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In his mind, Thomas Gruber can see the logo for his new company: a black theater ticket with AVEX in blue lettering and the words "Home Theater" scribbled brightly at an angle just below the untorn ticket.

But for the coloring and the "untorn" qualifier, the image would look almost identical to the ubiquitous logo for Blockbuster Entertainment Corp. That's not surprising. Although Mr. Gruber did not invent the entertainment company's emblem, he did revise it and help build it into a household symbol during six years as a company senior VP and first chief marketing officer.

Mr. Gruber, 53, is now heading what he hopes will become the latest addition to the entertainment industry: AVEX Home Theater.

"I'm not ashamed to borrow on a concept when it's a proven win ner," says Mr. Gruber, glancing out the window of his home/office overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "I did the same thing when I came from McDonald's to Blockbuster."

After 19 years heading McDonald's Corp.'s national and international marketing, Mr. Gruber in 1987 moved to Blockbuster's Fort Lauderdale headquarters. His mission was to take the 19 Dallas area outlets Chairman H. Wayne Huizenga had bought for $19 million and build a national brand.

"And that's what we did for the first 31/2 years, what I call the `Wow' years," he recalls of the era when 12-hour days and six-day weeks were typical. "We needed to make the word `Blockbuster,' which was an adjective, into a noun."

Today, the Blockbuster marquee adorns more than 3,200 stores, and a new outlet opens on average every 24 hours.

When announcing his retirement in November, Mr. Gruber said he intended to spend more time with his wife, Polly, and two young daughters. But then he bought a home theater, realized the potential and signed on as AVEX chairman.

Though he won't release current figures, Mr. Gruber expects AVEX will do $11 million in sales in two years, $200 million in five years and $500 million in seven years. The product: $10,000 home theater units, complete with 55-inch TV and audio components.

His goal is to build AVEX into a "brand that is synonymous with home theater."

Mr. Gruber says the customer the company will court will be Lexus car owners. He hopes to work with Florida contractors, offering the system as an amenity for people buying new homes and rolling the cost into their mortgages.

Not only did Mr. Gruber revamp the Blockbuster logo soon after signing on in 1987, he created the slogans "Wow. What a difference" and "America's family video store." He admits AVEX's new slogan searches for the same feeling: "Wow. What an experience!"

Mr. Gruber's journey from beneath the Blockbuster marquee could be intimidating, if not for the precedent set by a pair of former partners of Mr. Huizenga, Mr. Gruber says.

Don Flynn, once an executive with the first conglomerate-Waste Management-Mr. Huizenga started in the Chicago area, left and started Discovery Zone children's fun centers. Scott Beck, once Blockbuster's largest franchisee and one-time vice chairman, departed and began Boston Chicken.

"I'm hoping to do exactly the same," Mr. Gruber says. "The precedent is there."M


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