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Chris Hopson stays in tune with the "street" culture that keeps Tower Group towering over other entertainment retailers.

Mr. Hopson, senior VP-advertising and marketing, attributes Tower's raging success to its image as an entertaining and "interactive" place. The buzz Mr. Hop-son creates is music to the ears of privately held Tower: Sales in 1995 will approach $1 billion worldwide, up 40% from about $880 million last year.

While Tower considers itself an international company, "the key focus is on the local level, market by market," says Mr. Hopson, 42.

The company strives to reflect local tastes by supporting venues such as the Chicago Blues Festival and New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Store managers are given autonomy to cater to customers, ranging from sponsorhip of high-school dances to sampling, such as distributing its own Pulse! along with coupons given out from vans at events in major metropolitan areas such as Boston, Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Tower stores are designed to create an atmosphere for consumers to sample all forms of music, literature, videos and software, including Tower CD listening stations. Every week across the country, Tower hosts dozens of in-store performances and, often, book signings.

The marketing approach stresses promotion, but not to the exclusion of advertising. In fact, Tower's $42 million worldwide ad budget is considered rather hefty and its internally created TV commercials unusual. One spot gives viewers the feeling they're on a roller coaster traveling through a funhouse called Towerland. At the end, viewers "crash" through to a real Tower store.

Tower's retail approach means it can't have a one-note product line either. In addition to selling Calvin Klein's CK One perfume last year, Mr. Hopson introduced a line of Tower clothing last summer; it's now sold at Nordstrom's.

But the retailer's lifeblood is still music. When an important release hits, stores stay open until 2 a.m., so Tower customers can be among the first to buy.

"We close the registers and reopen them at 12:01 so we don't break the street date on the release," Mr. Hopson notes.

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