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January 4, 2022

Bull Moose becomes employee-owned

File Photo / Jim Neuger Brett Wickard, founder of Bull Moose, sold the company to employees through an ESOP.

After more than 30 years of growth and ardent support from Maine’s music scene, Bull Moose founder Brett Wickard has sold the music, books and pop culture retailer to its employees through an employee stock ownership plan. 

Through the transition Wickard will remain the interim CEO and chair of the board of directors.
During a company-wide meeting on Monday night, Wickard said he laid out three goals for the sale: to build a platform for employees to have more control and input into company operations, to create financial security for their future, and to provide more earning opportunities. 
“As we’ve grown over the decades, it’s always been a collaborative effort. Our team is local, loyal, and hardworking and together we’ve built one of Northern New England’s greatest brands from the ground up. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Wickard said. 
“Maintaining local ownership will continue Bull Moose's mission to connect, inspire, and entertain folks with our inexpensive, fun, collectible stuff."
Eligible employees will be granted stock ownership by Bull Moose’s ESOP Trust — which owns 100% of Bull Moose after buying out Wickard. Employee owners will be represented by an ESOP committee, to whom the board of directors will report. 

"My No. 1 emotion is gratitude. I've had three-plus decades of any amazing experience and now I'm super pumped to cheer Bull Moose from the sidelines," Wickard told Mainebiz. "If you had told the 20-year-old me who had big dreams that all this would happen, it would be beyond my wildest dreams. It's survived and thrived for 30-plus years and it's literally been a dream. I'm psyched and a little teary."

The move towards an ESOP began in January 2020, when Wickard said he began weighing the future for Bull Moose, which has 11 locations in Maine and New Hampshire and about 140 employees. The pandemic hit and slowed down the transition plans but the ESOP plan got back on track this fall. He weighed other options for the company, such as a sale, but that didn't seem to fit the Bull Moose vibe, he said.

"If I sold to another company, we couldn't control how it would be operated and it wouldn't feel like Bull Moose. It's all about local control and community stores and we wanted that same kind of feel to continue."
“I’m optimistic about the future,” says Mick Pratt an 11-year veteran of Bull Moose. “It seems like a really big first step toward making a better Bull Moose for the people who helped build it."

The move comes after an employee dispute in June. All 23 employees of Bull Moose in Salem, N.H., who were abruptly fired in a dispute with management over the use of face masks, have returned to work after the Portland-based music and entertainment retailer issued a public apology. Wickard also offered company-wide raises by June 2022.

The clash stemmed from a decision to drop mask requirements for shoppers at the Salem store and prohibiting staff from asking whether customers had been vaccinated.

"We learned a lot from that. We're a better company, a better enterprise. We want to look forward, but admit when you've made a mistake. In 30 years, we've learned from our mistakes and I hope the new Bull Moose owners will learn from any mistakes they make over the next 30 years," Wickard said.

Wickard started Bull Moose in 1989 while a student at Bowdoin College. Bull Moose steadily grew from one small location selling CDs and tapes to 11 stores selling a large variety of pop culture items in stores as well as online.

In a 2019 interview with Mainebiz, Wickard explained the origin of the company’s name. “I always liked Bull Moose, the name of a track club at college, and originally named it Bull Moose Enterprises, because I thought the word enterprises sounded really big.”
At the time, Wickard also spoke about the evolution of the business and Bull Moose’s Blockbuster and other rivals that went bust, he said, "We quickly realized that our edge is community ... So really paying attention to what people are buying, and who's buying it, and we adapt."

Over the decades, Bull Moose has brought famous musicians and actors to Maine including Mike Mills from R.E.M., the Smashing Pumpkins, Rihanna, Kiefer Sutherland, John Densmore from the Doors and Jack Black.  
Bull Moose is an active supporter of local music has paid more than $5.5 million directly to local musicians and venues since 2002.
“I’ve been interacting with Bull Moose’s employees since I was 11 years old as a customer,” says Maine rapper Spose. “When I started selling my music, I developed a business relationship with not only the staff, but also the behind-the-scenes figures. I’m so happy to see Bull Moose doubling down on the community of people who make the company feel personal and human,” Spose said.
In 2007, Chris Brown, Bull Moose’s first and longest-tenured employee, proposed Record Store Day, an annual event to promote independent music stores with special vinyl and CD releases, local performances and artist meet-and-greets. Record Store Day quickly grew to be an international event and is now considered one of the main drivers of the multi-billion-dollar resurgence of vinyl.
“Many of the big moves that transformed Bull Moose happened when Brett let other people help lead,” Chris Brown, Bull Moose CFO said. “Same-store sales have returned to pre-pandemic levels and our profit margin has increased. Bull Moose is on an upswing so we couldn’t ask for a better time for Brett to do this. His generosity amazes me,” Brown said.  
Wickard will continue running FieldStack, a Portland-based retail management software company that he founded in 2014. FieldStack is experiencing rapid growth as retailers look for full-service partners to help them grow profitably.

"I'm all in on FieldStack. We have a goal of growing 40% percent, year over year, for the next two years. There are great opportunities ahead of us right now. Retailers really are reconfiguring how they operate and FieldStack is at the center of that. We want FieldStack to grow as smartly and aggressively as we can," Wickard said. 

Wickard said he can envision FieldStack being both an acquirer of other businesses, or someday being acquired.

"The pandemic played a role in both Bull Moose and FieldStack. The pandemic taught us about caring about those close to us and that community really matters. Bull Moose deserved an ownership that was passionate and all-in. And I was spending all my time on FieldStack. Bull Moose deserves employee owners who are passionate and all-in," Wickard said. 

Meanwhile, FieldStack has been growing as other retailers grapple with the pandemic and evolve their shopping experiences for customers. 

"We have an edge. We don't just talk like we know retail. We eat, sleep and dream retail. We know retail," Wickard said. 

Wickard said the entrepreneurial side of him will always want to do more things with Bull Moose, but he knows the time is right to move on.

“I am excited to see what this creative, hardworking team will do with the company in the future. My heart will always be at Bull Moose,” Wickard said.

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