F.Y.E. fixin' to cash in on country

Chain hyper-targets fans of the genre as it looks to survive in tough category

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The music-retail industry has fallen on more hard times in recent years than your average country singer. It's been cheated on (illegal downloading), betrayed (Wal-Mart and Target's emerging dominance of the space) and walked-out upon (the shuttering of Tower and countless other major chains) enough to fill more than a few Johnny Cash albums.

It's fitting, then, that country singers are what's keeping the remainder of the industry afloat, as Scripps' Great American Country cable network discovered last year through various in-store and on-air partnerships with Trans World Entertainment's F.Y.E. (For Your Entertainment) stores. And now the music retailer and the No. 2 country-music channel (carried in 45.6 million homes vs. CMT's 83 million) are banding together with co-promotions and advertising to hyper-target the country community.

The F.Y.E. brand has become the leading mall-music store since Trans World began consolidating all Record Towns, Waves and various other chains under the brand six years ago. Trans World's remaining stand-alone stores, including Coconuts and Strawberries, all will be rebranded F.Y.E. in the coming months. As a result, the time is finally right for F.Y.E. to launch a national print and TV campaign, running on GAC and other outlets, said Barry Burmaster, the company's director-marketing.

"In the past several years, we've advertised, but it's been fragmented, doing Strawberries in Boston and Coconuts in New York and spending the F.Y.E. money in different ways in print and cable," he said of the ads, produced in-house.

Targeting the country market is a logical method to bring more shoppers into F.Y.E. as the popularity of country seems to be at an all-time high. The genre has the largest audience on radio, two dedicated cable channels and exceptional sales: Six of 2006's 20 best-selling records were country albums.

While Wal-Mart is still the leader in country-music sales, F.Y.E. has it beat on selection. The average Wal-Mart carries 4,000 titles; F.Y.E. stocks anywhere from 15,000 to 45,000. An increased presence at country concerts and in-store artist appearances has also helped boost sales for both the chain and individual titles.

And until Wal-Mart adds a concert venue to its growing list of in-store departments, there will be room for other players to compete. Tim Peterson, Trans World's country-music buyer, said, "[Country] fans are always going to be around as long as they can buy their concert tickets and have their favorite artists' T-shirts and autographs."
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