This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of WiFi HiFi Magazine.
I didn't have to ask very many questions. Bruce Schepers, 63, loves to talk about the business in which he has thrived for 46 years. If I had one challenge, it was to get Bruce to talk about his life outside of the business, aside from a boast about how lucky he is that his wife has put up with his work.
"I don't have a hobby," he says. "And I don't like golf enough to actually pay money for it. When you're working all the time, you socialize with who you work with."
Bruce's personal life and the audio video business are inextricably linked. And perhaps that is one reason for his success. Bruce is LG's Vice President of Sales for Home Electronics. His business relationships go deeper than most, and the line between business acquaintances and personal friends is blurred. His collection of stories goes deeper still, with each one funnier than the last.
I met Bruce in a secret location, a unique Italian restaurant with a focus on salumi e formaggi. Why secret? Because this restaurant is a treasure shared with him by someone who does not want it overrun. Bruce is in his environment. The staff knows and loves him, and delivers his favourite cocktail, Camomila, essentially a robust grappa infused with chamomile tea, served on the rocks. An astounding array of salads, prosciutto, capicollo with honey, soppressata, and pecorino appears almost instantly. Bruce plunks a bottle of California old vine Zinfandel on the table and proudly announces, "Fifteen bucks corkage," appealing to my frugal Scottish side.
Chatting with Bruce about his history gives insight to his work ethic. His norms were forged in the early ‘70s at the Canadian National Exhibition in the Akai, Sansui or Telefunken booth, working 14 hours a day for 21 days straight. In those early days, he also observed some benchmarks of salesmanship. Bruce loved telling the story of a Sunday promotion at International Stereo's Mississauga location in the late ‘70s. The owner had all the right contacts in the German community and media. They had an event in full swing with the bratwurst on the barbeque and the flags flying outside. Bruce describes the scene. "Inside the store, they were four-deep at the counter trying to get a salesman's attention. That's when I witnessed the fastest sales close I've ever seen in my life. A mentor of mine at the store, Bob Thomson, was behind the counter when a customer managed to squeeze into an opening at the counter and said to Bob, ‘Excuse me sir, I'm looking for a turntable.' Bob handed him a blank invoice and said, ‘Put your name right here. I'll go get it for you.'"
In the early ‘80s, The Toronto Sun ruled the media for print advertising. The biggest advertisers were the power chains: Hi Fi Express, Majestic Sound Warehouse, and Multi Tech. Bruce was responsible for purchasing of all products and ad placements for Majestic, and incredibly, also handled all the advertising content as well, including planning every product that would be included for 27 full pages a week! There simply was no personal time.
There were perks, however. It seemed that every vendor had a dealer trip to the Caribbean. Bruce remembers being on exactly the same cruise ship sailing to exactly the same destination in the same year at two different times, with two different vendors. Even The Toronto Sun took its big retailer advertisers down to Florida every February to spend some time at Blue Jays spring training camp in Duneden.
"I remember," Bruce recalls, "meeting the principals of the drug store chain Hy & Zel's down there. A year later, I was back in Toronto at House of Chan, sitting at the bar waiting for my table on a rainy Tuesday night. There was a guy sitting across from me at the other side of the bar. He looked familiar, but I couldn't put a name to his face. So I looked over and said ‘hi,' and he said, ‘No, Zel.'"
In the mid ‘80s, Bruce continued his non-stop work weeks, setting up the electronics division for Club Biz, and then buying into and growing Stereo Den from six stores to 24 before selling his shares in ‘94.
Bruce then decided to move on from the retail side, and began his career with Pioneer, where he is best known for nurturing the Elite brand for 20 years. Elite created a margin opportunity for retailers, and unlike imitators, never expanded the distribution to the national or regional chains. His role with Pioneer led to even more travel. "After being to Japan about 70 times, my biggest regret is that although I was hotel and restaurant savvy in speaking Japanese, I didn't know a single Kanji written character. For those who always had trouble programming their VCR, or navigating the menu on their TV, those are simple tasks compared to understanding the control panel on a Japanese restroom appliance."
As I survey the dinner table, I realize that Bruce's hobby has been right under my nose. Being an entertaining host, discerning gourmand, and oenophile takes practice. And Bruce has decades of it under his belt.