Bull Moose, a mainstay in the state’s music retail world for over 30 years, has been sold to its employees, the company announced Tuesday. 

The Maine-based music and entertainment chain operates 11 locations across Maine and New Hampshire. Bull Moose has over 140 employees, according to a news release announcing the sale. 

With employee ownership, often known as an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, a company’s employees own shares in the company or the right to the value of shares in the company. 

Founder and owner Brett Wickard said in an interview that he will stay on as interim CEO and chair of the board of directors during the ESOP transition, for “as long as it is necessary and as short as is reasonable.”

While severing his ties with the business in any official capacity, he has offered to stay on as an “unpaid, trusted adviser forever,” he said.

With the sale, Wickard said he hopes to build a platform for employees to have more control and input into the company operations, to create financial security for their future and to provide more earning opportunities.

“As we’ve grown over the decades, it’s always been a collaborative effort. Our team is local, loyal and hardworking, and together we’ve built one of Northern New England’s greatest brands from the ground up. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he said in the news release. “Maintaining local ownership will continue Bull Moose’s mission to connect, inspire, and entertain folks with our inexpensive, fun, collectible stuff.”

Eligible employees – those who worked at least 1,000 hours in the last year (or about 20 hours per week) – will be granted stock ownership by Bull Moose’s ESOP Trust, which now owns 100 percent of the company. Employee owners will be represented by a committee, to which the board of directors will report.

Wickard said he was not able to disclose the sale price.

Brett Wickard, founder of Bull Moose, says he will stay on for the transition to employee ownership “as long as it is necessary and as short as is reasonable.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

EMPLOYEES OPTIMISTIC

Mick Pratt, who has worked at Bull Moose for 11 years, said in the release that she’s optimistic about the future.

“It seems like a really big first step toward making a better Bull Moose for the people who helped build it,” she said.

Chris Brown, the company’s chief financial officer, has been with Bull Moose for roughly 28 years altogether, and said that while the decision to sell to the employees was generous, they’ve also earned it.

He’s looking forward to getting together with his fellow 140-plus owners and seeing what ideas and dreams everyone has for the store.

“One of the things that is great about working here is that everybody that you talk to has a bazillion ideas about how things could be done even better,” he said. “There’s a real culture of excellence. … People really see Bull Moose as (a place that) should be the best at whatever we choose to do.”

Wickard opened the first Bull Moose store in Brunswick in 1989, when he was a junior at Bowdoin College. 

In 2013, he launched FieldStack, a retail software company that, according to its website, was born from his work to keep the chain growing in a changing industry. Wickard said he started thinking about selling Bull Moose in January 2020, shortly after celebrating the company’s 30th anniversary. But then the pandemic hit, and plans were temporarily shelved.

Now that the business has stabilized, he’s ready to change gears and focus his full attention on FieldStack. Wickard said he considered several options for Bull Moose but when he came across employee ownership, it seemed like a no-brainer. It wasn’t just about money, he said, and he didn’t want to sell it to someone who might not understand what Bull Moose is all about.

“I am excited to see what this creative, hardworking team will do with the company in the future. My heart will always be at Bull Moose,” he said.

Bull Moose closed its Portland location in November 2020, citing an expiring lease and little foot traffic. The remaining Maine locations include Brunswick, Waterville, Sanford, North Windham, Bangor, Scarborough, South Portland and Lewiston.

ONE STORE IN FLUX

Plans for the company’s Salem, New Hampshire, location, which unionized in the fall, are in flux.

“We have one location that has chosen to be represented by a union that is currently involved in negotiating a collective bargaining agreement – and wages and benefits are a mandatory feature of collective bargaining,” Wickard said. “Therefore, we are required to negotiate only with their union representation – and will bargain in good faith around this benefit and all benefits.”

The company faced backlash last summer after management abruptly closed the Salem store and fired all the employees. The chain then rehired the workers, reopened the store and apologized for its actions three weeks later without explaining the abrupt closure. 

At the time, the workers said the action appeared to come after they complained about the company’s decision to allow unmasked customers in the store. 

In September, workers at the Salem location announced they had unionized. The decision on masks was a catalyst, they said, because store employees had angry confrontations with customers over the mask mandate last winter, but there were other problems before that became an issue.

Wickard said the summer’s events were not directly tied to the decision to sell the company to employees, but that he thinks it’s important to pay attention to where he and the company have made mistakes and learn from them.

Bull Moose is the latest company to become employee-owned in Maine. 

In November, Portland-based Day’s Jewelers made a similar move, handing ownership to its 120 employees, MaineBiz reported. 

The two companies join other Maine businesses like Cianbro, Moody’s Collision, Clark Insurance and ReVision Energy, according to the outlet. 

The National Center for Employee Ownership estimates that in 2019, the most recent data available, there were roughly 6,600 employee stock ownership plans in the country, with more than 14 million participants.


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