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Gary Arnold, Who Shook Up Music Retail at Best Buy, Dead at 64

Gary Arnold
Courtesy Photo

Gary Arnold

Gary Arnold, once the most powerful music retail purchasing and merchandising executive in the industry, passed away early Monday morning (March 27) at his home in San Diego following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 64.

In recent years, Arnold had been serving as a consultant, after a long career in music purchasing and retail marketing; he even had a stint as a head of sales at Hollywood Records.

Arnold began his music career for a regional midwest chain Disc Records, which had about 35 stores in 1976 when he was the Midwest regional manager. At the time, he was named the chain’s merchandiser of the year at the company’s convention.

By 1979 he joined Trans World Entertainment and helped the recently passed Bob Higgins to build that company from a New England-based chain into a nationwide power house. When he joined Trans World, it had less than 70 stores and by the time he left in the early 1990’s, it had over 400 stores and he had risen to vp of merchandising. As the head of purchasing at Trans World, he taught record labels the power of in-store promotion for their artists.

Upon leaving Trans World he landed a job as head of sales at the then newly formed Hollywood Records, before moving on to become music merchandise manager at Best Buy, where he would make his biggest mark on the industry.

In 1995, in one fell swoop, he helped introduce the exclusive and the gift-with-purchase to the music industry when he and then-Best Buy music department head Jeff Abrams compiled the Beatles interview disc, which they gave away with the purchase of the first Beatles Anthology album. In the first week, Best Buy sold a couple hundred thousand copies of Anthology and eventually moved a total of 800,000.

That move stunned music retailers, who went screaming to Capitol Records with complaints, only to learn it was solely a Best Buy initiative. It wouldn’t be the last time that Arnold and Best Buy would have competing merchants pulling their collective hair out in frustration.

Soon, he replaced Abrams and ran the music department for Best Buy, helping it to transform from an also-ran electronics chain (that offered the top 10 albums at $9.99) to a powerhouse music merchant and the industry’s price leader, with a deep selection of more than 30,000 SKUs, all competitively priced. While many would decry what they claimed was a loss-leader strategy, Arnold and Best Buy found that music was a great traffic builder that would make the customer's overall basket -- all the purchases made while in the store, not just music -- a very profitable experience for the chain.

During his stay at Best Buy, he also started the Redline label, which issued exclusive albums by Roy Orbinson among others; and his attempt to issue Led Zeppelin’s "BBC Sessions," one of the band’s most widely available bootlegs, by licensing the BBC library paved the way for the album to be issued by Atlantic Records, in 1997.

Arnold left Best Buy in 2012 and had been operating his own consulting firm since then. 

Arnold was surrounded by family at the time of his passing. He is survived by his wife Carol Boothby Arnold, his five children, Amy, Josh, Jax, Nick, and Chloe and granddaughter Ava.

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