Column 29 — Homer’s new leader; zZz tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 11:51 am June 16, 2005

Mike Fratt, the new head honcho at Homer’s, has really been doing his thing for more than a year now. The change in command was inevitable, it seems, and everyone thought it was going to go down last year after the election. It didn’t, but those in the know knew it was only a matter of time. Fratt says don’t look for any startling changes in Homer’s direction…

Column 29: The Passion of the Fratt
Homer’s new leader does it for the love of it…

Rick Galusha’s announcement that he was stepping down from the helm of Homer’s Records came as no surprise. Galusha sounded less than upbeat last year when he and I took part in a panel discussion for a UNO business class for entrepreneurs. Maybe he was distracted since the panel took place smack-dab in the middle of his heated race for Register of Deeds, which he would eventually lose. Regardless, that day in class Galusha seemed to make the point that rock and roll was a young man’s game, not something that someone his age should be involved with. It’s an opinion that I happen to disagree with, but hey, everyone’s got a point of view.

Enter young Mike Fratt (only 46), who’s been playing the role of second banana at Homer’s for years. Now with his ascension to top banana (Fratt says he still doesn’t have a title and isn’t in any hurry to get one, thank you), the boy wonder has a lot to figure out. Like how he’s going to keep Homer’s afloat amidst market-share killers like music downloading and file sharing, big-ass box stores like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target, and the ever-fickle whims of the Omaha music-buying public.

Fratt says no prob on all three. In fact, despite all those forecasts of doom and gloom for the music retail industry, he’s confident sales will continue to come up roses through the end of the decade.

The operative word there is “continue.” Because in spite of all the hype about downloading eating up the music retail biz, Homer’s revenues have been on an upswing for the past 18 months. Fratt says the chain’s combined six-store sales are up over last year, and that it’s a trend that’s being seen throughout the independent music retail sector. While the industry as a whole is down 8 percent so far for the year, Homer’s sales were up by single digits (Fratt wouldn’t say how many).

It’s more evidence of how the big box stores have seen their dominance slip to indie chains and online sales. As a result, they’re cutting back on their selection. Best Buy, for example, dropped its CD selection from 15,000 titles just a few years ago to only 5,000. Add to that the fact that most people who go to box stores to pick up the latest chart-topping Britney crapola at loss-leader prices leave with only one CD; while Homer’s shoppers tend to pick up a couple more items before heading to the check outs.

Selection didn’t matter as much a few years ago. The big money was in the mega-sellers. But those mega-sellers are becoming fewer and fewer these days. In 2000, only 100 CDs sold more than a million copies in a single year. Last year that number dropped to 60. “People are finding that these big, hyped records are bullshit, and that there are a lot cooler records out there,” Fratt said. Records that you’re not going to find at Wal-Mart.

Yeah, but what about i-Tunes and downloading? Fratt, whose been involved in music retailing since ’75, says the Internet and satellite radio are helping — not hurting — his business because they’re exposing listeners to more music than ever before. “That’s influencing sales,” he said. “All those predictions that Internet web stores and file sharing would wipe us out haven’t come close to reality.”

If anything, Fratt says the web has hurt the box stores more than the small indie retailers. And Homer’s is making money with its own internet ventures, including a web store and sales efforts in conjunction with Amazon, eBay and Django’s.

Still, Fratt is quick to point out that there’s never been a lot of money in the music retail business, even at the head office. What keeps him going is what got him started way back when he was a stock boy at Brandeis in Crossroads. “I kept going down to Musicland on my breaks and bugging them for a job, until they finally broke down and hired me,” he said. “I fell in love with it. People that come to work here have a passion for music and want to share it with every customer that walks through the door.”

zZz tonight at O’Leaver’s with The Lepers; $5, 9:30 or so. Maybe I’ll see you there?

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