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Best Buy Employee: ‘High School Kids’ Will Replace Skilled Magnolia Staff

Skilled Magnolia personnel will leave the company when salaries drop to $12.56/hour, says an anonymous Best Buy district-level employee. Best Buy counters: 'It's not that cookie cutter.'


Who will sell Magnolia’s bread-and-butter $15,000 home theaters? Image from Thomas Grace Construction

Skilled A/V personnel at Magnolia stores will be replaced by inexperienced high-school kids in a major reorganization, according to a district-level Best Buy employee who asked not to be identified.

Apparently, the restructuring will include pay cuts of up to 40 percent. "We’ve known there was going to be restructuring, but the details are leaking out," he says.

He tells us that at least three Magnolia associates who currently make $17 to $18 per hour cited a new wage of $12.56 per hour -- typical of Best Buy's "line-level employees," aka the Blue Shirts, he says.

Apparently, June 3 will be the last day of regular pay.

Best Buy spokesperson Justin Barber cautions, "One employee's particular experience is not necessarily the same for the [Best Buy] masses."

He explains that the changes at Best Buy, as well as its Geek Squad and Magnolia franchises, are "not that cookie cutter."

At least two years ago, Barber says, "We had announced we would look at the organization as whole -- who to shuffle around, how to better allocate the resources we have."

Ultimately, he explains, "It's all about getting in front of more customers."

Losing the Best People?

Our caller wonders who exactly will be getting in front of those customers. With the alleged pay cuts, he suggests, the experts will give way to amateurs.

"They’re going to lose their best people," he says. "I imagine as people quit – you’ll probably have a mass amount leaving – their positions will be filled by PSAs (personal shopping assistants) or CAs (customer assistants) who are basically unskilled labor units – kids in high school who walk around the store with a broad knowledge of nothing."

Even as a high-schooler working at Best Buy, Maggie was one of the smart and conscientious ones (spoken like a proud step-mom). But could she learn to sell $15,000 home theaters?
Barber would not confirm that there would be across-the-board salary cuts for experienced A/V technicians.

He would only offer, "There are indeed some jobs being eliminated, also some being added, and some getting shuffled around."

When asked if Best Buy fears a mass exodus of talent, Barber hedged.

"Some people whose pay was affected, there are things being put into place so they have time to find other positions [within Best Buy]," he says.

At the same time, Barber explains, Best Buy is creating some "leadership roles in the stores and giving them more face time with customers, so there will be an elevated experience for more people."

Our caller isn't convinced.

"It’s just crazy how similar this seems to what happened at Circuit City," he says.

Indeed, Circuit City was widely criticized for replacing its experienced A/V salespeople and installers with more affordable, but apparently ineffective personnel.

Our source sees a similar fate if not for Best Buy then for Magnolia. The $15,000 media rooms that are the specialty store's "bread and butter," he says, will evaporate because there won't be experts left to sell and install those systems.

Earlier this year, Best Buy closed seven of its 13 stand-alone Magnolia stores, and Best Buy corporate took over operations of the other six.

In 2007, Best Buy closed six other Magnolia stores because of “our desire to transform the model to become a more service-oriented provider,” said spokesperson Sue Busch back then.

Since then, Geek Squad has taken over the home theater installations for both Best Buy and the in-store Magnolia shops.

Arlen Schweiger contributed to this article

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Article Topics

News · Big-Box Retailers · Big-box Retailers · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson. [More by Julie Jacobson]

26 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by B STANLEY  on  04/13  at  08:19 PM

That sucks! Looks like the end of an era for Magnolia, although I knew it’s happen sooner or later.
My thoughts go out to a lot of friends that I have still working there.
Next thing they’ll do is put shopping carts in the stores, and dust will gather on all of the higher end equipment on display.
Very Sad.

Posted by CR  on  04/13  at  09:11 PM

“Barber would not confirm that there would be across-the-board salary cuts for experienced A/V technicians.”

He can’t/won’t confirm this, obviously, since experienced A/V techs don’t exist within the organization.  The level of crap they are pumping out to the masses deserves no more than 12 bucks per hour.

Posted by Andrew  on  04/13  at  10:20 PM

This is 100% fact. It didn’t only affect Magnolia pros either - all “specialized” sales positions, such as Magnolia Pros, Appliance Pros, Personal Shopping Assistants, and Best Buy for Business Pros, were eliminated. Very few of those people did not get a pay cut.

As for those who like to rant and rave about Best Buy - there were those of us who took intense pride in our jobs and roles, and many times we are also the ones who are very experienced indeed. It may not be immediately due to the economy, but I can guarantee that I will not be with this company 6 months from now in any capacity. All I have for my hard work is a pair of injured feet and a long record of being taken advantage of.

Posted by Kilroy  on  04/13  at  11:05 PM

If this is true, I think that it is sad that companies feel that they do not need to pay for skilled employees.  When BB entered the specialty CE market by purchasing Magnolia, I was very skeptical that they could make it work.  I felt this was not their area of expertise.  If these plans are true I think that they are proving what I was thinking about them.

Posted by Britton  on  04/14  at  03:13 AM

While elements of this story are somewhat accurate. I don’t think it is entirely fair.  I work for the company and I feel that everything was handled very well considering the state of CE.  I am not sure what I am allowed to say, but what I can say is that BestBuy has been very gracious in their handling of the issue with its current employees.  I have seen many of my fellow CE counterparts being put out with no notice at other smaller companies.  In all fairness BestBuy has always done well by its employees.  This is from someone who comes originally from the custom industry, but is happy to have the ability to move up within a larger company.  I know our ranks will continue to be filled with the specialists where it counts and that is in the customer’s home.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  04/14  at  06:11 AM

Britton, I generally agree with your sentiments and believe BB will do what it can to help employees during the transition. These are tough times and every company is making cuts, so you can hardly blame BB for doing the same.

My step daughter works for BB in customer service and as a cashier as she attends college, and has had a very positive experience.

The big question is: how important are the higher-paid Magnolia sales/design associates? Will they stick around amid pay cuts? And will their lower-cost replacements be as effective?

Posted by Henry Unger  on  04/14  at  11:42 AM

In my experience, those working in the Magnolia sections of Best Buys I have been in were no more knowledgeable than those working in other areas at Best Buy, and certainly not comparable to those working at specialty A/V retailers.

I don’t think it is fair to malign “high school kids”—there are a lot of very smart ones out there.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  04/14  at  11:51 AM

Henry, I’d like to think my stepdaughter (first job Best Buy) was one of the smart ones. But does smart-and-eager trump experience in a particular field? Maybe, maybe not.

Posted by Lee Distad  on  04/14  at  12:00 PM

The reality is that abandoning commission-based compensation in favour of some sort of illusory “cost cutting” has killed customer service at many retailers.  We can all point to counter-examples of sleazy greasy salesmen but at the end of the day, who’s going to work harder and generate more business, the guy with kids and a mortgage, or the student who gets paid the same trivial amount no matter how much or how little they work?  Where’s the incentive to excel if it’s not on your paycheck?

Posted by jeffzek  on  04/14  at  12:52 PM

All independent A/V companies should see this as another opportunity to gain market share.  Everyone is shopping price, but no one likes poor or marginal service.  Just like the philosophy from the Art of War “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”,understanding your competition and the strategies they employ will make you a better competitor.  One example is how many A/V companies ask for marketing dollars from their vendors?  Every retailer does including BB.  You should too.  Take the opportunity to find a diamond in the rough from their soon to be departing staff. Every big box retailer is grabbing at straws to squeeze out every penny of profit to keep Wall Street and their investors happy.  One of the first areas to cut are employee wages and benefits.  This is a short sighted approach that has imploded many companies both private and public.  Quality, knowledgeable employees are the backbone of all companies.  Capitalize now, pursue marketing dollars and emphasize your credentials and certifications.

Have a profitable day.

Jeff Haynes
VP Sales
Zektor Inc.

Posted by CC  on  04/14  at  01:11 PM

“Skilled Employees” my ass.  These drooling clowns dont have even a basic understanding of these modern systems.  Any time I go into one of their stores to buy a component for one if my clients, I’m astonished at the complete absence of any knowledge, training or basic sales professionalism I am treated to.  The main problem is that no one works on commission, a basic premise in professional selling.  Their new touchy-feely socalist approach to getting paid whether you work or not has clearly shown the inevitable results.

I’m sure that a few enthusuastic high school kids will do a far better job then the current crop of slackers and loosers currently getting paid for doing nothing.

Posted by Greg Pass  on  04/14  at  01:43 PM

We just helped a customer with a Magnolia nightmare.  He could not figure out why his amplifier did not work after Magnolia installers connected the speaker outputs of the amp directly to the line level inputs on another amp that they sold him to expand his system.  It’s time BB realizes that they cannot compete and make money in the CI business.  Until then we will continue to make money cleaning up their mess.

Posted by Julie jacobson  on  04/14  at  01:51 PM

To be fair, “custom” guys screw up too. The question is: is shoddy work endemic to the org?

Posted by CC  on  04/14  at  05:12 PM

Shoddy work is endemic to any system that is not merit-based.  And in this case Merit = Comission = Motivation to know something about what you’re doing.  It’s human nature to compete.  Any time you try to circumvent human nature, the system will fail.  Eliminating competetion in business will be deadly to the American system of business.  This goes back as far as “feminists” and liberal teachers in the public school system eliminating scoring in sports because someone’s feelings might get hurt.  Wise up before it’s too late.

Posted by NC  on  04/14  at  06:34 PM

Here is the thing. What Best Buy had to do with the pay cuts sucks- no doubt about it. As a retail employee there and being one of the people affected by the change, I am quite frankly thankful that they didn’t just ELIMINATE our jobs. The economy is going through rough times, and the reason why Best Buy has not seen the fate of Circuit City is because it does re-organizations. Best Buy makes changes that makes current business sense.

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