By Jim Schutze
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By Lauren Drewes Daniels
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Bruce Goldberg doesn't have much time to talk. Every few minutes, the phone begins beeping incessantly, meaning someone on the other line is placing an order. And if the other line isn't ringing, one of his six full-time employees is trying to get his attention so they can fill an order. Goldberg is trying to carry on three or four conversations at once, all while he continues loading up padded packing envelopes and boxes. Weathermen Records, the online record store Goldberg has been operating out of his Carrollton home since 1991, is usually pretty busy (Goldberg says he and his staff ship 200-300 packages every day), but today is special.
Weathermen, located on the Internet at www.theweathermen.com, just received shipment of the long-awaited new Nine Inch Nails album, The Fragile, and Goldberg and his employees are busily trying to accommodate some 1,200 pre-orders, mailing them out today so Weathermen's customers will receive their copies when the disc hits stores on September 21. "And that's just today's allotment," Goldberg says, sighing. "It's crazy." Of course, Goldberg wouldn't expect any less. In fact, he'd be disappointed if Weathermen weren't swamped with orders; The Fragile will almost assuredly debut on top of the Billboard charts this week, and Goldberg wants a piece of the action. He's been looking forward to this week for five years, since Nine Inch Nails released its last disc, 1994's The Downward Spiral.
"I'm the largest distributor of Nine Inch Nails merchandise, probably in the world," Goldberg, 32, proudly proclaims. "We started the company back in '91, and it's funny because..." He trails off and begins yelling over his shoulder. "What? I don't have it, dude. Sorry, all hell's breaking loose over here. I mean, we carry other things, but we just kept growing and growing, and then we just kind of got adopted by [Nine Inch Nails] and by the merchandise management company. I was just really into them in college and stuff. I think the reason why I started with them is because I needed something with a nice assortment of products to carry. I really never knew that it'd be this big when I started it."
Weathermen has come a long way since Goldberg opened the store soon after graduating from college. He began looking for work in the music industry, but he wasn't having much luck. Bill Wisener, owner of Bill's Records and Tapes, offered Goldberg a job setting up and running an online mail-order site for the store. "But he wasn't really willing to pay me anything, so I decided to do it by myself," Goldberg says. "Now, he's kind of kicking himself. Because he's got the stuff. He's got a lot of goods, but he just doesn't know how to market it."
But Goldberg did, and he's seen Weathermen almost double in size every year since its inception. The store began as a hobby, with Goldberg selling items from his personal collection until he began doing enough business to allow him to start circulating a print catalog and amassing ample stock to fill it. As soon as the Internet became a viable option, Goldberg began setting up mail-order Web sites. "It's weird, because people just started accepting me as the place on the Internet to get alternative music merchandise way back when," he says.
Now, Goldberg operates 16 Web sites -- among them, www.nineinchnails.net/news, nineinchnailsdirect.com, and his most recent addition, thefragile.com, as well as the Weathermen site -- that sell his products, including CDs, videos, T-shirts, and just about anything you can slap a Nine Inch Nails logo on. Goldberg also has around 580 affiliate sites, people that sell his merch on a commission basis. In addition, Weathermen holds more than 1,400 auctions at eBay, the online auction house (www.ebay.com), every week. All together, the traffic on these sites resulted in Weathermen shipping more than 45,000 packages last year, and Goldberg estimates that by the end of this year, the store will have mailed out twice that amount.
"Some companies carry one or two Nine Inch Nails shirts and stuff like that," Goldberg says. "We've always carried everything that the band has put out, like 30 or 40 shirts at one time. Let's say there's a CD that comes out in the United States, and it also comes out in Australia, Japan, and Europe -- we'll carry every version of it so collectors can pick up everything. And even though we're not as big as CDNow and stuff, we do offer different products that they'd never find. I actually go to different states looking for old tour merchandise to purchase that nobody else has." He pauses. "You gotta give the people what they want, you know?"