Who: Crazy Eddie
When: 1971 – 1989
What: Crazy Eddie, one of the most famous brands in the New York Tri-State area, started in 1971 with one location in Brooklyn. It was run by Eddie Antar, whose high-pressure sales techniques and accounting creativity turned that one store into a regional chain covering four states and 43 locations, and with more than $300 million in sales. The chain specialized in discount electronics, but later expanded into music sales. But more than their prices or goods Crazy Eddie was known for their advertising, which featured a hyper pitchman named Jerry Carroll. Carroll’s frenetic, absurdly comic delivery was so effective many people assumed he was Crazy Eddie.
What happened: Turns out the secret to Antar’s success was simple – he was a total crook. Almost from the beginning Antar skimmed profits, cheated wholesalers, and lied to customers. He sent his cousin, Sam E. Antar, through college to become an accountant, then hired him at Crazy Eddie to help cook the books. He tricked auditors performing inventory counts by shifting merchandise between stores and by passing empty boxes off as real inventory. And as if all that wasn’t ballsy enough, Antar decided to take his chain public in 1983. In order to make it look like store profits were increasing, he simply stole less. While actual profits from 1980-83 rose about 13% a year, reported profits rose nearly 171%. Seems reasonable enough.
Less than three years after going public in September 1984, the entire scheme was close to unraveling completely. The stock price plummeted from a high of more than $75 to $17.50, but not before Eddie cashed out almost $30 million worth of stock. The company was bought by a private investor in 1987, and the Antars were out. The entire family was soon served with subpoenas by the SEC, and the period between ’87 and ’89 was a haze of store closings and lawsuits. Crazy Eddie officially filed for Chapter 11 in the summer of 1989. There have been a few brief flirtations with reviving the brand, but none has succeeded.
Who: Bugle Boy
When: 1977 – 2001
What: Bugle Boy too had its origins in scandal, but in a different way. Founder William Mow (born Mow Chao We in 1936), who emigrated from China to the United States with his family in 1949, first made his name in the electronics industry. He invented a method to test large-scale integrated semi-conductor chips, and armed with nearly $2 million in venture capital funding started a company called Macrodata. In the mid ’70s Mow’s partner accused him of falsifying the value of the company’s inventory (sound familiar?), which led to an SEC investigation.
Mow managed to clear his name but was effectively out of the electronics business thanks to a three-year non-competition clause he signed. So he did what any troubled electronics mogul would do in a similar situation – he started an apparel company called Buckeroo International. After four years of major financial struggles, the company (since renamed Bugle Boy) caught fire in ’83-’84 thanks to a line of casual nylon twill pants adorned with zippers. You and I know them as parachute pants! Bugle Boy sold millions of parachute pants and also was quite popular with the denim jeans crowd.
But not all good things can last, alas. By the late ’90s Bugle Boy, unable to keep up with the fickleness of the youth of today, fell on hard times. They went after any market they could think of – young women, golfers, discount shoppers, t-shirts, you name it. In a desperate move they opened their own chain of retail outlets, but that just seemed to make things worse. Long story short, they barely made it to the 21st century before filing for bankruptcy in February 2001.
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