Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Coworkers: Part 13 - Classical 101

   Crash course on how to market dead composers in Cowtown.

   After Jeri Jo departed, I became Classical manager. No additional Classical help would be hired, the store needed part time cashiers. The Boss gambled I could run the Classical section and the Backroom.
   Jeri had been very cassette oriented. Tape had a high profit margin, but suffered declining numbers. Call me short sighted or biased, but I couldn't have cared less about tape. The most persistent whine I heard from pitiful cassette buyers was, "I ain't rich enough to buy me no compact disc."
   Right, Hoss, and I ain't stupid enough to wanna talk with you.
   Like other petty characters, I didn't appreciate the snobby wine broker, yet I was equally guilty.
   All customers weren't created equal. So what?
   I inventoried the section and swiftly marginalized cassettes. Nobody noticed. Neither customers nor coworkers. Tapes had been under the neon classical sign and a poster of Van Morrison with my name affixed. Van was an in-store joke. I condensed the area, slammed tapes against the adjoining Cassette room, and refilled the wall with sets. Predominantly opera, and some boxed symphonies. I went on an opera buying spree to fatten shelves. Opera hadn't been a heavy seller in Cowtown, and it never would be. Still, it lent prestige and lifted our cachet with discerning shoppers. Also increased our Regulars.
   Regulars were predictable, they entered on specific days and bought favorites. Most were "deep" buyers, rather than "broad" buyers. Doctor B purchased Bach, Bruckner, Brahms, Beethoven. If a new Bruckner 9th was released he'd buy it, even though he already owned fifteen versions of that symphony. Most Doctors spent freely and spoke sparingly. They probably had to engage with patients all day and feign concern. I seldom pestered those guys.
   College Profs were also Regulars. Ours were affluent misers, studying prices and subtracting the cost of that new Mahler from a yearned for European sabbatical. Usually nit picky souls, disappointed and unhappy, men whose lives revolved around grading busywork they had assigned.
   Every semester brought a new cadre of students who had foolishly registered for music appreciation. I worked with them to buy budget CD's or (gasp) cassettes. The university ought to have provided samplers, but did not.
   The best Regulars were the CPA's. Friendly guys, gregarious, spent like drunken sailors on shore leave. Most were my age, earning more than they ever dreamed. Money bought toys and happiness. For them, life was good ... except around April 14th.
   Any stunt to lure new customers in, I tried. Nimbus sent me glossy posters of an extremely young Conchita Supervia, achingly beautiful. I stapled those next to up and coming Cecilia Bartoli. Call me shallow, I favored young, attractive mezzos over crusty conductors.
   I hounded any coworker who had artistic talent. Layla drew for me, Dan sketched a Wagnerian cowgirl, wearing Stetson, Viking horns, holding a spear, gun belt circling her waist. If not, I improvised. When Sam Ramey came to town, I inked a doodle of the bass singer, upending trees and houses in gales of thunder. PolyGram shipped ad slicks for an upcoming Pavarotti extravaganza in Big-D. In his outstretched hand, someone in our store taped a cardboard pizza slice.
   Didn't boost sales.
   I ordered twenty copies of a disc by Jean Guillou, French organist. Organ repertoire was a very narrow market. Unlikely to move one CD, let alone twenty. Next to the CD's I placed a Fanfare review, describing the frightening low ranges of the recording and warning potential buyers that this particular CD could destroy speakers if played too loudly. As suspected, that caveat proved irresistible. We sold all twenty, I reordered two. The Boss once asked if I bought a copy for myself. I shook my head, he laughed.
   Phillips began to release the complete Mozart catalog. To rev sales, they created a budget sampler with a 200 page booklet. The booklet alone should have cost more than the budget priced disc. During Christmas, I ordered 100 copies and sale priced them. Customers went nuts. Our location sold out. Later, people who had received that sampler as gifts, returned to buy several more CD's.
   Ken termed me The King Of Pulls. Our price tags were dated. If a boxed opera was two years old, I pulled it. Single CD, one year. Imports - six months. Drove Charlie, the head Classical buyer into fits, but our location's Classical turns stood at two. We sold an average of 2 copies per title at Camp Bowie. Corporate bosses were generally thrilled if a Classical SKU turned once a year. Our percentile rivaled those of the flagship stores, and ours lacked their budget and location.
  ~      ~      ~
CODA - The good figures, and heady sales, would last another three years, throughout the Sound Warehouse era. Nothing lasted forever, though.
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