WATERVILLE — In an age when Internet commerce and electronic books have hurt traditional retail music and book sellers, Bull Moose keeps growing.
What started in 1989 as a small music shop in Brunswick now has 11 stores in Maine and New Hampshire that employ 178 people, most of whom are full-time.
The Bull Moose store at Elm Plaza in Waterville is bursting at the seams and plans to expand this summer into the former Mr. Paperback space next door.
What is Bull Moose owner Brett Wickard’s key to success?
He said his staff listens to customers and tunes in to what they want and potentially will like, and items are added to stores accordingly.
The Waterville store, which opened 15 years ago at Elm Plaza, started out carrying mostly music, then added movies, books, gifts, musical instrument supplies, posters, games and toys, among other things.
“Our job is to listen and not have ego involved,” said Wickard, 44, of Cumberland. “The other thing I feel retailers need to do is take reasonable risks. As a business, if you’re not willing to take some risk along the way, you’re destined to just narrow yourself to be smaller and smaller.”
The Elm Plaza store has less than 2,400 square feet of floorspace and will be a bit smaller than 10,000 square feet — about four times its current size — when it expands this summer into the former bookstore, according to Wickard. The store employs about a dozen people, and that number is expected to increase to more than 16 with the new space.
Also, the project is expected to create 20 construction jobs. Great Falls Construction of Gorham, which has worked on other Bull Moose sites, will do the renovations.
Todd Maheu, who manages the Bull Moose store in Elm Plaza, said customers wanted his store to carry books, and the expansion will allow for a large book inventory. Also, the store will be able to carry more gifts, LPs, toys, comic books and other items.
“Between the customer services and the lines we carry and new and used items, it’s just wonderful,” Maheu said.
The store will remain open while renovations take place, he said. The current space will be renovated first. Then the wall between the shop and the former Mr. Paperback will be removed, and work on that space will start.
Meanwhile, Wickard said he thinks adding books to the store allows it to reach a wider range of people. Often, three generations of a family will come into a store and shop together, he said.
Bull Moose carries “fun, collectible, inexpensive stuff” as well, he said. Customers know they can kill an hour in a store, relax and not have to buy anything, he said.
Wickard was a junior at Bowdoin College studying chemistry when he started Bull Moose in downtown Brunswick. He had no idea then that it would expand and grow the way it has, he said. Bull Moose’s sales are “well into eight figures,” he said.
“We definitely look to keep growing and investing, and you keep adapting,” he said. “As a retailer, our job is very simple and very, very challenging at the same time — and that is, to listen to people as they come through the door.”
He described his staff as “incredible,” saying employees understand customers and connect with them.
“As long as we keep adapting and figuring out what folks are interested in, we keep growing,” he said. “The more flexibility you have as a business, the more freedom you have.”
Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at [email protected]