This week’s episode is near and dear to Michelle’s heart. She had the pleasure of interviewing her friend and former co-worker Damon Von Schweikert of Von Schweikert Audio. As former co-workers, which they touch on in the episode, Michelle saw firsthand Damon’s incredible skill set in successfully treating employees while at the same time running a brand at the highest level. Currently, Damon is the Chief Executive Officer for Von Schweikert Audio, a multigenerational, High-End Audio loudspeaker design and U.S. manufacturing firm with over four decades in business and hundreds of industry awards from around the world. Prior to assuming the position of CEO for VSA in 2015, Damon enjoyed a 15-year career in the Softline retail industry working at the corporate level with a specialization in the Stores and Operations divisions for Levi’s/Dockers Outlets, Anchor Blue, Juxtapose and Miller’s Outpost to name a few.
His entrepreneurial spirit and extensive experience in manufacturing, distribution, marketing and retail sales give him a unique business management perspective. We are so grateful Damon took time out of his busy schedule to chat with us. We know you’ll enjoy this episode as much as we did!
The Audio Analyst
ep-25 Running a Multigenerational Family Business
Michelle: Hey there. I'm Michelle Sherrier, and this is the retail whore podcast, the stories and Lessons from the Life and Retail. Hey guys, welcome back. Happy Wednesday. Welcome to episode number 25. I will tell you, this is probably one of the closest to my heart. I have the extreme pleasure of interviewing my friend Damon von Schweikert. Damon and I worked together about six or seven years ago on a project I don't talk too much about, but you will hear more about it in this episode. Sweet XO Damon was brought in to be the operations director and I have nothing but respect for this man. His kindness and his way of working with employees and his way of running a brand or business is top notch. And, you know, I will tell you right now, I know you always learn a lot during this podcast. This one is not to be missed. We also talk about his time heading up operations for Levi Anchor Blue and more importantly, we talk about his family brand, which is Von Schweikert audio. And if you are in an audio file whatsoever and you have any understanding of high end speakers, then you know this name. Von Schweikert was started by his father, who has an incredible lineage in the music industry and started this brand. And Damon walked away from it for a bit to pursue his time with us at Sweet XO. And then after Sweet CXO was closed down, promptly went back to building his brand that his father started. And it's really interesting to listen to his stories of his family and about the audio world and just his philosophy on operations. So without further ado, here's my friend Damon von Schweikert, a von Schweikert audio. Damon Welcome back to the retail horror podcast.
Damon: Thanks. It's nice to be back.
Michelle: I say thank you because we tried to do this before and I felt that the audio quality, I didn't feel it was horrible. So I figure with you being the audio professional that you are, that was quite possibly would have been the worst thing ever.
Damon: I appreciate you. I appreciate that. And, you know, I had a great time, so I don't feel like we lost anything. That was nice. A couple of our discussion and I'm looking forward to another one.
Michelle: Oh, God. Okay, so the back story so everyone can hear this is and I don't I have yet really to talk about it much on social media because when we were doing it, Instagram wasn't what it is now. So Damon and I were part of a project called You Can Hear Peanut Barking in the background. I apologize, everybody. But Damon and I were part of a project called Sweet XO, and I fondly call it Not So Sweet. So where we were part of a an expansion project for a retail store that opened up in Agoura, that was amazing. And the partners got a little crazy and decided they wanted to open five stores instead of the one or four more stores to make it five total, right? Mm hmm. And and then after we got the final one open, they decided that it wasn't fun anymore, and they shut it down. But I'm so grateful for. I always say there's a reason for everything. And, you know, for me, the lessons that came with the time at St XO and my friendship with you and getting to know you was totally worth it. So I am so grateful for that. Not so sweet. Xo. Six years. Were we there? Six years?
Damon: It was a while ago.
Michelle: But I mean, wasn't it like six years long?
Damon: That felt like six years. It felt like six years. It was probably a couple of years, but it certainly felt like six years.
Michelle: So Damon was brought on as operation. So today's interview is we're going to go through what his family business is and what you did in your prior life as operations for both XO and other brands. So welcome. Tell everybody about yourself and your brand.
Damon: Well, first, I want to say that I agree with you about our shared XO experience. There was many good things that came of it, but a big piece of it was my friendship with you and and having such a wonderfully supportive coworker relationship that I think we got through a lot of stuff professionally and we got through a lot of personal stuff with, with dealing, with coping with the challenges of the business together to so and I'm going to really lay the blame at your feet for me taking on the job because I was happily working at my family business and and my friend, my friend know I won't name names but it was my friend wanted me to come out and check out this great new retail business he was involved in. And I said, Oh, yeah, yeah, you know, it's a big drive. And I kept blowing them off. I said, No, you have to come on this day at this time. So I came out and the minute I walked in the store I was in love with the concept. And it was your visual, not just your visual eye in how it's presented in Grand. I understand other people involved in it, but you were you were the spirit and the orchestrator of what was going on there, but also the items you picked out in everything and and the whole concept. The concept. I just came home raving to my wife, who had worked in many different aspects of retail as well. And, and that's how I got brought into the business, kicking and screaming. At first I came on as a consultant and I didn't want to give up my day gig, you know, with my my family's business. And then finally I just got given an offer I couldn't refuse and I jumped at the opportunity. So anyways.
Michelle: It was so fun. I'm going to do another solo podcast on it because I have a phrase that is Failure is the best instructor and it, you know, I don't see that as a failure, but in, in the sense of like it's obviously still not there. I'm not I'm not doing it kind of this, but I'm going to do a whole podcast on that one just to talk about it. And you know, because I literally, you know, I know I doubt you talk about it, but it's like this weird time warp of working with somebody and doing more or less the same thing I do now. I cannot believe Peanut won't stop barking. She's in a kennel because she we woke up Thanksgiving morning, her legs weren't working. So we're going through having to keep her in a kennel. Obviously, she's not having. Um, but I, you know, it's it was such a time warp. It feels like it feels like it was 100 years ago. And it also feels like it was was last week. And you know what's funny? A small world. Elisa, who reached out to you, who does my digital? She's my digital marketing manager. Alisa's daughter is Alex, who worked for us in Manhattan in the Manhattan Beach store. It's such a weird, small world.
Damon: Well, I mean, you know, like I said, there was there was so much stuff asked, I'll say of us, but I know of me that frankly, prior to that, I would have said, that's impossible. I can't do that. It can't be done, you know. But but you know, whether the project ultimately panned out or not, I know that that we move mountains and became stronger for it because of it.
Michelle: So yeah, it was amazing. I will say that. So tell everyone about yourself and your brand.
Damon: Yeah. Well, okay, so that's that's a that's a loaded question. But basically, you know, in a nutshell, I'm the second generation owner of family, started off as family business is corporation now global corporation making high quality audio loudspeaker excuse me, high end audio loudspeakers. We started in Whittier, California, in the mid to late seventies. There's a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in California. In the seventies, you know, a lot of business is starting up in garages. And this was one based on home stereo, basically, although there's application, we've done professional recording studios, what have you. But, you know, our our specialty is, is loudspeakers, whether it's a bookshelf, a floor standing. We don't really do a lot of professional audio, mainly home audio. And as it grew over the years, it it transformed into ultra high end audio. We we still we're definitely like a a dodo bird in the sense that it's virtually extinct building manufacturing in the US in general, but much less loudspeakers is almost gone. Whereas 35 years ago, you know, we're in Riverside now, there was probably eight companies, global companies working just out of Riverside alone. Wow. Speaker Craft, a lot of big names and we're still there. We're still doing what we're doing. And and it's been an evolution, obviously, with all the challenges going on, it seems like every couple, every couple, eight years, some new global economic challenge. And and so we've been doing that. And then so I grew up, I started working like at eight, I think six, something like that, really young age, you know, family business, helping my dad build speakers in the garage, cutting wood and assembling. And by 12, I was the the chief assembler and and by 16 hours of production manager and by 20 I was doing global sales and you name it. So that was a great learning experience. But family business being what they are and me being a type-A personality, you know, I conflicted with my dad. And so there were moments in my life where I would step away from the family business. I'd I'd seek out, you know, corporate work in specifically in retail because, you know, for whatever reason. But you could say part of it is to prove to myself that I wasn't just my dad's kid working at his business, but that I had my own worth, I guess, outside of the family business.
Damon: And so that had me in a lot of retail, but I really spent the bulk of my time in soft line retail. I worked in stores as a assistant manager, store manager. At one point I transitioned in the early 2000s from from the store's division into the corporate office. And I and I was brought in to do operations. I worked for Hub Distributing at that time, which owns owned at the time it was Miller's Outpost, which is a wonderful Southern Southwest regional brand, but it transformed into Anchor Blue and they also control the outlet division, everything west of the Mississippi for Levi Strauss. So we we we had those Levi's outlet stores. You know, Levi's was a great brand, whatever, at the time, very strong brand. They just didn't know how to run retail stores. We did. So we took care of their retail division and and there were some other other brands that we had involved in that. But but mainly my, my experience aside from actually being. In stores was was at the corporate level doing operations.
Michelle: Did you know so you just mentioned you basically grew up through the ranks of retail, which I've always said hands down is the best way to learn. Retail is to pretty much do every single job, which I guess is kind of why this this podcast is called Retail Hawk. I feel like I've done everything well.
Damon: I agree with you. I mean, frankly, you know, I have nothing but beautiful things to say about hub distributing as a retail. It was a company when I worked there. The average was a number of years working there. It was like 15 years for people. That's the average. It's crazy. And there are people that are celebrating 30 years. So it was a retail company where you could literally work for the same company your entire career and people did, but and so they had a lot of really strong practices, but one of them was they really tried to bring most of the directors in. Many of the executives came from the stores as seasonal help, like that's how they worked their way up. And I couldn't believe they wouldn't allow anyone in operations who didn't actually work in their stores. It wasn't enough that you had an operations career from another company they exclusively promoted from within because how else can you can you improve the operations, you know, without understanding the basics? Now, I'm not to say that we were we didn't look at other operations. We absolutely did. And we took from whatever. Why reinvent the wheel right when we could find good, good businesses to to to to steal from, frankly, but borrow whatever you want to call it. But but no, but but you had to, you had to cut your teeth in the stores.
Michelle: Yeah. And I think that's an.
Damon: Advocate for the stores.
Michelle: I think that's I mean, honestly, like you said, what the part of the thing I find very frustrating with some stores is that, you know, they'll be a manager that came in from the outside and hasn't done everything within the store or seen how operationally everything works and they're all gung ho to change everything and which is good in some senses. But in other senses it's it's like. But do you realize why they're doing this? There's other there's other reasoning. It's like, you know, I just believe that because Bristol Farms does the same thing, they I think they've changed a little bit now that they've been purchased, but they have always the guys that all are upper management and produce and liquor sales and whatnot all came from the store level. And I think that's that that's the smartest thing. So tell me a little bit about your ultimate where you ended up with them? I think it was operations, correct?
Damon: Correct. Yeah. Multi unit, obviously, we had at our peak, we had 200 plus stores for what became Anchor Blue and we had oh I'm sorry, no, over 300 stores for Anchor Blue, 200 stores for Levi's Dockers Outlet. And we had another division, women's teen clothing called Juxtapose. And that was probably, I think a 50 store division. So we oversaw operations for all these stores and we had a lot of cross. Obviously we use OC, so we had our own fleet of trucks way back when no one had fleets of trucks, right. Retailers. And we grew up with that. And and so we had we leveraged our, our operational structure for the multi brands, right? So a truck would load up with four or five stores with the stuff and they'd be hitting different, different divisions of the company, whether it's Anchor Blue or Levi's Dockers Outlet dropping off. So it was it was a very complicated operational structure. And, and in coordinating POS systems, obviously best practices, you name it, we we covered it all.
Michelle: So did you when you said the truck guy said when you were operations. I always think of operations like it's like the store. So you are also operations how to deal with the trucking end division?
Damon: There's we had professionals that did exclusively logistic. We had a distribution center in Ontario, California, right next to the airport. And and so there were absolute logistical logistics experts running that. But, you know, part of being the stores operations is freight. I mean, stock is a big piece. I mean, stock eats up a lot of your payroll. So, you know, we it was really fortunate that because we had executives who came up out of stores, operations in that organization had a lot of say. And we sat we were in almost every meeting, even merchandising meetings. We were there. And when we spoke, we tried not to. We weren't bullies, but but we spoke. We were advocates for the stores. And because we knew we put a big burden on our store employees to to deliver productivity. Right. The relationship between sales dollars and hours spent to achieve them. We were responsible for for clearing as much of that, you know, getting all the useless, crazy crap that gets asked of a lot of stores, you know, like, let's say marketing. Marketing. They probably don't understand what it's like to execute some type of giveaway. And the giveaway might be a simple box on the counter with some cards that the, the, the customers have to fill out in conjunction with a purchase. Right. And something like that can be maddening. We, we did high volume sales, so we, we were doing ten times the amount of POS transactions that the gap next door was doing. The gap when you bought a sweater or whatever, they'd sit there and they'd wrap it and fold it in the back counter and put it in a bag. And then and then they print the bag and they walk over and take your card. No, we had a line, six people deep all the time, buying stocks, Levi's and everything. And so we had to we had to run through things quickly and we had an expectation. So ultimately, operations was involved in every aspect about how many boxes, what the expectation was to get the boxes offloaded off the truck process and product on the floor, visual moves and set ups, you know, holiday events, whatever it was, we were ultimately responsible for productivity.
Damon: That's how we kind of measured ultimately the success of the retail stores and the success of the operations department is what kind of productivity we could achieve without cannibalizing the business. And what I mean by that is you can get really high productivity, but you'll see things start to slip like the cleanliness of the store. Yeah, maybe the sales are going, but you got dust bunnies everywhere in the place. Looks kind of run down or you know, you you can you can boost high productivity for a while. But are you really training the employees at the rate they need to be trained, you know, and what kind of compromises you're making? So it's a very difficult balance to properly staff your stores, give them the resource they need, and yet still achieve a profitability or in this case, a productivity that delivers the profitability that you want each quarter.
Michelle: So I can't believe you sat in all the meat. So like just now, because you've piqued my interest, the merchandising meetings. What did you guys have your hand in for the merchandising meetings? Well, we strictly a questions so I can hear this.
Damon: Yeah so okay. So we sold men's and women's clothing, really focusing on teens and twenties and and so, you know, you know how many buyers that must take, right? You know, you've got shirts and you've got print, you got screen prints, you've got woven tops and you've got denim and you've got bottoms and you've got men and women divisions and shoes and accessories and all that stuff. So there's a lot of buyers there. And the buyers, well, they're selfish. They only care about their belts or their screen tees. And if their screen tees represent 18% of. The business. Then there they have a lot of sway and they're going to they're going to demand more and they want to get more screen tees up. Well, guess what? You got to fold that stuff. You got to you've got to display that stuff. And you've got other divisions that you're beholden to, too, like denim or whatever. So when we sat in there, we would we would give them, well, oh, you want this many new displays and you want to change the floor that much between from, from whatever transition you're going through spring to spring to summer or whatever. And, and we'd have to sometimes tell them, you can't get that much. You may want the world. We're only going to be able to give you this much because guess what? We have to deliver to the executives this type of productivity. And you want to basically what you're asking for, it's going to hurt that productivity and it's going to come from somewhere, whether it's from the development of the team or the visual displays of other departments or whatever. So yeah, it put us we, we were we weren't I won't say people respected us and we, we weren't bullies. We worked with people. Our job was to, to find out what their needs were and deliver it as best we could. But sometimes we had to say no. And I had people tell me, Boy, it must be nice just to say no. And I said, No, you know, I'm not doing it because I'm because I'm on a power trip. I'm just telling you that you're not the most important thing in the world right now.
Michelle: I picture some reason, like a room full of people and you guys over on the side, kind of like the mafia, like listening, you know, being like, No, no, no, it's not going to happen. We're going to end like the whole meeting, just stopping and like looking at you guys.
Damon: Well, typically. So you're right, but delivery is everything. So. So it oftentimes would help to kind of illustrate the concern like, well, okay, that sounds exciting. However, to achieve this, however, to achieve this, this is what it's going to take. And they were you know, they had a responsibility. Everyone was the whole company was responsible to productivity, to I mean, buyers had higher metrics to be concerned about definitely in their categories sell through and what have you markdowns and how that went but but and they're open to buy and all that but at the end of the day, it's all about profit and payroll is the biggest asset or expense, I should say. Well, it's kind of an asset to expense that we had control over.
Michelle: Amen to that. I don't think retailers, you know, I, I forget what store I was at. And the comment was the only thing you can control as far as the retail situation is your payroll like everything is pretty much uncontrollable. Like, oh.
Damon: Yeah, rent's not going to change much. And depending on the deal you have, I guess there's some, some progressive rent deals out there that I'm not, thank God not dealing with. But but yeah, you think about what you can control and payroll is such a big factor. It's it can easily get out of hand too, obviously. And the challenge is, you know, you can like I say, you can focus too much on productivity to the point that you cannibalize your business, you upset customers, you burn out staff. You you fail to to train people properly. You don't keep the store looking nice. There's so many challenges on on people running the floor. Loss prevention. Yeah, you got great productivity, but your loss prevention went into the double digits. Well, that's a big problem that's going to affect your bottom line. So, you know, it's we ask a lot of retail people and it's never been more challenging than it is today. Oh, God.
Michelle: I just a couple of my stores are having the worst time trying to hire people right now. It's and when they finally get someone, partly because they don't want to pay as much as. Yes.
Damon: That's the big piece of it.
Michelle: And so they'll get them. The person will come in and they spend all this time training them and then guess what? They leave because they pay more. And it it's like a constant rotation of people. And it's like one of my stores is like, can you train this person for merchandising? I'm like, this is be the fourth person I've trained. Like, I don't I don't have enough patience or time to consistently spend with somebody and really want to train and development because ideally that's that that is what you want. I want for being a person that's in and out of people's stores every day. I'm not in the same place is to have somebody there that's trained and developed and that can maintain the structure and the standards of the store that you set. And it's like with the concert rotation, it's like, I mean, I can't, I can't even go down the rabbit hole of like what the store, you know, the maintenance of it the stores look like right now. It's like, oh, my God.
Damon: That's a piece of people need to think about, too. I'm talking a lot about productivity because when you're talking about operations, you you have to be focused on. It affects so many things. Like you said, if you have high turn, well, you're hurting your productivity because you're constantly training, which means that either you're investing additional time and efforts into money, into training new people, and you're losing out on the skill of a trained employee. So, you know, maybe if you really think about it, it's better to retain people, especially good people. And if you have to pay more, that has to be part of the fact you can't just say, well, it's all about how much I'm willing to pay. You need to think holistically about, okay, if I don't if I'm not willing to give them that extra, whatever it is, how many dollars or then am I willing to have high churn? I'm willing to be perpetually training new people. And, you know. And how is that affecting the business?
Michelle: Oh, and not to mention like your I mean, if you like the I'm sorry, not not to mention the the constant turn, but also the what the store looks like as far as like that's the first thing I noticed is like stores where it's like, I know everyone gets really busy and it's like just like Fred Segal used to have a phrase, You got time to clean, you got to clean. And so much like even the like the idea of watching somebody that is a burned out employee that feels unappreciated because they're the one the one person that keeps coming back and forth to work. Well, these other people come and go like that, that that's where they start to burn out. And they're just like, I'm not I'm not cleaning the store. I, I came in, I showed up.
Damon: And by the way, that behavior is, you know, is contagious. Oh, gosh. The good employees the good employees do not bring up the burnout or bad employee. It's the other way around. People aren't going to work hard if they see that other people aren't living up to that same standard. So yeah, it's, it's, it's a rough.
Michelle: Okay, so I don't want to harp on your old job too much, but I do what you just touched on right now. What? Every store has this I know every single retailer listening to this knows this. You have the one employee that is Mr. Bitterman, that is complaining and complaining. And I always say it's like cancer. You can see the employees one by. We had it at Sweet CXO one by one which so I want you to talk about that the COO that occurred, you have an employee that is like little by little, it's like Lord of the Flies has has run the kids that are kind of waving in the middle. They're not really quite sure they've drawn them in. And all of a sudden you have this power play of the bitter employees, and they all said it's like they're now all together, collectively moving like Lord of the Flies and all bitter, all treating customers like shit, all not talking, like helping, cleaning all. And that one employee's bad behavior now has spread across to most of your employees. And even the good employees at this point can't save the ship. What do retailers do? I know the answers, but I want to hear what you say.
Damon: Well, you know what they do because we went through it. If you have to clean house and do the whole thing, thing yourself for a couple of weeks while you hire a new staff, that's what you do, you know, because but you you know, ultimately and there's reasons in that situation we had that we were dealing with some legacy stuff. I would say that.
Michelle: Tell the story. Tell the story.
Damon: Okay. So, so so, you know, it was, you know, I was brought in, like I said, as a consultant and then I was brought on for, you know, I was I was hired and brought in full time to run and develop the stores and grow them. And, you know, I would say that the people who had been doing the hiring before and the staffing weren't retailers. You know, they were looking for different things. This person looks like the store image and this person does this. And and, you know, and frankly, they weren't looking at are these people mature and ready for the role and and do they have any experience or if they don't, can they be trained? Are there and and there was a lot of negotiating between owners, right. Who didn't work in the stores and the kids who felt like they were in a position of power because, you know, what are you going to do? You're going to you're going to fire me. You're going to do this yourself. And and ultimately I did because you know.
Damon: Yeah, and so but but you know but so that's the worst that's the worst case situation. And I'm. I'm a scorched earth kind of guy. In that situation. It's better to cauterize the wound and start from scratch than to try and try. And I think there were a couple employees that were saved from that situation, but generally it was not a good situation.
Michelle: Also, the manager, the person they put in a manager position was like the one kid that had stuck it out and is like, Ouch, you're the manager now? He was 16.
Damon: Yes, I know. He came in just, you know, and look, the maturity level, the work experience, none of that was there. It was it was asking far too much. Right. That's the other thing, too, is you can't you can't you have to you have to be reasonable and rational. You have to be able to critically look at your situation and not put on the the the rose tinted glasses and say, oh, you know, I'm going to make this person who's not ready for the role the job because of necessity, because ultimately, you know, how it's going to turn out and it's very few chances of it going in a good direction. So I encourage everybody a well-run business starts with hiring and you if if you have to say no to a lot of candidates, you know, I know the market's a little bit different right now, but but pay people what they're worth as long as you can make it balance and and invest in the people that are going to invest in your business, invest themselves in your business, hire hard, work easy. I mean, that's the way it should be. You've got to really scrutinize people, spend the time, you know, ask questions, follow up, do the references, you know, and make sure that you feel good about them. Make sure they understand that when they come on board, they're still applying for the job. They've got a probationary period and they have to demonstrate that they are, in fact, what they presented. And then and then when you value them, you reward them as best you make them make them know that they're appreciated and valuable to you. Don't ever take them for granted. And and like I said, if you have one, if you have a bad hire, it happens. Don't let it fester, you know, because all that's going to happen is everyone's going to say, why am I working so hard when they accept that from that person? Oh, my God, it brings everyone else down.
Michelle: Oh, my God. Thank you. I'm like, you can't see me. I'm like, Praise God, I. Oh, my God. So you your brand now on VH1 Schweickart audio.
Michelle: Your father created it. Tell us about your father and how he came to be, because it's a fascinating story. And that I mean, just what your dad is truly tell the story.
Damon: It's it's it's hard luck. You know, honestly, I did I've done a 2 to 3 hour podcast just on my dad, you know, after his passing a couple of years ago. But but he was, you know, he he you know, he was a remarkable person. He was a renaissance man. He was an engineer. He was a painter. He was a poet. He he was a musician. He he had in his youth he was a budding rock star. You know, he played with Sonny Cher, Neil Diamond, the Yardbirds. Guess who his band was, the Ravens. And they were in so they were in Florida and they were, you know, they were long haired hippies in Florida living down the street from Jimi Hendrix, like.
Michelle: Oh, my God, that's amazing.
Damon: Yeah, with with, you know. So it was a very interesting time. That's what he started off with. And he wanted to be a musician, you know. So his he was he was his upbringing was actually actually in Kaiserslautern, Germany. They traveled all over Europe. But my my grandfather was a military intelligence for the US military. They lived primarily in Cape Town, Kaiserslautern, Germany and and so my father and my aunt were classically trained there. Their mother was a professor and music was important. So he learned, he learned piano and, and, but when he grew up, he wanted to play guitar because, you know, the Beatles and everything, it was the car was a cool instrument. And he played lead guitar and then they moved to the US and he got in a band, grew out his hair. It was, you know, it was he was he was tapped on whenever a big headliner came to Florida to tour because he was he could play rock music and read sheet music, which was not a common trait at the time. And so he got to play with Neil Diamond, Sonny Cher. And he hated, you know, when he was playing with his own band. He hated the sound of the PA stack, especially when it came to vocals. And so he started messing around with speaker design. Then he started modifying and making his own PA systems. And I remember when when Sonny and Cher were touring, they Cher was complaining that her voice sounded horrible. And my dad's like, Oh, yeah, this this the house. The house. Pa sucks here. I can I'll bring my pa tomorrow. You can check it out. And she loved it. And they used it all the way through the tour. And so did Neil Diamond when he came. And at the end of it, at the end of it, Neil Diamond, CEO Albert. His name was Albert. Al, you're you're an okay guitar player, but you're a damn good speaker builder. And my dad was insulted by that. He's like, No, I'm going to be a guitar player. You're kidding me. I'm not doing the speaker thing. And, you know, he so long story short, he went to LA, had his shot.
Damon: He was a studio musician. And finally he just said, you know what? Obviously it's not going to work out or the stars aren't aligning. And he started working at a high end, not sorry, not just an audio store back then. Then in the day, we had stereo stores on every street corner. It was it was the thing. And that's when he started designing. And the thing I love and actually he started going to to cal Caltech and and and studying under a professor there well-known professor and and during that studying, he was challenged. What's the goal of a loudspeaker? And my dad came back with, well, a speaker needs to decode inversely to how a microphone encodes. And so that's so it's a different approach that people have done. He also studied psycho acoustics, basically the way humans perceive sound both in their mind and with their ear brain mechanism. And and I liken it to a lot of a lot of speaker designers. You know, they read a couple of speaker designing books and they design speakers. But imagine trying to design a high performance bicycle without understanding human physiology. And that's and that's what it comes down to. We approach speakers with the understanding of how live instruments work, how microphones record. We decode the information inversely and we we play it back in a way that humans will perceive it appropriately.
Michelle: So it's I think I told you that my dad was an audio file. That's what they're called for. Listening. The ones. The young ones listening. Yeah. Old school guys that.
Damon: Still call ourselves audio files.
Michelle: Audio files. And my dad, I'll never forget, my dad had whatever sound system, and he would make us sit in the center of the sofa and he would put on, which is why I still love classical music. He put on classical music and he'd be like, Can you hear that? Can you hear that? Can you hear the strings? And my brother and I would just sit there like, we just want to go outside.
Michelle: And I still don't understand that. I've never heard that kind of quality. And I know you've always said, come to the factory, come sit down.
Damon: See, it's an experience like I'm talking about it and we're talking about it, but people don't understand it until they experience it.
Michelle: And and that's like this is it is. It's funny to me in life that this has come full circle, that now I have a friend that's saying, come sit on the sofa.
Damon: It's right.
Michelle: Drinks. So how long was it till your dad ended up producing his own speakers? When did Von Schweikert start as Von Schweikert?
Damon: Well, okay. So like, like with a lot of entrepreneurs, it was an iterative process, right? So he, he started building speakers actually was funny as I've got a picture of him in in the garage in Whittier stand in front of a big P.A. system. We did we did a PA system for the Avalon Theater on Catalina Island when they had when it was a roller disco.
Michelle: Wow. Wow.
Damon: I knew that was that was a mid to late seventies, probably like 76.
Michelle: I think it's amazing.
Damon: Yeah, I think I think my mom still has the t shirt, you know, from baby doll t shirt, you know.
Michelle: Oh my God. I love it.
Damon: Yeah. And, and so anyways. Yeah, no, I mean, that's when he started doing it, but he, he was always pursuing high end and it just, you know, let's put it this way, he's not a guy of half measures. Like, like he had his day gig and he worked all day and then he'd come home at night and he worked until 1030, 11:00 at night in his in his office doing designs. And then on the weekends, we'd be building speakers. And this was my entire childhood. It was like you wanted to go outside. You want to go off the couch and go outside. I wanted to to not not build speakers on Saturdays and clean the pool on Sunday. Right. Like I wanted to have. But of course, I love the cash. Like, he was always very generous with payment. He knew how to keep his employee.
Michelle: There you go.
Damon: Yes, but. But no, I mean, so. So, yeah. Early eighties, he came out with a brand called Vortex and it was really popular and he ran that for like eight years or whatever. And then someone came along and said, Hey, I want to invest in the business and and started a company called Forcefield. And then and that did what it did. They were trying to sell factor direct. And at that time you couldn't sell factory direct. It was really hard. And then and then after that, he, he, he, you know, he'd had these situation with the company would end and then two weeks later he'd be at home in his garage working on a new design start a new company. So then he started buying Schweickart Research and we had a wonderfully successful company he ended up taking out over the course of a year. He took out two SBA loans for 50,000 each and paid them back in less than six months. Wow. So yeah, so I mean, it was, it was, it was blowing up and his design was really popular, highly acclaimed. Then. Then we got courted by a development agency in upstate New York that had lost a train brake company. And they wanted to bring in small businesses to to fill out the factory. And they were offering money. So we went with it. Unfortunately, a flood wiped that business out. 99. And it's it it's it was brutal. You know, Watertown is named appropriately. It's 15 miles east of Lake Ontario. So we get this crazy lake effect snow. And we had a freak weather incident where it snowed. And then the next day it was super warm in the water on a Saturday and we weren't there. The water ran off the hill behind us and they had hay on there was hay on the hill and it blocked up all our drains and all the water just went into the building. Well, it's the middle of winter. We've got the heaters on. So the heaters are just steaming this water in a factory that makes loudspeakers out of wood. So, God, we lost you know, we lost half of half a million dollars in in inventory and which was a lot of money at that time. And and so we, you know, we lost the business and insurance didn't pay out because they they had a clause that didn't cover groundwater runoff, whatever the hell that means. That sounds like a flood to me, but wow. So anyways, so came back to California. He started the business up less than six months later that we have today, 21 years later. Find Schweikert audio.
Michelle: I love your dad's story. You know, I never had the chance to meet him.
Damon: But I wish you could have. You would have loved.
Michelle: I met your mom, right? I met your. And you just like it's such a cool family. I mean, I really. I really wish I had a chance to meet your father. So now you. Okay? So sweet. So we were together as we talked, so I think till the end, right? I mean, I know I got let go right before they closed the last two stores. And then you stayed. You stayed there till the bitter end. No, I negotiated because.
Damon: Well, because we were beaten, but we were being let go right before the holidays. And I explained to them, Merry Christmas. Yeah, exactly. It was it was actually, I think, Christmas Eve or whatever. And I explained to him, I said, that's fine. I said, I understand, but but you guys want to finish off the season and and I'll just stay on as, as a figurehead communicating whatever. And we won't disrupt the stores during the holiday season. We'll notify them on January 1st or whatever it was that I was I was leaving the company. So that's I didn't actually get any extra money for it, but I knew it was better for the team. They didn't need to be disrupted at the time.
Michelle: You're such a giver, I swear to God. I mean, I was like, fuck you.
Damon: I know. And that's that's that's the appropriate response. But I was invested in the people I had hired.
Michelle: Yeah. So I mean, we, we really. Danielle, I still am in touch with Danielle. I still see Sonny all the time. I still see little Kristina. Like, it's funny. It's like an Anna. Like, it's still very much a family. I mean, I've always said that and it's, you know, it's so. Anyway, I digress. You, you walked off from suite XO and you just walked right back into your father's business, I'm assuming.
Damon: Yeah. Yeah. Basically.
Michelle: He wanted you to come back, though, right?
Damon: He did. No, he did. Well, he did. He said, I need you to. Take over. And I said I said, that's fine. I said, I want that, but I need you to give me your laptop and your keys and leave. Oh, it wasn't a hostel.
Michelle: No. But he had made to do that.
Damon: He had made me CEO before and it lasted all of I mean, I was still CEO, but he was countermanded my choices, you know, probably hours after he made me CEO. It's just it is an owner and a founder. It's very hard to give up the reins. And, you know, we were two totally different people. I'm I did operations. Right. I'm very I'm very boring in that regard. You know, I, I can sit there and dig into spreadsheets and I do like building. I mean, it's I've been a kid. I've built things my whole life. And I do like whether I'm building a pair of loudspeakers or remodeling my home or building a business, it's all the same to me. But I come at it from an operational standpoint, a financial standpoint. And my dad was while an engineer absolutely. Was 50% creative or more. And so, you know, he would often he was very competent. And I think he suffered from competence. And what I mean by that, I'd like to say that I'm incompetent. And so therefore I overcome. I come at things like I'm going to fail and I've got to figure out how to achieve what I need to do. He came in and he could pull money out of thin air. He could make things happen that other people said, there's no way you're going to do that. But he he was I wouldn't say overconfident, but over competent. He would he would he would see in a situation say it's not ideal, but I'm going to do it anyways. And I come at it from a different standpoint. For example, we're launching a new speaker. It's our new flagship speaker. It's right now, it's the ultra 11. This is probably gonna freak people out. It's $325,000 for a pair of speakers.
Michelle: Oh, my God.
Damon: Yes. And and we get it. And people buy it because it's amazing. However, I control the way we demo it. My dad would have friends come say, Hey, Albert, I don't have a room at the show. Can you use my amplifiers? Oh, sure. No problem. There amplifiers are are entry level amplifiers and he's showing his flagship. And so what I know to be true is you never get a second chance at a first impression. And as a business owner, as a brand owner, you need to, as much as possible present your brand in the best light possible. And so I am a dictator when it comes to my brand. I also have a monopoly on my brand. In other words, I'm the one that decides how it's viewed. So when I do, when I presented the ultra 11 I made, I picked all the all the products that were going to be in that system. I demoed them before I knew how they sounded. I brought gobs of because we do these things in in hotel conference rooms, right? We set up these sound rooms, these big systems. And I brought I brought I brought way more sound treatment than I needed. I gave myself many days to set it up and and when people heard it, they were blown away. And it's been very successful. And we've we've introduced new models from the flagship. We've trickled down that technology across our line. But the reason and we and if you look if you ever go to our page and go to our awards page, you're I mean, I'm impressed by the number of best in show awards we get because we we make sure that we bring our A-game. And we we try to avoid making mistakes and thinking, oh, well, if it doesn't sound good this time, it's okay. Next time it'll sound better. You normally don't get that second chance at that first impression. So I think that business owners, especially, you know, brand is so important nowadays. It always has been. But it's it's it's beaten into you even at the store level of a big corporation about brand ambassadors and representing the brand. And it's it's real stuff like, you know, I'm a very practical person and I, I believe that, you know, if I just do a good job, people will see it in in that reality is all that matters. Well, I learned in the corporate world that's not the case. I hate to say it, but perception is often more important than reality. And so, yes, you have to have the merit. You have to do the hard work and all that other stuff. But if if it's not perceived that it was done, then it won't be appreciated. So you have to manage that, that perception. And it could do with how clean your store is. I mean.
Michelle: It's it's a it's a it's a pride thing. It's I mean, controlling what the brand looks like sounds like whether it's your store or like you for the people that. Super lackadaisical and it's like they haven't been in their store in a month and a half. They haven't even checked in. They haven't walked at that. You know, it's I don't I have that instance with one of my stores and I don't understand how it got to the point it got to when when like where's the pride in the brand? And I don't I'll never understand that. And I love that, that you're maniacal about it as you should be.
Damon: No, you have to be, because if you don't manage it, who is? Yeah, that's why. That's why I say you have to, you have to come at it that you have a monopoly. You know, there was a time I felt pressure from dealers. They want to be stock. They're like, hey, you know, you've got some scratch and dents. Why don't you sell it to me? A discount. This customer can't play retail, and I got caught up in that for about six months. And then I had dealers that were calling me, just asking for scratch and dents, and I realized, What am I doing? I'm undermining my own brand. I said, This is going out to new customers. Do the new customers even know this is a scratch dent or are they being kind of misled by the dealer that this is what our standard is? And by the way, their friend comes over and their friend checks out the system and there's that scratch on that beautiful automotive finish that I spent so much time working on. And I let I'm the one that let it go out there and they think, oh, this is a new speaker from Blind Schweickart, and they've got these weird scratches on or whatever. And I realize, no, I'm done. No more scratching dents. I know clearly I can control that. I'm going to take that product, fix it up, get it to the proper state, or if it's not capable of it, for whatever reason, if it was damaged in shipping or whatever, maybe I'd destroy it or salvage what I can out of it. But never since that day have I allowed scratch and dents to come out. Because that's not our brand. Our brand is a high end brand, so you have to shepherd in and it has to be in your bones. Even when I'm talking to people, I have to be careful on what I say because, you know, like I say, perception is more important than reality. And I can't assume that people know what I mean when I use a colloquial term or whatever. I have to be very measured in what I say and very specific and not be flippant. And and, you know, people people are people appreciate honesty. I'm not saying I'm not dishonest. I'm very frank to the point. It was, you know, I can I'm not afraid to say unpopular things, especially if it's needed. Right.
Michelle: I you know. Well, for those of you, because I'm sure there's a lot of people that have never heard of your brand. So I know that number.
Damon: Sure. It's the majority of people in the world. Yes.
Michelle: Well, I mean, when I was on I'm part of this group of it's called the retail superheroes. And it's basically each person of this group has their own specialty. And I put it out there about being on the podcast and a couple of partners kind of bristled at the retail whore name. And it's like, I got it. I'm like, Just so you guys, because one of them's a music, I'm like, you know, Von Schweikert audio. And he's like, Yeah, I'm like, Well, he's on tomorrow, so, so there. But you know, I for those of you who when they heard the price point of 300 something thousand and I'm sure their mouth dropped. Talk to people though why these are so I mean, you just said in a second ago an automobile. Automobile, I can't say automobile.
Michelle: Finished. So talk to people about why these are I mean, it's like a Lamborghini of fucking speaker. I mean, this is not like a Pinto or a Mercedes or like a Hummer. This is like a Lamborghini.
Damon: This is Ferrari. Okay.
Michelle: So so to say, probably doesn't even like that car, probably isn't even like the best reference for it either.
Damon: But I get your point. No, it's it's it's boutique manufacturing, right? It's bespoke heirloom loudspeakers. I mean, basically, we, we count our production in the year for the year in the tens. Right. Wow. Not in the hundreds and certainly not in the thousands, which we used to back in way back in the day. And to say that to say that the US, much less California, is a hostile environment for manufacturing is is is is an understatement. I mean, you know, there's there's not an infrastructure for making loud speakers in the US. There are a lot of companies that claim that there are US company and there but they're making it in Guangzhou, China. I know because I've had models made there. I had a line of products made in Guangzhou, China. Back in 2005 to 2008. We know about the manufacturing. I knew the challenges of having our standard for audio met because and there's a lot of reasons for it, but ultimately there's a reason why our speakers sound good is because we invest a disgusting amount of money in the cost of goods, right? The materials that we use to make audio and we're not flippant with our customers investment, we don't we don't just go buy, you know, machined aluminum cabinets. We don't even do machine aluminum cabinets because we think it's a waste of the customer's money. It's a lot of expense. And and we don't think it delivers the the performance we're trying to achieve. We think there's more elegant solutions to to making a cabinet. Most of the components that go into our speaker are either handcrafted here in the US are inductors and coils are crossover networks. A lot of them are made here in the US, but many of our parts are coming from Europe, specifically Denmark and Germany. And and those are boutique manufacturers, you know, our, our drivers alone. The things that actually make sound in the speaker, they're made most of them are in our flagships are made by Accutron, which is a German manufacturer. And the cones of the driver, you know, back in the seventies, they were paper. These are ceramic cones like eggshells. If you touch them, if you hold them and put pressure in the wrong place, it'll crack like an eggshell.
Damon: But in the right format, with the honeycomb background and and the diaphragm and everything, they'll, they'll, they'll live 100 years in these. So for example, I have we serve as the speakers. I just had a pair come in last week that were built in 1976 and we're upgrading that speaker for a customer, making it contemporary, putting new drivers, new wire, new everything. And and it's an investment. And this this person inherited the speaker from their father and in the system. So we are when I say heirloom, I mean heirloom. These these are musical instruments. They're handcrafted. And they'll last as long as as well they'll outlive me, that's for sure. And they'll outlive many of their owners. They have been outliving their owners so know.
Michelle: So now not to cut you off you now you make an heirloom Prada product and you. Oh.
Damon: By the way, the you asked about the automobile finish. So like I said, it's bespoke. We don't have widgets in a factory with SKUs on them waiting for customer to place an order. When they place an order, they're telling us what kind of finish they want. Now, most of our speakers are we do automotive finish and we do custom automotive finishes. And we have if you go to our website on Twitter.com, it's a mouthful. Good luck spelling it. You know, it's going to be we have videos up and images of of the stuff. But typically a customer will say, I want this speaker and I want the the 2018 BMW, AMG, Cardinal Red. Oh, wow. Yeah. And so we, we do that. We had a customer that wanted it was very hard finished to figure out how to do McLaren has this volcano orange that basically what it is is it's a silver undercoat and then you do tons of candy coat orange on top of it and what it gets is you get a speaker that almost looks red until you get a light on it, excuse me. And then it explodes with this beautiful sunburst candy coat. We have that on the website, too. You can see it. But these are these are hand-built and built to order. And and we have dealers and boutiques around the world that demonstrate our product. And if you get into high end audio, it's, it's it's a brutal hobby to get into because there's a very steep learning curve. And to me, understanding how to put together a system because you don't just walk into the store and buy a Bose system, you're going to go into a dealer, maybe a couple of dealers, and they're going to show you a beautiful pair of tube tube amplifiers and preamps that are made in Sarasota, Florida. Buy a vacuum tube to a vac vac. And then they're going to show you this wonderful. Well, you have to see it to believe it. But it's a turntable made by Kronos Audio, which has counter-rotating platters because they're they're mitigating distortion by by canceling the central centrifugal force of the turntable. And and you can hear it in the playback.
Damon: I mean, it's in that those are handmade up in Toronto, Canada. And so all these and by the way, our wires made in in in Michigan. So the cables that we sell master cables, so all the stuff is hand-built around the world and you put these systems together and then know and then you get to the experience is what it's all about really. You know, it's, it's for music lovers. It I get romantic when I talk about it, but it really is like a time traveling machine because I can, I can put on a record that was recorded, you know, in England in the seventies or or in California in the eighties. And I'm transported to that, that actual recording studio. And and there's a, there's a YouTube or I'll recommend called the if you want to learn about high end audio. If you have an interest, check out the audio analyst on YouTube and and I call him the the sommelier of audio. You know when when he talks about a recording he'll tell you about the pressing that he likes the musical artists where it was recorded, who worked on it, what's their history. And then he'll tell you what to listen for specific standout moments in the recording. And it's you know, it's it's an amazing experience. And I always tell people that it's the most fun you can have at home. Well, one of the most fun things you can have at home, let's say with company, you bring them over and you sit them down after dinner and you'll find the hours flash by and they can't wait to come back.
Michelle: Yeah, I remember that in my house with my my dad and his friends and the guys I don't remember the women partaking in as much is like all the guys staying.
Damon: It's always been kind of dominated, obviously. You know, I in general, in general, I think guys are fixated on things and and so cars and audio and all that. But I got to tell you, I'm seeing way more couples now. The experience that we're having now, it's not techie, it's not tiki. You don't sit there with little cups on your ears and listening and stuff. Like you just put on a record, you turn down the lights, you open up a bottle of wine and you experience it or you don't even have to analog the digital stuff. Now with streaming, you can sit there with your iPad and you can just go on a journey and experience music you've never experienced before by artists you've never heard of before. Wow. And it's you can lose yourself in it. So, yeah, it's it's an experience.
Michelle: What's your favorite way to listen to digital or an old school record?
Damon: So so the different it's like different ways of approaching it when I, when I for convenience and for experimenting, it's digital, right? Because I'm streaming straight into my into my system and I'm using an iPad to to surf surf the digital stream. But when I really want to show off my system or if I really want to hear what the system is capable of, analog is still the dominant format records vinyl. If you really want to go crazy, if you want to fall down the rabbit hole, reel to reel tape is still the best sounding stuff. And and I do that once in a while, but buying a good recording on reel to reel nowadays you're talking $500 for for a record.
Michelle: Doing somebody I interviewed a couple of weeks ago she and her husband come out of Target and they opened I mean ground up built this bought the land built the built the store three levels. And he's a music guy and the third floor is the men's department. And they've got a DJ and they've got they sell vinyl old vinyls.
Damon: It's it's awesome.
michelle: Super cool. So I was like, I wonder, I bet he knows your brand.
Damon: No, maybe we are. I got to tell you, you know, we are we're an esoteric business. We're an esoteric brand and esoteric business. You know, we we we have, I think probably the most awards of any of any other loudspeaker in high end audio in the last six years that said wow, congrats. Thank you. But you know, I'm building my brand. I'm still working on it. There are at least two other brands that are more there that are well known right there, like the pinnacle. Like when people talk about soda, they talk about Coke. I'm not even Pepsi when it comes to brand recognition, but I will say that that I know I'm doing better than they are because when I look at the U.S market, I'll find six or seven pages of those other brands and these are speakers that are less than 3 to 5 years old selling it less than 40% of what MSRP was when they came out. You can't. Find one Schweikert online because they get bought right away. And most of my customers that buy my brand, they don't even think about year again for another ten or 15 years. And that's that's that's a selling feature you can get off the there is a bit of a gear treadmill. People get on it, they just keep buying. Oh, I think I can get better sound. I'll buy this, I'll buy this. And that's not what high end idea is about. Higher dollar is about enjoying the music and the sooner I can get people off that treadmill, the the happier I am. And the reason we're still here is because even though they don't buy speakers for ten or 15 years, they come back to us when they're ready to.
Michelle: Love that brand. Brand loyalty at the high end. Highest end.
Damon: Oh, well, that's why we're still here, you know, and that's true for any business. I mean, you know, even even with with food, obviously, you can't have a bad night with a customer because they'll remember that bad night forever. You know, they you have to you have to always have your A-game. It's a it's a challenging it's a challenging standard. But you really have to and you're not going to hit it every time. But you really.
Michelle: Have that's what that's what that's what I believe it takes to have a successful brand, to build it to where you have is to have the highest standards. And I think a lot of people in business retailers forget that high standard. It's like, you know, it's okay, you know, we'll we'll get back to it next week or that and next thing you know, it's, you know, next month and your mannequin is still naked in the window.
Damon: Well, it's funny you should say before I took it over the business with my my dad, we had a problem. And it's a I'll say it's a California problem. Maybe it's a California manufacturing speaker problem. But people say, oh, that's good enough, that's good enough. Like they get something done. The speaker was built and someone would say, Oh, it's good enough. What about this thing? Oh, it's good enough. And what I found was that wasn't accepted in many parts of the world, people, it's not good enough. You know, there's different expectations. For example, my German distributor, they'll call me out if the screws aren't lined up on the driver, you know, which is you think that's kind of. Well, some people might think that's kind of crazy, but no, not for these promises.
Michelle: Oh, my God. Not yeah. When you're spending that much, they straight up better be in line.
Damon: And we were doing stuff like we had some hardware that the finish wasn't like the footers. The Finnish wasn't exactly great. And what I learned is that, you know, I need to listen to my customers and my partner was really frustrated. It's like, Oh, it's good enough. What are you talking about? I said, No, no, stop saying those words. I never want to hear those words again. I said, Let's set our standard by what they tell us it is. And that's why I often say, you know, I think we have a discussion on the first time we tried to do this is is you may create the brand but at some point especially for successful you you really aren't you don't own it in the sense that you have the liberty to do what you want with it. You now have an expectation to deliver on what the customers expect from the brand. Yeah. And, and, and maybe there are some skilled people out there that can change what the brand is to something else. But, but I haven't seen it done successfully. Not that I can think of. And I think a lot of companies, I think there's a lot of examples of people who thought they they knew what the brand was, they were the brand, whatever, and they dictated to the customer and they lost because of it.
Michelle: That would be the gap.
Damon: Yeah, Levi.
Damon: Levi did that, too. They've had a number of rough patches.
Michelle: Is that because I mean, you know, that is because they they don't have a strong direction and they they they don't have I feel like their brand dialed in and then they start losing sales and they start to panic and and hire somebody or something, hire a name that's somebody and they take the helm and then that person isn't even the brand. That person totally now has completely freaked out the the client or the the brand people that love the brand. I forget who Gap did that with one big designer, and I can't remember who it was.
Damon: It was like, I have a cautionary tale. If you have time for it, I'll keep it quick. Hub distributing. I told you I love that company and and and they were unprecedented in the amount the way they retained talent. You know, 15 year average in the corporate office. That's crazy. Right. And that was a time where everyone was kind of told, hey, if you want to get a raise, if you want to move up, you've got to bounce to a new corporation every every 3 to 5 years. And if you're not doing it, they're looking at you in HR like, oh, you're. You're not trying to improve, you're too comfortable, right? So that was all going on except at Hub. And Hub had a wildly successful in Southern California brand called Miller's Outpost. For ages, they had big box stores in strip malls. And they they they sold clothes for surfers, guys and girls, and they they sold Levi's. It was it was a very interesting business. But but then they got a CEO that worked for Limited had built some brands that limited and decided that they knew better for what was good for. For Miller's outpost. And they decided we had an in-house brand called Anchor Blue and we made a lot of money on it because it is an in-house brand. And he said, that's going to be the name of the corporation. We're switching the retail stores to Anchor Blue. And what's funny is that that same time Old Navy had kind of opened up. And if you look at Old Navy and if you're familiar with Miller's outpost, in my opinion, they completely saw all the great stuff that was going on in Miller's outpost, and they emulated it 100%, you know, with with with what they were doing, especially even like their stores or big box stores. They're freestanding this were proper term freestanding stores in strip malls. And then and then also later on, they moved them to malls. But but they were emulating us because we were doing it right. And instead we had we were trying to chase something else. We wanted to be like got packed sun or or whatever the gap, whatever brand you can think of in the mall. And and so we overnight changed our names from Miller Zappos to anchor blue people would walk in the front of the store and they'd like, Oh, I'm in the wrong store, people. No, no, no, come back, come back. It's still Zappos.
Michelle: I can't remember that because it was like all sudden Miller's outpost was gone.
Damon: Gone? Yeah. Overnight. And we didn't even like there were no radio spots, nothing to announce the name change or nothing significant. And then we said, hey, you know what? Even though Levi's a big portion of business, we don't want people. We don't want old people coming in trying to buy 500 ones or their five, 17 or whatever the heck it was. We're going to come out with our our baggy denim, which was doing good, but it was certainly not replacing Levi. And so, again, the hubris of of basically taking a very successful business and saying, no, you know, we know better. We know better what the brand is, and we're going to dictate the brand. At the same time, we were being copied for our success, and that was the beginning of the end of that I.
Michelle: Would be I always stalk that up to your chalk that up to ego. Yeah hubris somebody goes in, I've done this, that and the other. And then they start bravado ing and changing.
Michelle: And you know, and not listening to what is working.
Damon: Oh, no, no. Because he had the vision by the second round of layoffs, he was gone. By that point, the damage was done. You know, it was the the pill the poison pill had been taken. So, you know, if if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Don't take for granted that your success because you have a success every day, you run the risk of losing that out, especially if you lose your way. So I always say to anyone that cares to listen that, you know, you need to be you need to be passionate about your brand, you need to be objective about your brand, you need to be critical. And you need to know what like, like a sailboat. You need to know what rigging to pull and when to pull it. That's wisdom. And and I see we get caught up in the monthly sales. The weekly sales, like you're talking about with Levi, things weren't going good and they panicked. And then they started chasing that. They tried to be lucky brand and I mean, it's just, you know, it's it's it's it's too powerful. Brand It has its brand name because it might not be the, the hottest, most fashionable denim, but it's Levi. I mean, isn't that enough?
Michelle: Yeah, it's it's funny. They they've gone from fashion and they still they they have a division of fashion.
Damon: They always have a fashion division.
Michelle: They should always the old still the OG 501 like is still one of the top, top styles. I love that.
Damon: Yeah. So yeah, I think that's, that's, it's, it's something I took to heart, especially with my own brand.
Michelle: So, Damian, what do you do? Because obviously you're very busy running this. You have a wife and a. Daughter who is a YouTube star who was on her own. What was the vampire show she was on?
Damon: Oh. HBO's True Blood.
Michelle: So Chloe is your daughter?
Damon: She was. She was a child werewolf.
Michelle: And now she's like, I can't get over. Like, she's a total teenager now. It completely trips me out when I watch her on.
Damon: She's she's well, she had a big life change in the last couple of months. She's going to she's going to junior college because she wants to take the most efficient way to get her degree. She's almost got her AA and then she's going to go to State University. But but she's driving now. Oh, my God. She has it. And she worked as as a child, obviously. But but she she has a job that she went out that she got herself that she loves. She's doing some holiday event where she's an actress and she's paid really good money to to do these holiday halwa holiday events. And it's just a new whole chapter of her life. It's wild to see her out and about. You know.
Michelle: I'm excited for her.
Damon: And going, I.
Michelle: Know. So what do you do for inspiration and how do you unwind? Because, you know, you're not the most high strung person like me. But I do wonder how.
Damon: Oh, I'm. I'm so I can play poker. People don't think I can. But what I mean by that is. Yeah, no, I'm stressed out all the time. How would I not be? But I choose. It's weird. I choose not to be. In other words, a wise person once told me my mentor when it came to production management is that the job of the production manager is to take an infinite amount of bad news and show no emotion.
Michelle: Yeah, you really do. I will say, like, you know, I pretty much everyone knows when I'm stressed out. Like, it's not that I'm crying and weeping openly, but you you can read it on and that that.
Damon: Body language does, you know, I have to watch my body language. Yeah.
Michelle: Definitely panic I get. But you always were even in the most insane times, like when the Lord of the Flies all got together and called you at home one night and said.
Damon: And said, Here are our demands. Yes.
Michelle: You always were. Like, you even said, All right, if you're going to leave, fine, I'm going to drive down there right now and I will take the store over and that's fine. And you were so you've always been this very calm where I would be shouting obscenities. You've always been this very calm. And apparently it's it's you are really stressed out. So how do you how do you calm down? What what do you do to lower your blood pressure?
Damon: Well, okay, so I'll go back to my dad. He told me a story once, and. And I know if Chloe was here right now, she'd be groaning. But I was talking about life as well. Her I won't jump to. I'll just tell you the story. So the story is it's imaginary story. There's scientists and they're studying these two children and one child. They put in a room full of toys and everything you could want candy, toys, whatever. And the other one is put in a stable, you know, a bath. Right? Right. And they go to the and the stables like, you know, it's full of it's full of urine and manure and flies and all that stuff. So they go to the boy and the room full of toys and he's crying and they ask the little boy, Why are you crying, little boy? This is because none of these toys are mine and I'll never have anything this nice. And at some point the kid that owns all this is going to come back and I won't get to play with them. And so then they go to the the kid in the stable and he's bouncing on the haystack. He's so excited and they're like, Why are you so happy? It smells horrible in here. There's there's there's pee everywhere. It's just. I just can't wait till the pony gets here. What I took from that is that life is perception. Perception is sometimes more important than reality, and you can choose how you're going to come at it. Yeah, it was going to suck to work, you know, it was a late night. I busted my butt all day long, and now I won't have to drive an hour and a half to go to a store and shut it down and then maybe get a hotel and get there and open it in the morning. Right.
Michelle: Because the store was in Agoura and you live in Riverside.
Michelle: You just want to put that out there.
Damon: So. So if I. Yeah, it sucked but I realized that, that it wasn't going to change and I had and the only way to get through it was to just do it, pick it up and do it. And so there are times when I, I literally I'll get my chest to get tight. Like I'll feel anxiety coming on and I just say, no, I'm not, I'm not. It's I'm not saying it's easy. And in and I have suffered from. Extreme anxiety in my life to the point where I had to take medication. But but what I learned in that time, and this is just for me, is that I can't I can't reach for a pill or whatever it is. If I feel bad, I have to. It's part of the human condition. And I'm just going to choose not to dwell on the negativity. That's my problem is I'll I'll I'll I'll go over it over and over my head and that's destructive. Like, it sucks, but it's not going to get better by dwelling on it. So yeah that's that's my in OC and I also you asked how I unwind. Yes. So I, I'm constantly checking in on myself. You know, I work hard, but I also play hard and and I think that for a healthy life, you have to have you know, you have to have friends. You have to have hopefully, if you're lucky, you got to love in your life. You need to work out. You need to play, you need to work. You need you need all those things to be balanced. And if one of them is falling out of whack, if you're losing the ground, then you have to go and put extra effort into that area. So for me, you know, I try to work hard. I think about my day at the end of the day, what I did good, what I could have done better. And then I let it go and I'm like, Nope, this is now this is my time. And I, you know, it's funny, I grew up in the video game world in video arcades, so I still play video games sometimes online. I like them because they engage my mind without they they they give me something else to think about. I like brain puzzles, so that's fun. And I and I like to in the last couple of years, I have always loved vintage Italian scooters and my wife now that has grown up. My wife finally I talked about it for 30 years. She was sick of hearing about it if I just go buy one. So I did. And, and I like to work on it and I love to write it. And now I've got a second one. It's a project bike. So that's what I did on one.
Michelle: I love it. Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Damon: Oh, if I'm lucky, stop it. I'm on the ten year plan to retirement. I'm not that. I'm not that I'm going to be able to retire in ten years. But but I need to make that the focus of my career, focus for the next ten years. And the reason so so succession planning is so critical in a business, right? It's you know, I was my dad was able to retire because I was there to take over the reins and keep the business going. And I've knock on wood, I've already got my successor and I need to develop them and have them ready so that they can do everything when I'm not there. And that means, you know, they're busy doing something and I'm going to do something. I'll grab them. I'll pull them in here. Let's sit down. I'm going to I have to do this part of the business. You need to learn it.
Michelle: And I love.
Damon: That it's well, it's good for them, too. I mean, they obviously know they've got job security. As long as they're in business, they'll be there. And what I'm grooming them for and and and and I'm also I want them to start grooming their successor, successor as soon as I'm out of the picture. So yeah. So that's my ten year plan is it may be 15 years, who knows? But I mean, there's people doing what I'm doing that are 20 years my senior. So it's not guaranteed. And I don't know, I like what I do, so I don't know that I'll want to retire necessarily. But I wonder.
Michelle: What the hell you're going to do not doing that.
Damon: I Yeah, that's the thing. Like I think that for me to stop, to not be doing something would be a death sentence. I, you know me, I, I, I have fun at work. I mean, I take great enjoyment out of it.
Michelle: So back to operations.
Damon: You know, I'm always, you know, operations is my, you know, people start telling me about something they need and my operational training kicks in. They'll tell I always liken it to they'll tell me they want a cheeseburger and I'll stop them. I slow down. Let's talk about your hunger. Let's get to the core of it. And then that's that's my operational training.
Michelle: So I love it. Thank you so much for spending this time with me. I really appreciate it. We're going to link all the information about your brand as well as the YouTube audio analyst link so people can look it up. But I, you know, I love sharing this time with you. Like I can't thank you enough.
Damon: Oh, my pleasure. No, thank you for having me. I hope the audio comes out pretty good this time. We'll see.
Michelle: And that is a wrap. Thank you all so much for joining me on today's episode. I really appreciate it. And be sure to tune in every Wednesday for more stories and lessons from a life in retail. And don't forget to follow us on Instagram at the retail whore podcast, and you can find us online at the retailwhorepodcast.com