Winter 2008
Jazzing Up Sales! By Emily Lambert

Play the Music

At first, George Crawford thought it was a crazy idea. When his rep pulled out a CD-and-cookbook set, the co-owner of Metronation—a contemporary home decor, accessory and gift store in Cincinnati—was quite sure the package wouldn’t sell. Today Crawford is a believer. Menus and Music, based in Emeryville, CA, is one of his best-selling lines.

Then there’s Julie Lawson, manager of A Horse of A Different Color, a tabletop and home accessory store in Naples, FL, who decided to carry CDs after repeated requests from customers to purchase what they heard on her sound system. She began with approximately 25 titles. Today, she has more than 65.

What is these retailers’ secret to success? Playing the music. Customers come in, like what they hear and make an impulse purchase, or two, or even 39 (an actual single sale at A Horse of A Different Color). That last number may be exceptionally large, but the point remains: CDs are selling in gift shops.

Traditional outlets for music

As for sales of CDs at more traditional music outlets, it’s a different picture. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, CD sales in the United States have been on the decline for the last few years. Sales were $12.15 billion in 2004, $11.19 billion in 2005 and $9.65 billion in 2006. According to Russ Crupnick, vice president and senior industry analyst for The NPD Group, a New York-based market research provider, 2007 sales will end on the decline as well, by at least 15 percent.

Technology takes the brunt of the blame. Today, people can hop on the Internet and download songs to iPods, other MP3 players, phones and computers within a matter of minutes. Recording artists, for their part, are marketing their music in new ways. Paul McCartney’s last album, for example, was released through an arrangement with Starbucks.

Jim Donio, president of the New Jersey-based National Association of Recordi­­eport jointly released by his association, the American Association of Retired Persons and The NPD Group. According to the study, “Boometrics: Baby Boomers & The Music Marketplace,” 70 percent of baby boomers (and don’t forget, they number 76 million) are still buying music, and their preferred format is the CD.

The gift of music

Gift shops aren’t catering to CD buyers searching for the latest release from their favorite artists. They are instead selling music to customers who hear something that makes them feel good, and then make a purchase. Greg Howard, the president of Village Square Music in Nashville, TN, a creator and wholesaler of music recordings, agrees. “Traditional CDs are dying, ” says Howard, “that’s not what we do. Our business is based on the impulse purchaser.” Village Square’s target demographic is women between the ages of 45 and 60. “These customers aren’t downloading,” Howard says.

It is important to remember that music is a popular choice as a gift. “Audio/CDs” was one of the top 10 gift categories in 2006, according to Unity Marketing’s Gifting Report 2007. Unity Marketing is a consulting firm in Stevens, PA. Because music is often a gift of choice, customers look for CDs with attractive packaging. As Lucia Cundy, owner of Bella Lucia Antiques & Gifts, in Lewiston, ID, points out, “People aren’t going to download a gift.”

Packaging music as gifts

The packaging of music in nontraditional outlets such as gift shops emphasizes this gifting part of the equation. Many vendors have come up with innovative ways to pair music with other products and make the entire package an attractive gift purchase. ­­

Menus and Music Productions pairs CDs with cookbooks in a gift-boxed set. The series includes titles such as “Dining at Great American Lodges” and “Tasting the Wine Country.” There are also themes inspired by countries—including Spain, Ireland and Italy—making these sets popular with customers who want to relive past travels. To date, more than 2 million units in this series have been sold.

Sharon O’Connor, president of Menus and Music and also a cellist and author, says that sales of the recently introduced MusicCooks series are really on fire. O’Connor expects 2007 sales for the series to reach 80,000 to 100,000 units. The MusicCooks series also pairs food and music. Titles include “Pleasures of the Caribbean” (recipes from that region paired with calypso and reggae music) and “Christmas Cookies” (recipes paired with ballet music from The Nutcracker.) Each boxed set in the series features 16 recipes that are packaged with a corresponding CD. The recipes are printed on laminated cards and include a shopping list on the back and a photo of the finished product on the front. Many of the tunes in the compilations come from Grammy Award-winning players, such as George Benson, Grover Washington and Tony Lindsay (the former lead singer for Santana who lends vocals to the “Pleasures of the Caribbean” MusicCooks set).

Incidentally, vendors license and purchase the music they use for the CD compilations. O’Connor, for example, records and produces much of the music her company sells. The company pays performance rights at the time of recording and mechanical royalties for the compositions on a regular basis.

North Star Music/Orla Soy Candle, in North Kingstown, RI, also creates complete gift packages, pairing instrumental music with soy-wax candles. For example, the “Christmas in Tuscany” CD is paired with the scent “holly, holly berry”; the “Moonlight & Love Songs” CD goes with the fragrance “moon garden.” Sue Waterman, executive vice president of the company, says 30 CDs and candles are designed to coordinate, but they can also be bought individually. CDs and candles intended for pairing come packaged with matching designs. North Star offers CD collections that stand on their own, as well, such as the Vintage Masters Series, with original vocal recordings by Doris Day, Bing Crosby and many others. The company also has an extensive holiday selection; there are 30 titles that go beyond the traditional to styles such as Celtic, folk and jazz.

Music standalones

CDs don’t have to be paired with other products to be successful in gift shops. Putumayo World Music CDs, with the goal of introducing “people to the music of the world’s cultures,” sell on their own. Ray Leone, director of sales for the New York-based company, says it’s the cultural experience that makes the CDs so attractive.

Putumayo features music from around the world in a wide variety of themed CDs. Each CD includes extensive liner notes with information about the artists, their music and culture, as well as photos from the music’s country of origin.

Latin and African titles are particularly strong sellers. Children’s titles are growing in popularity, as well. CDs with themes such as “Music from the Chocolate Lands” and “Music from the Coffee Lands,” to name a few, also make for effective cross-merchandising opportunities in gift shops.

Buyer Sonia Molinar, at Powell’s Books for Home & Garden in Portland, OR, says many customers are familiar with the Putumayo name before they enter the store, making sales that much easier. “It’s big and it’s out there, but still enough of a niche,” she says, adding that the catchy cover art on the CDs also helps.

Village Square Music banks on the popularity of name-brand music stars such as Sarah McLachlan and Norah Jones, each of whom can be heard on the company’s best-selling Acoustic Chill series. Beegie Adair, a well-known pianist, is also on the Village Square label. Recently the company became the exclusive distributor for Time Life compilations, which feature well-known songs from the past.

Moving music

Village Square’s Greg Howard says the best way to sell music is to play it. For this reason, the company, like many other wholesalers, provides retailers with free demo CDs. Most music manufacturers supply “Now Playing” stands to aid customers. North Star Music supplies tent cards that read: “The Music You’re Hearing is Available Here,” for retailers to use throughout their stores.

Village Square Music also offers retailers battery-operated interactive listening stations for both floor and counter spaces. Listening stations allow customers to hear any tune at any time. Molinar, from Powell’s Books for Home & Garden, uses Putumayo’s listening station. She’s seen increased sales in the six months that she’s had it.

A Horse of A Different Color has another way of accommodating customers. They have four racks of numbered CDs. This way, customers can simply ask to hear a CD by its number. The associate then punches the number in the store’s 300-CD holder, and the melody fills the air. Manager Lawson emphasizes that good customer service is as important as a good sound system. “When people are looking at a CD, we approach them and ask if they want to hear it,” she says.

Retailers who offer a smaller selection of CDs and who are not quite ready for listening stations or numbered displays, can do other things to move sales. Keeping the display near the register is helpful for impulse purchases, says Cundy of Bella Lucia Antiques and Gifts. “We hand write receipts and chat, [customers] see the CDs and start spinning them around,” she says.

CDs can also be cross-merchandised in other areas of the store. Many compilations have themes that allow them to be displayed with other categories of merchandise. Putumayo’s “Music from the Chocolate Lands,” Village Square’s “Jazz and Cocktails” and North Star’s spa selections are perfect cross-merchandising possibilities for your store.


Audiobooks present another opportunity for gift stores. Blackstone Audio, in Ashland, OR, sells popular audiobooks in the nonfiction categories of self-help, history and politics, and books that have tie-ins with movies. A newly released series, Classics Read by Celebrities, includes titles such as “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” read by Ben Kingsley; and “The Last of the Mohicans,” read by Lou Diamond Phillips.

Louis L’Amour is Blackstone’s best-selling author, catering to an audience of mostly men older than 50. For children, audio sets such as Winnie the Pooh are popular, and more releases are in the works, such as the adventure-fantasy “Nim’s Island.”

Music as sensory marketing tool

Whether it’s jazz or Brazilian music, it is important to key into your customers’ preferences, not your own, advises North Star’s Waterman. This is important not only because you want to sell the music, but also for encouraging customers to linger and purchase other things. “The true power of music is probably one of the most overseen factors helping to increase sales in retail stores today,” says Martin Lindstrom, author of “Brand Sense: Build Powerful Brands Through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight and Sound” (Free Press, 2005).

During a heat wave this past summer, Crawford created a vacation-like atmosphere in his store by playing “Pleasures of the Caribbean” from the MusicCooks series. “Businesspeople were all too happy to come in and stay on their lunch hours, noting, ‘This is like a mini vacation,’ ” says Crawford.

If you’re a gift shop retailer looking for a two-for-one deal—a product that will enhance your customers’ shopping experience and add to your bottom line—you’ve found it. As with other products, effective cross-merchandising of music with other products greatly helps sales. As Crawford of Metronation puts it, “Music satisfies the ‘I need a gift and it’s for that person who has everything’ problem.”

Emily Lambert

Lambert, a regular writer for GIFT SHOP, resides in Philadelphia. She can be reached at

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