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Keep ME Open: 'Bullish' on changing Maine business during coronavirus pandemic

One well-known Maine business has had to adapt to shifting retail landscape, yet again. This time, Bull Moose had to adapt to the coronavirus, COVID-19 economy

MAINE, USA — "I was a college student at the time, just really didn’t have much going on," says Bull Moose Music founder Brett Wickard.

So he decided, almost as a whim, "Hey! I’m gonna open up a record store and tell all my friends."

Wickard didn't really have much of a business plan when he opened the first Bull Moose store in Brunswick in the summer of 1989, but today he oversees nine stores in Maine and three in New Hampshire with 175 employees.

Successful entrepreneurs know they have to adapt to changing times if their business is going to thrive, and Wickard has seen a lot of threats over three decades.

"When we started out the word was 'home taping is killing the music industry.' Then it was 'big-box retailers are killing small retail.' Then it was Internet downloading."

He survived by knowing the market...and knowing his audience.


"We really believe in getting to know our customers," says Wickard, "and listening, and really trying to view the world from their perspective."

Bull Moose branched out into movies, video games, and books. A buy-back program keeps customers coming into stores to trade in the old and go home with the new.

At a time when streaming services have seriously shrunk the market for sales of records, CDs, and movies, Bull Moose gives collectors what they want.

"Some people are into Magic cards, some people are into books, some people are into toys, other people are into vinyl."

When the coronavirus pandemic loomed, Bull Moose closed its stores a few days before the orders from the governor. They reached out on social media to announce they would ramp up already robust mail-order sales.

Wickard says that planning, "gave us a kind of leg up. Our e-commerce sales quadrupled during the period."

Now the challenge is to figure out how to return to in-store sales, which is particularly important because the fun in these stores is in the browsing.

"What we’re looking at now is what does that look like for us? How can we do that in a way that is safe to our team and safe to our community?"

All of the Bull Moose stores are now doing curbside pickup. The New Hampshire stores and the one in Waterville are open for customers, with limited hours, restrictions on the number of people allowed in, plexiglass barriers at the counters, and other precautionary measures.

Wickard says, "In Maine, we have brutal winters, we have all these things that just punch in the gut, and we figure out ways to get around them."

He adds, "We have an incredible team of people who are creative, agile folks. For every business right now, every entrepreneur should be thinking that you’re going to have to innovate and adapt."

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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