Gary Arnold, one of the most powerful retail executives to impact the music industry, succumbed to cancer early yesterday morning.
A former executive at Trans World Entertainment and Hollywood Records, Arnold joined Best Buy in 1994 as music merchandise manager at a time when packaged music was a critical sales and traffic driver for the burgeoning specialty chain.
Within a year he launched the first in a series of Best Buy music exclusives — a complimentary Beatles interview CD included with every purchase of the band’s “Anthology 1” collection — which helped make the retailer a force in the music industry.
“Traffic is important and we found when there is an exciting offering of differentiated product, it drove a lot of traffic to the benefit of the stores,” he told Billboard last September.
Arnold was promoted to entertainment marketing senior VP, and later senior VP of Best Buy’s U.S. entertainment business, which included movies, music, gaming and PC software. In those roles he helped secure such retail exclusives as the Rolling Stones’s “Four Flicks” and “Biggest Bang” concert DVD debuts; the first sales of Guns N’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” release; and the live-streamed encore of The Police’s final concert at Madison Square Garden.
Arnold, second from left, was a supporter of Farm Aid and “had a heart of gold,” said the fund’s sponsorship director Dennis Gorg (far left). He’s seen here with “The Big Man” at a Farm Aid event with associate director Glenda Yoder and former Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson [photo courtesy Farm Aid].
He also launched the retailer’s Redline Entertainment division, which developed and distributed original music and film content.
In 1999 Arnold became the first retailer to serve on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s nominating committee, and was a member of The Grammy Foundation’s board for six years.
By 2007, after digital downloading had upended the music industry, Arnold was named senior entertainment officer in a major reorganization that gave executive VP Shari Ballard control over Best Buy’s waning entertainment business.
He left the chain in 2011 to found his own technology and entertainment consultancy.
In a tribute on his Facebook page, rock guitarist Joe Satriani wrote: “We lost our good friend Gary Arnold today. He signed Chickenfoot to Best Buy and became an honorary member of The Foot because he was such a wonderful force of nature and an amazing person. Cancer finally took him down, all 6’ 8” of him. We lovingly called him Darth Vader, and The Big Man. We will miss him.”
Arnold is survived by his wife Carol and five children.