Duffell exits Virgin Group prexy post

Presided over brand's successful expansion

Ian Duffell, prexy and CEO of Virgin Entertainment Group, has ankled his post as chief of the highly successful Virgin MegaStores chain.

The move comes as the music retailer is poised to bow six new stores this year, and follows the splashy opening of the Orlando, Fla., store last October on the new retail corridor at Walt Disney World.

Virgin was also contemplating opening a hotel and casino in Las Vegas and has plans to build a chain of Virgin Cinemas on the drawing board.

During Duffell’s 10-year run, the chain grew from its Sunset Boulevard flagship in Hollywood to 13 U.S. outlets with $200 million in annual revenue, an industry record.

The stores, which include the highly successful Times Square location, also had the highest per-store revenues in the music industry, despite non-mall-based locations.

“It’s time to do something equally challenging as building the Virgin brand, as we’ve done over the past decade,” Duffell told Daily Variety. “But it’s always difficult to leave what has become your family.” He said he has no immediate plans.

Duffell, whose interim replacement will be Simon Wright, a U.K.-based finance exec for Virgin Entertainment, also bowed outlets in Australia and the U.K.

Sales slump

Industry insiders note that Duffell shepherded and grew the chain at a time when the U.S. music industry was in a sales slump and faced soft revenues for more than two years.

While several venerable chains teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, Duffell was widely credited with maintaining a profitable, well-run business as well as creating an exciting retail environment that enticed consumers.

Execs at the Big Six music congloms uniformly praised Duffell and his team.

“I have a great deal of respect for Ian, and I will miss him,” Henry Droz, prexy of Universal Music & Video Distribution, told Daily Variety, echoing the comments made by many conglom chieftains who were surprised by Duffell’s exit. “Virgin has been a great account. Ian and (his team) have done everything they promised they would do, and have done it in a very classy and professional manner.”

Casino tabled

Virgin has tabled its plan to build the hotel and casino, but is advancing on its plan to build a web of Virgin Cinemas.

The casino concept has been slowed in response to the highly competitive atmosphere developing in Las Vegas, where thousands of new hotel rooms will become available in the coming year.

But several theater complexes remain on the drawing board and will advance the concept begun by the Virgin MegaStores Times Square location, which boasts a multiplex on its top floor.

Duffell, a 25-year vet of the music business, worked with Sony during its launch of the compact disc and helped turn around U.K.-based HMV Stores, the music retailer led by EMI, before joining Virgin.