More Perfect Union

Three key ex-Zia employees set up a new record store at Zia's old ASU location

How do you build a record store in six days?
That was the tough question Steve Wiley and his partners, Lloyd Hummel and Kristian Luce, surely asked themselves a couple of weeks ago. Wiley, until recently the general manager of Zia Enterprises, had put together a proposal for a record store at the old Zia location at the Memorial Union of the ASU campus. The three partners knew that for any ASU record store to succeed, it needed to open in time for the August 24 beginning of the fall semester.

After submitting their business plan to ASU officials on Thursday, August 13, they anxiously waited to get the thumbs up.

"We had all looked at back-up plans, 'cause there was a real possibility that we weren't gonna get it," Wiley says. "I ended up flying to Las Vegas to interview with Virgin on the afternoon of August 17. I got through with the interview, called my wife here, and ASU had called at 4:30 and we'd gotten the award."

The only problem was that Wiley, Hummel and Luce had to turn a barren, 450-square-foot space into a semblance of a record store in less than a week. They built bins and counters, assembled used product from their own collections, and had to shrink-wrap tons of CDs. They worked 15-hour days, and wondered whether they could get everything done in time.

Well, the result is surely still a work in progress, but Hoodlums New & Used Music opened for business as planned, on the morning of August 24, and business has been robust so far. For Wiley, it's a quick recovery from a tough summer when he was removed from his position at Zia while his wife was in the hospital giving birth to their son, Benjamin. While Wiley's lawyer is still resolving a financial settlement with Zia, the former Zia chief prefers to remain positive about his Zia experience.

"I don't want people to think I'm stewing and fuming about this," he says. "I hope Zia does well."

Wiley, Hummel and Luce have been longtime co-workers and friends. Years ago, they worked together at Wherehouse, and all of them were eventually hired by the late Zia founder Brad Singer.

Hummel was the major-label buyer for Singer's distribution company, Impact, and also handled the advertising and the promotions within the major labels. Luce ran Impact's consignment and mail-order divisions, where he developed a relationship with local bands. He had recently transferred over to Zia, and become used-product coordinator.

"Between the three of us, we've worked together a long time," Wiley says. "We all worked together at the Wherehouse prior to going to Zia. So we have a lot of faith in each other. With Lloyd's advertising background, mine in management, and Kristian has such a great local angle on things, and with used stuff. We just thought it was awfully complementary, the talents that we have."

Though it might seem an oddly perfect irony that three former Zia employees have now set up shop in an old Zia location, it was hardly something that Wiley planned. In fact, the idea came from representatives of ASU, who suggested that he submit a proposal for a business at the newly vacated space. Wiley went through the same process of bidding with competitors that he had experienced in 1996 with Zia. While putting together his proposal, he spoke to Hummel and Luce, and they decided to give notice at Zia, although Hoodlums was only a concept at that point.

But all three partners sensed that this location could be a potential gold mine. The ASU Zia store had actually formed because student surveys in the Union indicated that a new-and-used record store and a video store were the businesses that students most wanted to see on campus.

Logic also suggests that if you build a positive relationship with college-age record buyers, you'll have potential for growth down the line. Wiley says that in its two years of operation (from July of '96 to July of '98), the ASU Zia location consistently performed well.

"The store exceeded the revenue projections that Brad and I had set for it and certainly the projections that ASU had set for it," he says. He says he's not sure why Zia's current regime chose to close the ASU branch--or more recently, one of its Tucson locations--but says "the reason that we decided to go in there was because we thought we'd have a lot less overhead than Zia."

To make Hoodlums a reality, they had to ruthlessly part with much of their own record collections, just as their former boss, Brad Singer, had once done with Zia. "It was tough, man, ripping through your record collection," Wiley says with a laugh. "I had to pull 1,500 CDs. But what are you gonna do? It's funny, though, 'cause you sell something to someone and say, 'That one's mine.'"

And what of the store's curious name? Wiley says that while he was at Zia, in his memos he frequently addressed his staffers as Hoodlums, in what was intended as a kind of sarcastic term of endearment. The name isn't the only residue from his years at Zia.

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