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Used CD chain hits right note

by Susan O'Neill - Toronto Business Times Staff


When Aziz Walji entered the workforce after graduating from university with a degree in actuarial science, the Scarborough native had one goal in mind: to quit his day job.

   Walji, along with his friends Shameer Esmail and Hussein Musa, all of whom attended the University of Waterloo, began brainstorming about possible business ventures as they approached graduation.

   The trio toyed with numerous options, including launching a long-distance service provider.

   However, when Esmail, also from Scarborough, suggested opening a retail outlet to sell used CDs, they knew they were onto something.

   "It just seemed like the right thing to do." Walji said. In 1995, the three men co-founded Deja Vu Discs, which has blossomed into a chain with eight locations in the eastern GTA.

   "It's not exactly what people would have thought (someone who studied actuarial science would end up doing)," Walji said. "I guess it all works out."

  The company, which celebrated the opening of its eighth location this past summer, is known for its customer service and broad selection, said Walji, 33.

  He said there are several thing that differentiate the company from other used CD stores, including the pricing system, the service, the quality and selection.

   "I'll use the example of Winners. They say it's a new store every day and it is," he said of Deja Vu Discs. "If you go into any of the major chains, they're similar."

   "In our stores, not only does the individual store change, but each store is going to be (stocked) differently," he said. "We have customers who, on a Saturday, will start out in the Oshawa store and will make a day of it... we have all these little gems that are different from store to store."

   When the trio launched the business back in 1995, they didn't have much money and had difficulty getting a bank loan, Walji said.

   However, they received funding through a federal government program and worked around the clock preparing to open their first location in Oshawa.

  They built and painted all of the store fixtures themselves, contributed some of their own CD collections and gathered stock wherever they could.

   When the stored opened, it was a mere 400 square feet. "Our backroom was the washroom," Walji said, noting that location has expanded over the years and is now 2,000 square feet.

   "The timing was right, But also, I think the one thing we wanted to do was to do it right." Walji said the three knew the pricing system the company used had to be more systematic than what was typical in most used CD stores where the prices often depend on the personal tastes or biases of employees.

   "We knew that wasn't going to work."

   He explained the amount the company pays for CDs is based on a software program that determines supply and demand which eliminates the hassle of bartering.

   "What we're trying to achieve is just a fair value," he said. "Our computer system takes away all the biases. Definitely the way our system is designed, it sets us apart."

   When a customer drops off a stack of CDs, the barcodes are scanned to determine the value.

   "When someone brings in a stack of CDs we just scan, scan, scan," Walji said. "It can be done very quickly."

   Walji also said the discs sold at Deja Vu - whether they are CDs or DVDs - are scratch free.

   "Our philosophy is they have to look and play like new," he said.

   The company offers a 30-day guarantee on all merchandise, which is unusual in the industry.

   "We're constantly trying to educate customers." Walji said, noting that unlike cassette tapes or videotapes, the quality of CDs does not deteriorate over time.

   The company, which has locations in Scarborough, North York, Pickering, Ajax, Oshawa and Richmond Hill, recently opened a store in Markham.

  None of the stores are franchised, despite frequent inquires, Walji said.

   "We could have easily franchised a while ago, but we didn't think it would be good," Walji said.

   He reported there is no head office and said all owners are hand-on in each of the locations. "Each of us bring different strengths to the table," he said. "We have respect for each other."

   Walji said there are no plans for further expansion.

   "I'd rather have eight very strong stores than just open for the sake of opening," he said. "I'm really happy with the state it's at."


Publication: Toronto Business Times; Date: 2003 Dec

Original Newspaper scan (359K) - HERE
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