Company: Trans World Entertainment

Title: Chairman and CEO

How he’s leading: If the music and movies specialty chain Higgins founded in 1973 had a movie made about it, it would be “The Lost World.”

In the Cenozoic period of giant big-box stores, it seems strange that the Albany, N.Y.-based Trans World should still be here, especially given that most of its Mesozoic rivals now belong to the fossil record of the bankruptcy courts.

As with all things that avoid extinction, Trans World has survived through quick adaptation to stress: While its rivals were getting creamed by cratering music CD sales earlier in the decade, Trans World deftly made the much hotter DVD key to its product mix. Today, DVD represents 40% of the chain’s inventory and generates annual revenue of approximately $350 million.

Trans World has remained vigilant amid the fast-evolving world of media technology — Trans World continues to experiment with ways it can bridge the brick-and-mortar world with the realm of music and movie downloads.

Also key to Trans World’s success has been its ability to assimilate its fallen rivals — it’s adding a number of stores from the liquidated Tower Records chain to the fold. Trans World is in the process of re-christening all of its recent acquisitions — that also includes a bunch of Strawberry’s, Musicland and Wherehouse stores — under its F.Y.E. (For Your Entertainment) brand. When this process is complete, nearly 900 of the chain’s 1,123 stores will carry the F.Y.E. banner, with most of the remaining mall-based locations flying the Suncoast Music flag.

POV: Trans World has figured out a formula to compete with the big-box chains, and it understands that has nothing to do with being the cheapest. “We offer great service and product knowledge,” Higgins says. “We have to make sure our customers get a better experience than they can get at Best Buy or Circuit City.”

“There are a number of reasons why we’ve been successful,” he adds. “But the main thing is that we’ve made changes that needed to be made because of things going on in our business.”

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