Sunday, November 16, 2003

Walk into Pottery Barn after Thanksgiving, and you’ll hear the soulful sounds of the Jackson 5’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” or Duke Ellington’s rendition of “Jingle Bells.”

You might even find yourself humming along, sticking around longer and buying more merchandise, which is exactly what is on the store’s wish list.

More retailers are taking their music selections seriously, pumping in tunes that will entertain consumers and potentially boost their own bottom lines.

“Music always evokes an emotional reaction from people,” said Jeff Daniel, president of Rock River Communications, which produced a dozen holiday compilations this year for retailers.

Music — particularly during the holidays — has become an important tool for retailers such as Pottery Barn, Banana Republic and Starbucks to help build their brand to their customers. For some retailers, the sounds of the holidays have become another profitable stream of revenue and are sold at the stores.

“Part of the experience and the ambience is the music,” said Shannon Jones, Mid-Atlantic regional marketing manager at Starbucks Coffee Co.

The coffee giant began selling compact discs, produced by subsidiary Hear Music, in 1995. This year Starbucks, which already is decorated for the holidays, is selling and playing “Mistletoe & Merriment,” with songs from Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The CD costs $12.95.

“They strike a chord for what our customers would be interested in buying,” Ms. Jones said.

Retail officials agree the right music, played at the right time, can enhance the shopping experience.

“Music can certainly help keep people in stores or drive them out,” said Paco Underhill, managing director of Envirosell Inc., a behavioral research and consulting firm. “It is a very delicate tool. Correctly applied, it does work.”

The key is to play music that appeals to customers.

“They have to match the character of what they play with the customer base they are serving,” Mr. Underhill said.

Pottery Barn usually begins playing its holiday music during the last week in November.

The stores incorporate the chain’s own CDs into their music rotations.

This year the music includes a three-CD box set of older Pottery Barn compilations, “Big Band Christmas” with swing sounds from artists such as Benny Goodman and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and “Soul Christmas” with songs from Otis Redding, James Brown and Chuck Berry.

Pottery Barn Kids sells “Let’s Sing” with children from Broadway singing classic carols. The CDs retail for $15 each, and the box set is $36.

“We wanted to create a mood — a great environment to shop in,” said Leigh Oshirak, a Pottery Barn spokeswoman. “The CD is a nice thing to do to further the lifestyle of the brand.”

Pottery Barn first sold a holiday compilation, produced by Rock River, in 1996. Since then, Rock River has produced dozens of CDs for all seasons for the home-furnishings chain.

“Having the CDs is another layer of branding,” Ms. Oshirak said.

Holiday compilations make up 30 percent to 40 percent of Rock River’s business.

The San Francisco company has produced more than 180 CDs since it was established in 1996.

This year Rock River created more than a dozen holiday CDs, including compilations for first-timers such as Crabtree & Evelyn and Kohl’s.

“Holiday music is all about comfort, home and family,” Mr. Daniel said.

The biggest challenge is finding a variety of holiday songs, particularly when new carols are rarely released.

Banana Republic’s Rock River-produced holiday CD, “Wish,” is a compilation of classic holiday tunes remixed with electronic trendy music to give them an updated, hip sound — something that fits with the retailer’s image, Mr. Daniel said.

“It’s really about reaching the consumer,” Mr. Daniel said. “For these clients, [the CDs are] profitable and it’s a branding tool.”

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