Saturday, October 31, 2009

F.U.B.A.R. II: The Quickening

As the much-hyped 9/9/09 street date for The Beatles box sets drew closer, our previously reported stock situation had not improved appreciably; our allotment for the mono box increased from 5 to 10 (after we had originally ordered 70), while our order for the stereo box (which we had also ordered 70 of) was going to be cut significantly. With this in mind, we started looking around for alternate external sources of stock the week before street date in a bid to back ourselves up as much as possible ... just in case.

Surprisingly, our rarely-used secondary supplier came through for us in a pinch; as with our primary supplier, their mono box set order had been brutally shortened by EMI, therefore getting additional copies was not going to happen. However, they were so well-stocked with stereo box sets that they were able to pull aside 15 pieces for immediate shipment right then and there. Greg took this news with a furrowed brow, stared off into space for a moment (as he always does when he's about to go out on a limb), then had me drastically increase our order to 50. Secondary supplier didn't even bat an eye as our order amount soared in an instant from $2700 to $9000; they must have somehow received a far better product fill than our primary source. Lucky bastards. I sometimes wonder if they regretted that sale afterward.

Greg and I had a long talk after placing the order, both of us wondering aloud if we had just jumped in over our heads; the stereo box would be retailing for $220 (give or take), after all, and adding 50 pieces of an item that expensive on top of the 35 we figured to be receiving from our main supplier seemed an almost suicidal move. What bothered Greg more was that we were also staring at a loss of at least half a grand in accrued returns, as we rarely buy enough from our secondary supplier to warrant returning anything, let alone 90-140 CDs worth of unsold product purchased from them. Still, we figured if nothing else that we could break these boxes down and sell off the individual albums if we wound up not selling them; it's the freaking Beatles, after all.

As it turned out, that backup order was one of most prescient calls of Greg's career; two days after securing those extra 50 copies of the stereo box from our backup source, we were informed by our primary supplier that our stereo box allotment had been dropped all the way to ten copies. Suddenly, those 50 box sets we'd ordered from California weren't a possible stone tied around our necks, but a lifesaver. I don't even want to think of what work would have been like over the next few weeks if we hadn't gone that route.

A lifelong poker player, Greg didn't show his hand when we were given this little update, and he raised some hell with our main supplier. His anger was only a partial bluff; both of us were pretty exasperated by now with the way this situation was changing on an almost daily basis and he let them know about it. To their credit, our ire was assuaged by the arrival of 11 additional copies of the stereo set over the next week from their "private stash." We also managed to get in on the ground floor when a second wave of mono box sets arrived at their warehouse just before release date. With an additional 41 copies of that limited set safely behind our counter (and dozens of individual titles on hand for those who didn't want to opt for the big sets), we were still short of our intended stock target as street date arrived, but at least we felt ready to do battle and kick some ass ... which is pretty much what we did.

Here's the really good news: after all of the unending headaches and scrambling about, these boxes proved very quickly to have been worth the chase. All of our efforts (coupled with the timely arrival of some big new releases over a three-week period) resulted in a sales bonanza the likes of which we hadn't seen here outside of Christmas season. Combined sales of the mono and stereo boxes (both in the store and online through our Amazon window) went beyond even our most optimistic expectations. Without getting into reams of boring numbers, let's just say that not only did the Beatles propel us to our best September sales figure to date, but they probably saved our entire year as well. Wooot!

A few weeks later, after all backup supplies on both sets had completely dried up (this has now been the case since early October), our primary sales rep informed us that we were the only account of theirs who had guessed right on these things; everyone else had run out days or weeks before and were screaming for additional product. While our salesman meant well with that statement, the fact that we had been right all along and yet still wound up on the short end of their supply stick (apparently thanks to a desire on their part to make as many accounts happy as possible by using the quantities that we had ordered to do so) made his flattery feel more like a poke in the eye. "Best laid plans" and all that rot ...

As of this writing, we are down to 1 copy of the mono set, having sold our last stereo box earlier this afternoon. As expected, EMI have gone back to the well for a second run of these "limited edition" sets, and we will hopefully have some new mono stock early next week (though our desired quantity is being cut down again as supplies are short of projected targets, ha ha ha). Unfortunately, we get to twist in the wind for a bit as far as the stereo set is concerned; no additional stock is expected until sometime around Thanksgiving. Ugh. For the sake of Christmas, I sure hope EMI can meet their maddeningly-shifting target date, because once you slip past that weekend with no product on the shelves, you are skating on awfully thin ice.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Too Long For A Tweet

Three teenagers are in the store, milling about at the front, picking out sticks of incense with some degree of difficulty (one repeatedly asks her boyfriend: "baby, help me?") . There might be a 100 IQ between the three of them.

"How much for incense?" one asks after a moment or so.

"$1.75 for a pack of ten" I reply.

The teen hands me a packet of sticks. "OK, I think this is ten."

I count the sticks in the pack. "Well, this is actually eight."

"So ... I can get more?"

"Yes. Two, in fact."


As my friend Andy is so fond of saying: "doomed, doomed."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

(Youtube): Synth Brittania Preview

Oh. Oh my ...

The following Youtube clips are all excerpts (or previews) of the forthcoming BBCFour production of Synth Brittania, airing October 16.

Phil Oakey (reminding me weirdly of Christian Bale) illustrates how ex-Human League synthesist Ian Craig Marsh came up with the drum sound of "Being Boiled."

Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Yaz, Erasure) shows off a very primitive sampling drum machine.

Andy McCluskey self-effacingly breaks down the sound of the Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark classic "Enola Gay."

Ex-Ultravox leader John Foxx (eventually replaced by Midge Ure) plays around with an ARP synthesizer.

I. Must. See. This.

Monday, October 05, 2009


It bears mentioning early on that despite the apparent promise of another rags-to-riches baseball epic offered by the promotional artwork, Sugar is not really what it appears to be. Yes, there is a lot of baseball going on here, though all of the action takes place either deep down in the small-town level of single-A ball or in offshore baseball academies, which is where we first meet Miguel Santos (nicknamed Sugar because "he's sweet with the ladies").

The early scenes of Sugar are set in a guarded academy in the Dominican Republic, and it is fascinating to watch as groups of talented local teenagers are slowly, methodically shaped into prospects, learning basic English baseball terminology and refining their game under the watchful eyes of coaches and major league scouts. If these prospects perform well enough, they are called up to the U.S. minor leagues where the promise of a career in the majors (and a steady stream of money to send back home) is what drives them to succeed. Should they fail to perform to expectations, however, everyone knows they can be replaced by additional prospects waiting their turn, just as they once were. Watching these scenes, you realize that success in the major leagues on any kind of level is all chance, luck and skill ... and sometimes even the brightest young stars don't have what it takes to advance.

After earning a spot in the Kansas City organization, Sugar is quickly shunted off to pitch at the team's A-level minor league affiliate in Bridgetown, Iowa. Going to spring-training camp in Arizona at least offered a large population of Hispanic people for Sugar to identify with, confide with, and most importantly communicate with. Iowa, on the other hand, might as well be Mars in comparison, and it is there, with Sugar's lifelong ambition finally within his grasp, that his alienation and solitude force the young pitcher to question what drives him in the first place.

Without going into too much plot detail, I watched this movie fully expecting one story arc and was quite surprised when events suddenly veered off in a very different direction: the last third of this movie almost feels like you changed the channel to something else entirely and only at the very end do we get a sense of appropriate closure. What keeps us involved during this transition is the affecting performance by unknown Dominican actor Algenis Perez Soto. Sugar is Soto's very first acting role, and it's striking how believable and natural he comes across to us, both at home in San Pedro, where he is confident and charming, and in the middle of Iowa where he is more tentative, frustrated, and eventually afraid. It's crucial that we believe in Soto's character, because Sugar's sense of loneliness in the middle of a foreign country is the real point of this movie: the quiet, tight-knit, slum-like conditions of Sugar's home and the almost military-school like regimen of the baseball academy can never adequately prepare him or his classmates for Wal-Marts, all-night restaurants, mini wet bars and satellite porn-on-demand.

Sugar rating: 4/5