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Bob Higgins, Pioneering Founder of Trans World and FYE, Dead at 75

Bob Higgins
Trans World Entertainment Corporation

Bob Higgins

Bob Higgins, founder of Trans World Entertainment and its FYE chain, whose record-retailing empire would become the last brick-and-mortar chain after digital distribution decimated most others, died yesterday of undisclosed causes, according to the Albany Times Union. He was 75.

Initially calling his stores Record Town, Higgins founded the chain in 1972, and it soon flourished into the largest music specialty chain in the country. At its peak, Trans World had more than 1,000 stores, as Higgins became the industry’s consolidator, buying up chains like the Wherehouse, Musicland, Disc Jockey, and Camelot, among others.

But as other chains fell by the wayside, Higgins was the only large music chain executive who could find a way to survive as the music industry transitioned to digital. Today, the chain has around 300 stores and revenues of approximately $300 million, even though music accounts for just 25 percent of its sales.

While Higgins had remained chairman of the chain, he turned over day-to-day responsibilities to Mike Feurer, who was hired as CEO in 2014. Feurer has kept the chain’s profitable streak alive, which now stands at five consecutive years; the company’s annual earnings for the year ended Jan. 28 are expected in the coming days.

Higgins owned around 48.5 percent of the publicly-traded Trans World stock as of May 13, 2016, according to a proxy statement filed with the SEC. Trans World shares, which closed at $2.70, have a market capitalization of about $100 million. According to Higgins' obituary in the Albany Times Union, in June of 2016, Higgins created and placed shares in a trust, which totaled about 40 percent of the company’s outstanding shares.

The Music Business Association trade organization released a statement on Higgins’ passing, calling him “a legendary music and entertainment retail pioneer. Bob received our Presidential Award for Sustained Executive Achievement in 2009. The Award underscored his four decades as a visionary entrepreneur who truly made a positive impact on music retailing. Under his leadership, Trans World evolved and embraced multimedia convergence, progressively blending the realms of brick-and-mortar and digital experiences for consumers.”

Higgins is survived by his wife Anne, and three children, Michele, Mark, and Lisa.