Both Cream City Music and its CEO/co-owner Brian Douglas share a similar arc, with once humble beginnings slowly growing into accomplishment and greatness.
For Cream City Music — named after a 19th century nickname Milwaukee earned thanks to its many cream-colored brick buildings — that arc began in a spare bedroom in 1999, where founders Joe and Jessica Gallenberger launched an eBay business called Warpdrive Music. From selling used CDs and used musical instruments out of their house, the business soon grew into a small retail store. Eventually, in 2006, the store grew again into a 6,000-square-foot showroom housed within a building purchased by the store’s owners — quadrupling the size of the business.
For Douglas, his story began 21 years ago as a lifelong musician who was working in the keyboard and pro audio departments at Music Center in Kenosha, Wis. “When I started at Music Center, I was completely green with no MI experience at all,” he recalled. “When I left Music Center for Cream City Music, it was to expand my knowledge base into the world of fretted instruments.”
Douglas came onboard as Cream City Music’s key retail salesperson and as a content creator for its eBay business, which still exists today. He later became its retail manager before taking on further responsibilities aimed at brand management and setting communications standards across the physical and online channels of the business.
In 2013, Douglas’ and Cream City Music’s arcs officially crossed when he purchased the store, along with fellow Cream City Music employees Ben Derickson and John Majdalani.
“The three of us had no practical experience in what was required to run a multi-million-dollar company beyond what we had learned as employees of the shop during the decade prior,” Douglas recalled, adding that the time spent working at the store was a “luxury…because it helped us as new owners to clearly see and understand what worked and what didn’t. It gave us an immediate road map to improving the business.”
As Douglas and his co-owners set out to make the store their own, one of the first things they did was to rebuild its infrastructure, including everything from inventory management and finances to their retail showroom and online presence. They also set about refining the focus of their product offerings in order to “elevate our stature in the community as a go-to for great gear and a team with deep knowledge on the products we were selling.” The team curated a mix of new and used products from some of the biggest manufacturers — including Fender, Taylor, Martin, Gibson and Gretsch — and put more focus on vintage guitars.
The store also houses a “world-class guitar repair facility helmed by our master luthier Ron Jones and his apprentice,” Douglas said. “It is integral to our commitment to providing our customers with great-playing instruments purchased from us and to provide ongoing care and support for the musical community in Milwaukee.”
Cream City Music
12505 W. Bluemound Rd
Brookfield, WI 53005
Tues.-Fri. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Brian Douglas, CEO/Co-Owner
Cream City Music’s commitment to the Milwaukee music community is important to Douglas. The store offers a broad variety of community-based in-store events, including manufacturer clinics and promotions. It also fosters partnerships with local music venues and individual artists “to generate great video and social content, while providing a service of generating exposure for live music and artists as a way of giving back to our community,” Douglas said.
As a musician himself, Douglas is keenly aware of the importance of fostering a love of music in his community. He also channels his own experience as a musician shopping for gear to make sure that Cream City Music offers the highest level of knowledgeable customer service for anyone who enters the store.
“Our core philosophy is that we are here to help provide the tools our customers need to unlock their maximum creative potential through clear understanding of their needs in that moment and recognizing where they are in their journey,” said Douglas, who currently maintains a staff of 15 people that he considers to be “one big family as a part of our company culture.” The size of the team has fluctuated over the years, but Douglas sees a benefit in keeping his employee roster relatively small.
“One of the benefits of having a small team is that every one of our staff, from ownership to our retail team to our online salespeople, has the opportunity to truly get to know our customers on a personal level,” he said.
Creating a personal experience online is something that Douglas takes seriously, as the online business had been part of Cream City Music’s DNA from day one. Having an online presence that “communicates the same message of quality, service and commitment that your retail shop does,” is something that Douglas says helps Cream City Music stand apart in the face of increasing Internet competition.
“Buyers want to know who they are buying from, in most cases, and telling that story in your photos and content makes a tangible positive impact in our online sales presence,” said Douglas. “In a world of fly-by-night online sellers, showing consistency and telling your story can have a major impact on whether a customer buys from you or your competition.”
Whether customers come to Cream City Music via the web or its doors, Douglas works hard to make sure they have the best possible experience.
“I can remember almost every single instance when a particular instrument or piece of gear had a transformational effect on my life,” said Douglas. “Every day that we come to work, we have the same opportunity to provide that experience to our customers. Music changes lives, and it is our honor and privilege to be stewards in that journey for others.”