- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

Kevin Rupp spends his days running around a toy store for adults.
The general manager of Best Buy in Laurel rarely sits still weaving in and out of the aisles full of high-tech gadgets, fully equipped computers, digital cameras, top-of-the-line TVs and stereos, video-game consoles and DVDs.
While making his rounds he's keeping an eye on everything from the lines at the registers, to the customers mesmerized by the sample video games on display, and his managers and employees assisting shoppers.
"We do a lot of running," Mr. Rupp says, especially this time of year when the hustle and bustle of shoppers is constant at the electronics superstore.
Despite the weakened economy, people are still spending money on holiday gifts. Their focus, however, has shifted to more home-oriented gifts like DVD players, computers and videos.
While holiday sales at malls are down 3.2 percent since the start of the season on Nov. 23, music, video and entertainment sales are climbing, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Last week, sales in that category increased 7.8 percent over the like period in 2000, ICSC says.
There was early evidence that this would be a good holiday season for the Best Buy at Laurel Lakes Center. Before its 7 a.m. opening on Black Friday, the first official day of the holiday shopping season, a line of shoppers stretched outside the store and down to the K-Mart next door.
About 45 percent of Americans say digital cameras and camcorders are the top tech gifts they would like to receive this holiday season, according to the Best Buy Holiday 2001 Survey. High-definition television, computers and DVD players also rank at the top of people's wish list.
On any given day, Mr. Rupp, dressed in a bright blue Best Buy polo shirt, covers a lot of ground at the 42,000-square-foot store. He spends much of his time making sure his employees are doing their jobs. And he steps in when his help is needed.
On this day he even gets behind a register to help minimize the lines of customers waiting to check out.
"My energy level raises when there's a line [of customers]," he says. "I know I hate waiting in lines."
Mr. Rupp deals mainly with his employees. But sometimes his blue shirt draws attention from customers.
He's flagged down by two women desperately looking for the latest Gameboy Color device. Their search so far has left them empty-handed.
Within in a few minutes, Mr. Rupp calms them down when he finds the hot $70 item in a lower shelf among dozens of other video merchandise.
Each week Mr. Rupp has one-on-one meetings with the store's managers to discuss their departments, overall goals and future business plans. The meetings are usually about an hour. But during the holiday rush they are cut short when the managers are needed out on the floor rather than behind closed doors.
On this day Mr. Rupp meets for 25 minutes with sales manager Mark Houck in a windowless office behind the customer service counter. They discuss the store's sales for the past week, set goals for the week ahead and talk about specific employees' performances.
"It's a chance to really make sure we are on the same page and review performance," Mr. Rupp says.
Mr. Rupp has a half dozen managers under him each taking on a specific responsibility like inventory, operations or sales.
In total, there are usually about 150 full- and part-time employees on staff. That number is bumped up to about 200 when the store hires additional help for the holidays.
Mr. Rupp, 38, has worked for Best Buy for three years and has been general manager of the Laurel store since August. Before joining the Best Buy team Mr. Rupp worked for the now-defunct home-improvement chain Hechinger Co. for 18 years.
He concedes his Best Buy career is much different from his days at Hechinger despite the fact that he wore a blue shirt there too.
Unlike Hechinger, Best Buy is on the cutting edge of industry trends and is willing to change with the times, he says.

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