Stuart Arkin got his first taste of business running his father’s retail toy operation. He couldn’t stand it.
“We did the toy sections in all the drugstores,” he explains. “We had over 100 employees, and I just couldn’t take them. I had to rely on everyone else, and it was driving me nuts. I said, ‘Dad, I can’t do this.’ ”
In 1992, Arkin launched a ticket brokerage service, Prime Tickets, which became an unqualified success. “I had a tremendous corporate base of customers who used to buy up my seats,” he recalls. “It was a great gig.”
Then along came StubHub. “I was fighting a giant with the Internet, and I couldn’t win,” he says. “I figured it was time to get with the train instead of trying to catch it.”
Experience, of course, is the best teacher. All those years rubbing shoulders with musicians and athletes through his ticket business … understanding the allure of gadgets with his toy background … witnessing firsthand the power of the Internet … the desire for a leaner organization and greater control of the process. All of Arkin’s history has coalesced inside a well-appointed suite of offices in Farmington Hills, where the entertainment business — or, more accurately, the business of entertainment — is being turned on its head.
Arkin, 43, a passionate amateur hockey player, is CEO of three distinct company lines working toward a single goal. His Power Play Group holds the official licenses for the musical artists, athletes, and sports leagues for whom Arkin creates exclusive packaging and merchandise. (That roster includes the Grateful Dead, the NHL, its players association, and Michigan State University, among others.)
Then there’s AAMZ (named for Arkin; his father, CFO Irwin Arkin; and chief marketing and creative officers Amy MacIntosh and Tom Zahner, who disbanded their own business to join Arkin’s). Alternately known as “The Studios,” AAMZ is the in-house agency that develops marketing, branding, product design, websites, and social-media campaigns. The Arkin Agency provides management and representation.
“The money is not made on music anymore,” Arkin says. “It’s merchandising. What we do here is, we do everything correctly. We just do the work. Relying on other people to execute … it never happens. With everything under one roof, we’re able to come up with a concept, strategize, market, and implement. We want to blow them away.”
Arkin’s streamlined crew of 14 blew away the braintrust for Cody Simpson, the 16-year-old Aussie pop idol with 3.3 million YouTube-generated fans. Simpson’s management team includes Scooter Braun, the mastermind behind Justin Bieber’s career.
One day not long ago, Arkin wound up playing a round of golf with Simpson’s manager, Matt Graham. Prior to hitting the links — and hoping he might bump into Graham — Arkin had his team execute some fully developed Simpson concepts. “You only get one kick at the can,” he says.
By the time the round was over, Graham was sold.
Beyond creating Simpson’s tour posters, AAMZ invented Smitten With Cody Simpson, the singer’s official phone app, which includes a GPS function letting fans know just how far they are from him at any given moment.
“I’ve never worked this closely with a license holder,” Graham says. “The Studios crew is so focused on ensuring that everything they make for Cody is something his fans want and love. What they do is beyond licensed merchandise. They’re creating products and experiences for Cody’s fans.”
Arkin is one of the few licensees who work directly with artist management. “What we’re seeing is the labels haven’t changed their business model since the 1970s,” MacIntosh says. “They’re still collecting the lion’s share of the income for not doing a lot. Artists today are modernized; the labels [are] not. So they’re coming to us when they’re going off-label.”
“[Record labels] are so archaic, they can’t keep up, constantly looking for approvals,” Arkin adds. “Management wants to move now. An idea can come from our conference room and be implemented so fast, you can’t believe it.”
The Studios also trained their sights on local singer-songwriter Robin Horlock, rebranding his image and jump-starting his career. They’re actively seeking other clients — and not just entertainers.
Recently, a New Jersey inventor approached Arkin with a tablet computer case containing a hidden cord that serves as a handle or shoulder strap. Arkin acquired and patented the product, dubbed it “Zipline,” and unveiled it at the massive Consumer Electronics Show last January. “We’re developing a line of computer accessories called Custom Quest,” he says. “Everyone’s got an idea, but if you can’t execute, great ideas go nowhere.”