo radar picture I saw back then.

Damn government always cutting into our profits!

Behind the scenes, he was building empires.  He announced that he wanted us to buy even more stock from the public.  Trade-in CDs were big business but we were now going to be buying for two stores.  Or more.

It was just the beginning!


#373: Check Yer Section!


#373: Check Yer Section!

Don’t you hate shopping through a CD store that has a loose grasp on the alphabet? You could be looking for ABBA, only to find that somehow they had wandered over to the AC/DC section, or further. It’s not really the store’s fault that things go missing all over the place. It’s your own fault for not putting things back where you found them! But we came up with a method to minimize “CD drift”™ and keep the different sections looking great.

Each staff member would be assigned a section of the store that would be their responsibility to check and keep straight and organized. We might have rotated these sections among staff monthly or bi-monthly, whatever worked. The goal was to get somebody to check and reorganize every section of the store, every few days. Hard work but it was the only way to keep things where they should be.

Checking your section entailed the following duties:

1. Ensure that all CDs in your section are in their correct location.
2. Replace any CD cases found to be broken or excessively scuffed.
3. Ensure that no more than one or two copies of a CD are visible. (If we displayed all 47 copies of Collective Soul’s first album, we’d never sell any of them.)  Don’t prominently display any duplicates.
4. Correct price if discrepancies found.
5. If the header card for an artist is peeling, make a new one.
6. Make a header card for any artist that needs one.*
7. Keep section looking generally neat, even and organized. Don’t have one row with only five CDs in it, while the next row is bursting with 25. Balance them out, keep ’em even.**

Managers had to keep on top of the staff’s sections. Nobody seemed to really like checking their section. They got messy very fast, especially Rap/Dance. That section needed fixing on a daily basis, pretty much.  One of the managers used to purposely put CDs in the wrong places to see if her staff had checked.  The Rock section was bad, and so were DVDs. They were always getting thrown around, people didn’t care.  Just throw ’em back anywhere, not their problem, right?

Checking sections became such a habit that after quitting the store in ’06, I still instinctively fixed my section when visiting! Old habits die hard.  But it’s all for a good cause — even though nobody liked doing it, it absolutely needed to be done, and often!  Check yer section – a monotonous but critical part of CD store operations!

Can you spot the "section sin" in this picture?

Can you spot the “section sin” in this picture?

* Determining what artists needed header cards and which can just be filed under “misc” was a whole set of rules in itself, which I won’t bore you with.

** Trust me on this, I’ve gotten enough shit from bosses who didn’t like uneven shelves!