ABX Swim Lanes


For the past 20 years, I have relied on Joe Kreuz for his uncanny knack of recognizing business talent, especially in WNY.  So, by his recommendation, I was recently on LinkedIn reading the profile of Erin O’Brien, Assistant Dean, Director of Graduate Programs at University at Buffalo School of Management, and I was enjoying her adroit ‘business speak’ as she detailed her career history.  She articulated her job chronicle in a vernacular that could serve as a building block for any corporate novitiate.  There were a couple of her job descriptions that I thought would play well in our c1 world, so I borrowed freely [I hope she sees that as a compliment].

Here’s what I came up with this afternoon [as I set out to further describe our nascent Advantage Business Exchange]:

The Advantage Business Exchange [ABX] is putting together a remarkable group of professionals, combining their unique and diverse expertise into an effective program dedicated to providing our clients with unique access to our spend reduction and category procurement and development solutions.  As business unit leaders artfully steer their organization through the demands of a dynamic global experience, we provide an appropriate focus on developing a clean architecture with embedded processes and governance to ensure continual complexity control.

Armed with our aptly named Savings & Solutions Program, ABX is prepared to help facilitate a sustainable growth and results agenda, providing a speed to benefit for our clients without the cumbersome introduction of a burdensome and invasive consulting engagement.  ABX provides an independent acceleration module that bypasses the complexities inherent in the very structure our clients created.

One of the key resources of ABX is the c1 Cloud Solutions Group [CSG].  The Cloud Solutions Group provides our clients with a full compliment of resources to build and support a flexible cloud matrix that enables, encourages, and ensures ongoing paradigm shifts through the simple restructuring of elements providing maximum speed to benefit and cross-platform recognition throughout their organization.

The Cloud Solutions Group provides cloud solutions to end-user companies that spend strategically — and want to save significantly — on the cost of cloud resources.  We provide consistent engagement with client management to align core strategies with appropriate investments in cloud technologies, achieving maximum effectiveness.  We also oversee successful cloud initiative implementation, in order to ensure achieving positive returns.

The Cloud Solutions Group helps local, national, and global enterprises recognize the benefits of an organized cloud service program including price, development, implementation, and provider consistencies.  This makes a standardized, centrally managed approach to cloud services possible, which is infinitely more efficient than fragmented in-house activities.

c1 also serves as the strategic IT interface with our clients’ business units and as a consultant to their management team.  Our main focus is to establish and maintain value-driven, strategic relationships with our clients’ business units and to proactively manage business demand for seamless and scalable cloud solutions.

We partner with our client’s Chief Information Officer in providing cloud resource vision and direction for assigned business units; as well as aligning cloud solutions with business strategies, making a vital contribution to the business units’ strategic-planning processes.


The Stereo Advantage Experience


Over the past thirty five years our Stereo Advantage retail and commercial customers have come to recognize us as their favorite resource for technology in WNY.  Nevertheless, our challenge has always been to stay relevant.  Since 2004, we have been aggressively restructuring and retooling the Stereo Advantage for life after the commoditizing of the consumer electronics business.  We’ve left the carcass of that world for Best Buy, WalMart, Costco, and the internet to fight over.  While they’re busy bloodying each other, we have been hard at work creating a more desirable and sustainable identity to build our future on.  We no longer have retail, wholesale, and commercial sales.  We have the Advantage Experience.  All of our customers, employees, families, suppliers, associates, and community are part of this unique and magical experience.

The old Stereo Advantage provided our retail customers access to entertainment through a well-developed and easily understood matrix of products; while our Commercial Division provided a concierge approach to selling the same entertainment product awkwardly positioned for business use.  Audio/Video provided a recognizable banner for product choices, and it led to a revolution in retail.  Big Box retailers effectively combined disparate categories into an effective sales environment: blending home appliances with audio/video, car audio, computers, and software.  Today, technology has rendered the old matrix unrecognizable, as it has blurred the lines that conveniently separated the categories that we once sold with simplicity.  Additionally, the mass merchants and internet have compromised the old, easily definable categories, by commoditizing them and eliminating their profitability [rendering retailers such as Circuit City and Best Buy insignificant… and we know what happened to Circuit City].

Just as we ushered in a new era in consumer electronics retail with our Home Theater and SmartLink mall concepts in the 90’s, we are now embarking on yet another game-changing venture.  The new Stereo Advantage provides our retail and commercial customers with the resources necessary for effective technology integration by developing system architecture specific to their needs.  We now provide our customers the components, installation, programming, ongoing support, and service required to maximize the potential and effectiveness of their fully integrated system.

Since 1978, the Stereo Advantage’s challenge has always been to provide the type of product and service that our customers need in an ever-changing world of technology.  Today, it is up to us to integrate computer technology with home entertainment for our customers.  Furthermore, we have to make it universally accessible.  Whether it’s in the living room, office, or online – it’s up to us to seamlessly integrate our customer’s access to all of their information and entertainment resources.  No one is better equipped to provide the myriad of expertise necessary to deliver the whole package.  The Stereo Advantage is indeed the Smart Center.

The new Stereo Advantage offers consumers, businesses, schools, institutions, and the government complete technology integration, security, and entertainment solutions, providing the finest brands, Lifetime Service, and system architecture professionally designed, programmed, and installed by The Smart Squad and Advantage TI.

Advantage TI also offers consumers, businesses, schools, institutions, and the government complete technology integration and video-conferencing solutions, and provides them with the professionally designed system architecture, solutions, programming, installation, and ongoing support, security, and service necessary for effective and extraordinary performance.

This revolution in our industry is just getting started, and the new Stereo Advantage has the opportunity to lead the way.  We are uniquely equipped to facilitate the Advantage Experience for everyone we come in contact with.   Eventually this enabling will go beyond the sales and integration staff at the Stereo Advantage to potentially include every Advantage employee, every former employee, and every jump-site associate.  It’s the Advantage Nation.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Posted by: Chris Boebel
Date: November 5, 2013

I would be interested in hearing how your approach to measurement has changed over the years.  Do you think it’s gotten more sophisticated, as new tools come along that might assist with analysis, or have you cut it down to the essentials?

Transforming a bunch of data into useful, actionable information is near and dear to my heart.  It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about, both in terms of personal investigation and as it applies to our retail operations here at Delta Sonic.

In an unrelated matter, I was thinking the other day about how we used to ask people for the last four digits of their phone number.  Long before loyalty occupied the coveted center square on the buzzword bingo board, we were doing it.  Neat!


Posted by: Tony
Date: November 8, 2013

You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

I still use the GAP [Gross Profit After Payroll] Report as my main source of information for productivity review.  Every week I skip to the bottom right hand corner to see if we are up or down for the week [as compared to last year], as well as taking a quick glance at our overall YTD number.  Then I start parsing out the departments.

For all the old-timers out there who are still rooting for the Stereo Advantage, the electronics division of the Advantage Co [now named 9Volt for easier reference] is having the biggest increase in GAP ever in the history of the company.  And the best part of it is that they have fully transitioned from Stereo Advantage Retail to Lifetime Service, Advantage Technology Integrators, and iFul Wholesale.

At its peak in 1992, Stereo Advantage Retail did $22M, while this year it will come home with a mere shred of that number.  Back in 1992, we had 240k transactions between Stereo Advantage [140k] and Sneaker Advantage [100k].  5195 Main Street was rocking back then.  LTS, ATI, and iFul, however, are the new engines of the Stereo Advantage these days.  All three are having record breaking years.  It took knocking down the Stereo Advantage building to convince everyone that the good old days were never coming back.  We weren’t going back to the old store, VCR‘s, and the Gusto.  They have found their success at 1955 Wehrle [and at our LTS facility on the West Coast].  It is nothing short of remarkable.

If you review our GAP Reports from the past 25 years, it would give you pretty insightful look at the maturation, success, or demise of just about every undertaking at the Advantage.

Next up in Measurement Time at the Advantage is our Cash Flow Report.  This is, essentially, a weekly Balance Sheet, and it gives us a good look at how we have done over the past 12 months.  It details how our assets and liabilities have grown, been depleted, or been shifted.  It is basically a statement of use and change.  Butch has personally been doing this one since he became CEO in 1997.  It’s his favorite perspective of the company.

Now we are starting our new Merchant Harvest Report which will compliment our GAP Report.  It will detail the progress of our programs and services on a weekly basis.  One of the most crucial Merchant Harvest activities we want to measure is customer referral.

The coin of the realm at the Advantage has always been word of mouth advertising.  As a retailer in the 21st century, we recognize that we must provide our customers with an incredible experience, and that experience must generate revenue.  The currency of that revenue is our customer’s advocacy.  Basically, our customers pay for goods and services with money, but they reward us for an outstanding experience with their referrals.  The sale is not complete until the customer enthusiastically refers us.  Our success depends on it.  I’m sure you remember that one.  It’s something I try to never forget.

The one weak link in our measurement chain is still our inventory analysis.  No matter how much we invest in data, we invariably end up buying by feel.  I don’t know if we will ever change, but, if we don’t, we will never benefit from the amazing analytic resources available today.

As for the onslaught of Big Data, it’s hard not to recognize the value in just about any information on your business activity, but it can be counter-productive if you become a slave to its collection, preparation, delivery, and analysis.  Along with social media, we are learning as we go.

Al in all, I think I personally did a better job of the analysis of our business activity before I used a computer.  Nothing beats that tactile connection to your inventory and customer.  It’s why I still love being a merchant.

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I miss you too.

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The woman was mad.  She wanted to know what gave me the right to talk to people that way.  It was 1984, almost 30 years ago, and I was getting blistered by the woman running the shipping department at Technics in Albany.  I hung up the phone and called her the nom de guerre that most women fight their most bloodthirsty battles over, only to realize that I hadn’t actually hung up the phone.  I pulled the receiver ever closer to my ear as her rage was building to a crescendo.  After a dozen roses and a heartfelt apology, it proved to be the start of a wonderful friendship.  Years later, when she left Technics, I was lost without my most ardent supporter.  On her way out, she sent me a goodbye note that simply said, “See you next Tuesday.”

Not much has changed since then.  I swear, and when I hear someone else swear, I really do cringe.  It sounds ignorant.  Go figure.  In meetings, I use a dozen variations of fuck as if I was stuck in a sophomoric torrent of Tourette’s.  Just writing the word seems ignorant.  I even hate hearing it in comedy acts.  I once gave a little talk at Canisius High School, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t drop any F bombs; but, sure enough, some little shit went home and told his parents that I dropped three of them.  The sad part is I really thought I got out of there clean.

I always kid that every year Butch puts $30k aside just in case my mouth provokes a nuisance suit.  $30k seems, to me, like a small price to pay to be able to say [or do] whatever I want; but I realize it can never be enough to convince everyone [or, at times, anyone] that it is appropriate.

I do sincerely apologize to those that feel I have wronged them.  We all have regrets.  If we didn’t, it would mean that we are perfect.  Not likely.  Nevertheless, I’ve always had to answer to myself, and you can trust that I am my harshest critic, prosecutor, judge, and jury.  So, before you tell me what a %$@&!/# I am, be confident that I have already considered and accepted your epithet.  (But why not let it go?  Give me a call.  It’s all good, and we’ll both feel a whole lot better.)

Yesterday, Dej told one of our vendors that the Stereo Advantage is not a store, it’s a story.  And everyone who has been a part of it certainly has their own story to tell.  For me it’s been a story of 35 years of building and creating opportunity.  It’s been 35 years of being part of a community.  It’s been 35 years of being the guy who owns the Stereo Advantage.  And, yes, it’s often been 35 years of being mad.

It’s also been 35 years watching over 5,000 employees: I’ve had to break up fights, but not as many as I was in.  I’ve had to forgive some of them, and I’ve had to ask some of them to forgive me.  I’ve been to their weddings, and now I am hiring their children.

And now it is time for me to leave the stage.  I am selling 51% of the Stereo Advantage to the management team that has remarkably transformed the company over the past year.  Now they get to write their own Stereo Advantage story.  Dej, Al, Mike, Joe, Jim, Kam, and Butch are the future of the Stereo Advantage, and what a future it promises to be.

The leases at the Walker Center are set for the next 10 years, we have a great partnership team for the Stereo Advantage, the G8 Partnerships are thriving, and my kids are building TW&Co and Giancarlo’s with a great staff of leaders.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  I’m a lucky man.

So, why was I so mad today when we had six people standing around in Jewelry with their thumb up their ass?  I may have gently said, “What the fuck are you doing?”  But, I’m not sure.  I do know a couple of customers looked at me like I was nuts [as I was going nuts].  I know what you are thinking, and you’re right: We don’t need anymore of that.

So, that’s what I have to say after 35 years in business.

If you thought this might end with a promise to curb my mouth, well, some of you really need to lighten up.  You may not swear as judiciously as I do, but, admit it, you still let it rip every once in a while.  Righteous indignation doesn’t wear well on anyone, and it only fits the most contemptuous hypocrites well; so, save your outrage, it will only spoil a beautiful day.

I’ll close with one of my favorite memories of one of the sweetest girls who ever worked for me [and who died tragically young].  She would always cringe every time I dropped an F bomb.  She would admonish me in her own sweet yet decisive way.  And then one day at the corner of So. Forest and Main, she was cut off while making a left hand turn by a particularly rude man.  Yes, I caught Becky Stone with road rage.  As I was sitting at the light, I could see her lips forcibly carve out an unmistakable FUCK YOU.  When I called her on it, it was one of the best laughs we ever had.  Some times you just have to belt it out.

I miss Becky, and I miss everyone from the past 35 years.  Yes, I even miss you.

PS  A car ran into the new hotel today.  Plowed right into it.  I guess we all had the feeling it was a tad too close to the street.