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SCOTT JAGOW: Let's talk about ice cream. Who do you like? Ben and Jerry's? Baskin Robbins? Cold Stone Creamery? Baskin-Robbins is the biggest chain, but Cold Stone is coming on strong. Cold Stone just said it would open 165 stores in China and Taiwan. I guess they'll be singing at those stores. You do know about the singing, don't you? Here's Sean Cole:
SEAN COLE: The legend goes like this: Once upon a time, in a far-away land called Tempe, Arizona, the crew at the first ever Cold Stone Creamery wanted to come up with a way to thank their customers for tips.
So, they decided to sing to them. Peppy, cheerleadery kinds of songs. It was fun. And the company grew and grew. And now, at each of its hundreds of stores . . .
MEREDITH BRYAN: Every time a tip goes in the jar, one of our crew members will lead everybody and say, "Hey guys, we got a tip!"
CREW: Alright! [SINGING] "When the tip goes in the jar, we'll thank you for your dollar. You came, you saw, you ate a lot, and now you've heard us holler."
The leader in this case is Cold Stone Massachusetts area manager Meredith Bryan. I met her at a Cold Stone in Millbury, Mass.
She says memorizing the song book of 50 or so ice cream-related spoofs is part of the training process. And while other ice cream shops interview prospective employees, Cold Stone auditions them.
Bryan says it's like a little American Idol, complete with a Simon Cowell speech for the shy kids.
BRYAN: You know, you may not be the best kid to work at a Cold Stone Creamery because when that tip goes in the jar, we expect you to belt one out. And if you can't handle it, it's okay — you can go to The Gap, you can go anywhere else, but you can't stay here.
I asked a crew member named Justin Roberts — his name tag says "The Justin"— if he's ever embarrassed having to belt one out all the time. He says it just becomes automatic after awhile.
JUSTIN ROBERTS: You're like mixing your ice cream putting everything in it, and you're just singing and you don't even realize that you're singing.
CREW MEMBER: Hey guys, we got another tip!
CREW: Alright! [SINGING] "I've got ice cream on a cloudy day . . . When it's cold outside . . . "
Meantime, customer response is pretty mixed.
CUSTOMER 1: Well, I think it's great.
CUSTOMER 2: It's just kind of corny.
JASON FEIFER: I wanna like, grab the Cold Stone, you know, executives and shake them and tell them that they're selling ice cream. You know, why are you making them audition? Audition for ice cream?
Jason Feifer is a freelance journalist in the area. A while ago, he wrote an article about Cold Stone called "The Song that Makes Ice Cream Taste Bad." He says the shtick may have worked at the first store, but when you institute it chainwide, it just sounds forced.
JASON FEIFER: You can't micromanage the way that your employees at 1,300 stores relate to their customers. I mean, you're selling the same product, you know? But let them have some identity.
Anyway, whether the customers tip because of the singing or in spite of it, the tip jars I saw were pretty full. Which got me thinking, maybe we should try it.
[ To the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat". . . ]
"I hope that this stor-eee put a smile on your face. In Boston, I am Sean . . . Cole for Marketplace."