Gary Arnold was a big man with a huge heart — and he had an immeasurable impact on the music industry during his 18 years at Best Buy.
Gary, once among the most powerful retail executives in the entertainment business, died Monday following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 64.
“He was an icon at Best Buy. He was an icon in the music industry,” said Shari Ballard, Best Buy’s president of multichannel retail. “And he was a remarkable and lovely human being.”
Gary joined Best Buy in 1994 as a music merchandising manager and rose to the rank of senior vice president of entertainment marketing during the peak of the CD and advent of the DVD. He left the company in 2012 to start his own consulting firm.
He is perhaps best known for helping launch exclusives into the music business, a strategy first used when Best Buy offered a free interview disc with the purchase of The Beatles “Anthology” compilation album. He later secured an exclusive for Guns N’ Roses’ long-awaited “Chinese Democracy” release in 2008.
He believed those releases were the way to get customers in the door. “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 in an interview last year.
Gary also launched Best Buy’s Redline Entertainment label, which created and distributed original music and video content. He also launched the “Find ‘Em First” program that was aimed at discovering lesser-known musical artists.
He was the first retailer elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s prestigious nominating committee, and he served as a board member for the Grammy Foundation and the Tony Hawk Foundation.
‘He was grand’
In some ways, Gary was a seemingly larger-than-life figure. He stood 6-foot-8 and always wore black.
“He was grand, not only in physical stature but also in personality and in his commitment to things,” said Gary’s son Josh, who works in marketing at Best Buy. “He really dove headfirst into everything he did and put his whole heart and soul into things.”
Nowhere was that more clear than in Gary’s love for music, which he developed as a young boy growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He worked in a record store as a teenager and later for several record labels.
While at Best Buy, he developed strong relationships with many of the artists with whom he worked. He was known by a variety of nicknames, including “The Big Man,” “Man in Black” and “Garno.”
“He was just grounded, and people clicked with that,” Josh said. “He wasn’t pretentious. He was loving and caring. He treated everybody with the same level of respect, whether you were a big-name talent or the gardener.”
Gary is survived by his wife Carol, five children and one granddaughter.