Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Coworkers: Part 86 - Walking In LA

   I was more familiar with our new owners, Wherehouse Music, than anyone else.
   Once upon a time, they'd been my record store.

   In the 70's I drove cross country and enrolled at Cal State. Los Angeles was about as far from the Appalachia Mountains as I could stretch. For over four years, I attended CSUN, clubbed, and worked in a skateboard factory. The first adjustment was especially difficult. I suffered naive misconceptions about California based on 1960's beach movies and psychedelic hippie history. What an idiot. Worse, I wasn't accustomed to motorcycle cops. I received enough citations so that I couldn't drive for almost a year. Hitch hiking became my commute method. Or I walked. L-O-S-E-R.
   I was suspended from Cal State. Later, placed on probation. Drugs were free or cheap, most of my friends were generous stoners, which probably accounted for my sorry finances, infantile existence on Sunset, and dicey academics.
   I barely held onto an apartment because my landlords pitied idiots. The nearest record shop within walking distance was The Wherehouse, a Southern California mainstay. The staff was helpful, wax was affordable.
   I had good memories shopping the Ventura Blvd location.
   After a year, I was permitted to drive again. I abandoned the old car, or gave it away, don't remember. Bought a sports car and switched record loyalties from The Wherehouse to Tower Records to Adam's Apples, an import specialist tucked in an industrial park. I never shopped The Wherehouse again.
   I met Zelda, struggled through yet another probation at CSUN, graduated. Then we drifted on.

   Years later, I followed reports of the old chain, renamed Wherehouse Music, in Billboard, Variety, Ice, and other music journals. Wherehouse doubled in size during the 80's, and beat off a hostile takeover from Shamrock, the Disney group that would purchase Sound Warehouse, later resell it to Blockbuster. The Wherehouse chain suffered hard times in the 90's, filing for bankruptcy protection, then being acquired by a group of Merrill Lynch brokers. During much of that period, they could not compete in the rental arena, where rival Blockbuster destroyed their video margins.
   Wherehouse shifted gears and went into the USED business. Big Time. Music labels fought this plan, but the strategy ultimately prevailed.
   Fast forward to the late 90's. Viacom wanted to shed the music division, Wherehouse had emerged from Chapter 11. Viacom asked for $200 million, accepted $115 million. At store level, employees couldn't care less. Just other distant bosses. Because that chain had already mismanaged their affairs into bankruptcy, our expectations were low.
   One of the first changes by Wherehouse, and what set the tone, was the purging of the North Richland Hills location. Hurst was a solid performer in a prime location, but new owners wanted Assistant Managers replaced. AM's had played a bit of a dodge with personal checks to tide them over till payday. Nothing illegal, more of a cash float. The new Wherehouse management team didn't warn or counsel. No. Termination. Old colleague Danny was among the discharged. This was a catastrophe for their store. Our Assistants, Stacey, Pat, John, and Joe, pitched in and staffed their team until everything was sorted. Ironically enough, many years later the North Richland Hills store would return the grim favor.
   Our store, which was as neglected as all the other acquisitions, began to reinvent itself. More because of Joe and JD, their passion and interest in the hot underground, we shifted focus into Rap. Coworkers like that were contagious. We caught trends early on, and were always onto emerging labels. NO LIMIT, then CA$H MONEY, finally SWISHA HOUSE.
   Camp Bowie grew into Rapland. Nights, the store was a club scene. We increased the size of the section several times, as we purchased direct from Houston, Louisiana, and Memphis one stop distributors. Whatever problems plagued the chain itself, or Region, or District, our financial numbers weren't as distressed.
   Overall, store morale improved. Coworkers deeply committed to music now outweighed the drones who worked for paychecks.
   We were beginning to surge past all the other stores in our area.
   It was a fun place again.
   We never worked with so little budget or for a sorrier group of owners. As The Boss summarized, management declined with every corporate shift. From Bromo, to Disney, to Blockbuster, to Wherehouse. Every change was a change for the worse.
   One singular example. Wherehouse Music rarely spent ad dollars (provided by labels, mind you). When they did ...
   An infamous commercial. Yanked almost immediately:

Pause SOUND CHECK, hit the play button below.


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