With a company like CV Lloyde — one that has been around for generations and generations — it is extremely easy to gaze into the past to see what the history of the store has held, and how the legacy of such an establishment has made an impact upon the Champaign-Urbana community. Sure, those things are all good and well, but after a long discussion with Stephen Morris, President of CV Lloyde, the topics of discussion were much different than I had anticipated.
You might take the news of CV Lloyde’s storefront in Downtown Champaign closing in a negative sense, but rather, you should look at it on the contrary — this is a positive move. The longtime music relator was established back in 1867, originally as Lloyde & Peterson Book and Music Store. Although the history is long and in-depth in many ways, I’m not here to really discuss that idea, honestly. You can read all about that on your own, as they spell it out for you. After my discussions with Morris, it was apparent that the company had a much longer vision in mind.
After the news came out a few months back, and taking a dive into the News-Gazette’s feature on Lloyde himself, I began to think more about the future of the establishment and what form it would take as a continuing business in Champaign-Urbana. I discussed Morris’ role within the company, which shed some light on his position after decades of working there, and his relationship with Lloyde.:
If we take it and answer it all inclusive, I started my role as I am the President and CEO of the company and the majority shareholder. There are two owners — CV and myself, and I’m the majority shareholder. That began in 2009, when I left California and working out there 11 years, I left JBL as Executive Vice President of Sales to come back and begin this phase. It gave me an opportunity to get my kids back in the area, raise them in the Midwest. We’re living back in St. Joseph, and they’re going to the same schools as I went to. That was a conscious plan. Knowing C.V. and I have remained friends — my first 10 years of working with C.V., we became more than just employee/employer. We became close friends as well.
Although Morris was in distant California for the better portion of two decades, he discussed how he remained very close with Lloyde, always wanting to stay in touchw ith him. He mentioned how they always had a “backburner” idea of what would happen if he returned after “running around in the corporate world” — which was an interesting scenario for the duo. Well, they became much more serious about that idea once 2009 rolled around, which brought upon their business relationship.
From the early days of his high school years, Morris was renting PAs from Lloyde, and practically doing anything he could to work at the store. He was managing a lot of sound for bands during the mid-80s, and it was a very busy time. He began to bug Lloyde about working there — and after numerous “no” answers, the sales manager took pity on him, saying, “OK — you can clean the toilets and be our janitor.” More odd jobs within the structure of the store came and went for Morris, and he began working more within the PA rental business side of CV Lloyde:
I was doing concerts — one and two night concerts — providing sound reinforcement for concerts for live internationally recording aritsts who would come in and do the small market (which this is). It wouldn’t be uncommon for a Black Crowes or a Dokken, or even Bon Jovi (although they were new and up-and-comers), but they’d open for Aerosmith. They would leave the big Aerosmith gig out of Peoria, come down here do a one-off, and then catch back up with them in Chicago. So I was a part of that sound crew as the young one, and having my come-uppens of just running around and being part of the sound crew. That’s how that started. So I was going to school at Parkland, I was working the graveyard shift at Richard’s stocking shelves, and then working here in the afternoons.
I couldn’t help but ask after that portion of our conversation: “Did you sleep?” followed with a chuckle, although I was fairly serious when posing that question. Morris did that for about a year and half. “I wouldn’t change it for the world. That’s how I learned” he said.
His passion followed what Lloyde had established as the standard within the company — as the customer service ethos was always there, and the passion for music was huge.
I definitely wanted to learn from the guy. The guy was C.V. He was known as the King of Sound in this area. I wanted to learn from someone who was well-respected and had a brand that was iconic. That’s C.V. Once I started working here, it wasn’t very soon that it was more and just his product knowledge — it’s the culture that exitss here. The attention towards the customer is unsurpassed here. He taught us how to create our role within the environment — the live environment or when working with customers in the store.
CHANGE WAS COMING
Morris and the rest of the crew at C.V. Lloyde knew change was coming, as the industry was adapting to the large companies “downsizing their systems and getting into [small] markets.” The big companies were able to invade the small markets and compete at a very reasonable price. “The 900 pound gorilla was now in our backyard” Morris said. “They had the best inventories, which were always changing, and they had relationships with the big acts. So we needed to diversify.”
That’s when C.V. Lloyde’s contracting division began and was fleshed out and developed.
The contracting division was developed, and was to really get us in an area where it was our forte — sound reinforcement at the time — but do it on a fixed-installation basis because so many churches that were selling keyboards and guitars to wanted us to install their soundsystems as well. So that’s how it began. Our audio-visual installation and integration group is addressing K-12 and higher education, hospitality (which are hotels and convention centers), restaurants and retail, clothing stores, bars, public transportation, and any location that can take advantage of digital signage. That is a big part of our growth right now.
So as the “new” branch of the company was born in the late 80s. However, it received new and large investment, which took place in 2009 when Morris rejoined the company as a partner.
The C.V. Lloyde brand continued, and through product knowlege, demonstration, and everything in between, they maintained the ability to continue under their business model with the additional dimensions. The reality of the situation was — that in 2009, C.V. Lloyde put together a business plan that would be fulfilled in five years, which is 2014. The storefront was to close in 2014, and it did. But why? Well, it’s no secret that online music retail was fairly healthy, and C.V. Lloyde had to adapt to the growth of the internet. Morris continued:
We have coexisted with the strength and everyday growth of the internet. In a retail environment — it is pretty difficult for you to carry on a long-term business plan in retail if you don’t have a healthy onine presence. Whether that’s service or sales of new product. Those who are going to exist in the size in which they think they are today, will most likely prove to be more and more difficult every day unless they have some form of online presence. That may just be a healthy website marketing their services, as opposed to maybe selling as a online distributor, these retail and musical instruments. They are going to need to have something. You can’t kick it, you can’t ignore it, you can’t stick your head in the sand, you can’t act like it’s not there, you can’t fight it, or you will lose. We chose not to fight it, and co-exist and do what we wanted to do knowing that there is another reason, an additional reason, as to why we are retiring retail with C.V.’s retirement — our business model and our plans — we’re just acting on the five year plan that was made five years ago, we’re in our fifth year.
This is a conscious decision for us to do this, because we wanted to take our brand equity and all of our strength and parlay every bit of it to the audiovisual integration group because that is our future. So we made a decision to not try and be all things to all people with our longevity of our retail space, we chose to be as good as we can be whatever we’re going ot be, which is A/V, and focus all of our resources there, so there is no compromise in our services at all. I don’t want to compromise the amount of inventory or fight the concepts of “well you need more inventory to be relevant” or “ you need this service or this online presence”. We weren’t willing to continue that because we didn’t see us being happy with that on how we were perceived. Therefore that decision was actually made five years ago.
A STRONG FUTURE
When a lot of people see a storefront closing, as discussed previously, it is easy to immediately look downward. With the new storefront and an adjusted mission — things are good in the C.V. Lloyde world:
You put a sign in the window that says “We’re Moving”, many people will read into that all that they want to read into that. We threw the articles in The News-Gazette, through the quick little snippet on WCIA, and future areas on our new website, a new video — it will be clear about our presence and our strength and who we are and what we’re doing. And with that, the back-end with that is what we aren’t anymore. It is a very positive image, it is because of growth and strength — as we’re a stronger company than we’ve ever been — but in order to make sure the market sees that, we have been blessed to see the amazing response from the market. Everyone is saying “That makes sense — I see that”. There hasn’t been one friend, customer, relative, or just a loyalist or a bystandard, who has come through the doors or called us on the phone that hasn’t been supportive of what we’re doing. They get it. I think they get it. Once they see what we’re doing people understand.
With all of that said — there has to be another five year plan in the works. I asked Morris where he sees the company in five years:
Now that we’ve reached the end of our five year plan, a new five year plan is in the works as we speak, and will be inked and ready to go with goals — as we’re a goals-driven organization. We’re not “best efforts”. We don’t just exist to keep people employed or just do our best and see how the chips fall. We’re a decisive company, we have metrics and we hold ourselves responsible to those goals, financially as well as within our staffing, and the next five year plan is in the works. That five year plan will have annualized goals that have to be met. There will be metrics that we will hold ourselves accountable to.
In five years, there will be more staff, more trucks, and an equal levee/concept of how busy we are. It will fill our time. I expect it to fill our time. I expect we will be focusing all of our resources into one P&L, not two P&Ls. One business.
Top photo by Sam Logan.