For sale by owner: Geek Squad badge

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2012 - 9:35 PM

Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens isn't offended that a former agent is selling his badge.

You can leave the Geek Squad, Best Buy's iconic band of smart computer guys.

But isn't it kind of brazen to sell your Geek Squad badge on eBay to fund your own computer repair start-up?

Adam DeWolf of Bells, Texas, doesn't think so. His eBay ad is headlined "Geek Squad Special Agent badge -- raising money to compete with them." The bidding starts at $1,000. The badge is a one-of-a-kind, emblazoned with DeWolf's name and his badge number, 3855 (see tinyurl.com/8z9j87k.)

But the man you might expect to be the most upset about it, Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens, calls it a compliment.

"If he uses the money to finance a start-up, I couldn't be happier," Stephens said Wednesday in an interview. He created the Geek Squad service in Minneapolis in 1994, sold it to Richfield-based electronics retailer Best Buy in 2002 and watched it become one of the company's most recognizable brand names. "I'm partial to people who start their own businesses. If he does a great job, we look like a great launch pad for the industry."

Not everyone sees it that way.

"The natural reaction of current Geek Squad employees is, 'How could anyone sell their badge? Its chrome-plated and it's got your name on it.' And I used to feel the same way," said Stephens, 43, who now lives in San Francisco after leaving Best Buy in March.

But his assessment of the value of the badges, and the people who wear them, has changed.

"My whole view of talent now is that you have only temporary custody of these people. And you want to prove to them that your business name means something on their résumés, because in the technology industry you're only as good as your most-recent experience," Stephens said. "So that liberated me to think that, although I don't know how long an employee will be with us, I want to increase that employee's value so he or she can go to a competitor for at least double the pay, or start his or her own company."

DeWolf, the aspiring entrepreneur, didn't return a reporter's phone call Wednesday. However, on his eBay page he said that although he was laid off from Best Buy during financial cutbacks, "I enjoyed my years with the Geek Squad and would be happy to work for them again."

After leaving Best Buy, he opened his own computer repair shop, and plans to seek more work in competition with his old Best Buy store.

"I'm selling this badge to raise money for advertising to grow awareness about my services in that area and compete with the Geek Squad," DeWolf said. "This is a high-quality badge with a low, four-digit badge number. Newer badge numbers are now in the five digits. Although this badge was issued after Geek Squad [was acquired by] Best Buy, this is the same 'Special Agent' style badge originally issued by the Geek Squad in their independent days." As of Wednesday night, there were no bidders.

Added Stephens, "The value employees place on these badges always amazes me. It's the idea of secret objects as part of the employment experience. If companies want to have a distinct culture, they should take more time to think that through."

Steve Alexander • 612-673-4553

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