May 7, 2007, 12:00 AM

Hot Topic seeks to tune back into teen market with music chief

Hot Topic built its business by being in the know about teen music and apparel. In an effort to get its groove back, the company has hired John Kirkpatrick as “chief music officer,” with responsibility for music offerings in stores and online.

Teen trends change quickly, and Hot Topic Inc. admits it was caught off-guard by the changes wrought by what it calls “the iPod revolution.” Needing a new music strategy, the multi-channel retailer has hired John Kirkpatrick as senior vice president and “chief music officer,” with responsibility for music offerings in stores and online.

Kirkpatrick, 38, has 17 years of experience in the music industry, most recently as senior vice president of music and creative affairs at movie studio Paramount Pictures. He will report to CEO Betsy McLaughlin.

Hot Topic’s mall-based stores and web site sell music and trendy apparel, mainly to consumers age 12 to 22, and the company noted in its annual report in March it has to keep changing with the times. “With the availability of music on the Internet, we have seen a diversification of teen fashion preferences,” the report stated. “We believe the iPod revolution has reduced the number of ‘one genre’ fans and, as such, requires a shift in our music strategy as well as our store design.”

The soul-searching was prompted by a 6.6% drop in in-store sales during the company’s 2006 fiscal year. The company’s web sites did better, recording sales of $31 million, up 26% from $24.5 million the prior year. Hot Topic’s sites averaged 2.3 million unique visitors per month and 4 million monthly visits, and the conversion rate was 1.5%. Online sales represented 4% of the company’s $752 million in total revenue.

Hot Topic, No. 232 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, also has a division called Torrid that sells plus-size apparel, targeting women between the ages of 15 and 29.

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