MARS Enhances Intelligent Life On Earth Vibrations from its landing are resonating throughout major U.S. markets. With 16 stores currently in operation, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based MARS, Music and Recording Superstores, plans to have 22 stores by the end of this year and 36 stores by the end of 1999.

MARS, also known as MARS, The Musician's Planet, opened its first store in Tampa in March 1997. The idea of a music superstore was conceived by Mark Begelman, former president of Delray Beach, Fla.-based Office Depot, and a musician by hobby.

In 1996, Begelman bought a chain of three music stores in south Florida, allowing him to gain experience with vendors and communicate his ideas about a music superstore. Before long, he acquired the real estate in Tampa, and MARS was born.

"The feeling was that if we could create exciting stores, create new musicians, convert former musicians, and market music through advertising, we could increase the (music) business," says Mark Clark, marketing and advertising director for MARS, who also worked with Begelman for nine years at Office Depot.

With an average store size of 35,000 sq. ft., MARS sells new and used musical instruments. Every MARS store features a learning center, demo rooms, a state-of-the-art recording studio and a permanent stage for in-store performances. As MARS continues to expand, it draws from these resources to extend the market for musicians.

"In order for us to be successful, we have to build the market," Clark says. "We're not necessarily competing with other stores. What we're competing with is the computer games and little leagues."

MARS is different from other music retailers because of its variety of merchandise, its prices and especially its learning centers, Clark says.

"At one time, all the music stores taught lessons, and that was part of everyone's music program," he says. "But for some reason, most of the stores have stopped."

Music education is an important goal of the company, Clark adds, lamenting that many schools have cut back their music programs. In an effort to support music education and increase the market for musical instruments, MARS' learning centers offer lessons and group clinics for people of all ages.

In the Be A Player $8 program, people can attend a weekly group lesson taught by a qualified music instructor. The $8 fee includes the cost of renting an instrument for those who don't have one. MARS also offers the Boomer Band program for baby boomers, and New Horizons for senior citizens who want to learn to play a musical instrument.

Begelman not only wants to encourage music education in stores, but he also supports it in communities. Toward that end, he established the MARS Foundation, a charitable organization designed to help underprivileged children continue their musical education.

In addition to creating new musicians, MARS encourages existing musicians to take the stage. A center stage in every MARS store allows customers to perform whenever they want.

"On the stage, it could be recitals for children, impromptu jazz sessions, a high school band or any musician who wants to perform," says Clark. "Occasionally, we'll see a child playing a guitar or keyboard and we'll bring them up on stage and let them perform for five minutes. It's a lot of fun for us and for them."

Besides selling instruments and giving lessons, MARS repairs band and orchestra instruments and guitars. The superstore also has a recording studio with the latest recording equipment. By making the equipment and the expertise readily available, MARS is actively enforcing its belief in music education.

"Music is considered the first cousin of mathematics," Clark says. "The latest research has indicated that learning how to play a musical instrument really increases your level of intelligence."

Contact: Mark Clark, marketing and advertising director, MARS, Music and Recording Superstores, 5300 N. Powerline Road, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309; (954) 938-0526.

ReTool Hammers Out Pre-Owned Tool Shops Targeting do-it-yourself homeowners and contractors in need of value-priced tools, ReTool, a national franchise of Minneapolis-based Grow Biz International, is the first national retail chain specializing in pre-owned tools. The retailer buys used tools and sells new and reconditioned ones.

"We look at the growth of Home Depot and these do-it-yourself superstores," says Ron Olson, president of Grow Biz International. "There is great opportunity to take a 2,500 sq. ft. specialty store space and put in used product. Young consumers doing work in their homes are looking for value, and that is really where we have a point of differentiation (from other tool retailers)."

ReTool is one of Grow Biz International's six concepts: Play It Again Sports, Once Upon A Child, Computer Renaissance, It's About Games! and Music Go Round. ReTool was conceived by two Play It Again Sports franchise owners, Steve and Dennis Kopitz.

"Steve and Dennis saw the success they had with the Play It Again Sports concept and felt they could take some of the same formulas from that store and apply them (in a tool business)," Olson says. "They discovered it was accepted extremely well by consumers and decided that rather than try to franchise it themselves they would come to Grow Biz."

Four ReTool stores currently operate in Detroit and Minneapolis, with the first two franchise locations planned to open by year's end. ReTool expects about 45 stores to open by the end of 1999 and 700 to open within five to seven years.

At approximately 2,500 sq. ft., ReTool stores are positioned in strip centers. "We like to locate our stores next to Home Depot because that's where the natural traffic is for contractors or do-it-yourselfers," Olson says. "If we can locate ourselves visibly next to them, we feel that is an excellent place to put our stores."

In addition to helping its franchisees find a site and negotiate a lease, Grow Biz International provides a two-part training process to teach store owners about the business.

"We have high expectations," Olson says. "Our average franchisee is a male between age 35 and 50. People in that age bracket are looking to get into business, and this concept has wide appeal for them. Also, the consumers out there are looking for value, and we provide an excellent opportunity for the consumer to save money. It's a win-win situation for both the person who opens the store and for the consumer."