This Week’s Retailer

9/26/22

Retailer of the Week: Costco

Issaquah, WA

Costco.com

Membership Warehouse Club

Costco is a regular honoree around here and for good reason: they are one of the best retailers in the business. This past week, they proved it again. Putting up solid quarterly numbers they also announced they would not be raising their annual membership fees, at least for the time being. There was speculation they would, following a similar action from their biggest competitor, Sam’s Club. Instead they held the line. Now, Costco is no not-for-profit and we won’t have to start a Go-Fund-Me page for them. They make plenty of money and the membership fee is the foundation of their entire profit structure. But by siding with their customers in a time of inflation and pricing pressures they sent out a clear message that they understand the times. It’s a brilliant move that will come back to pay off in so many ways. Sometimes not doing something is the right thing to do.

9/19/22

Retailer of the Week: Bloomingdale’s

New York

Bloomingdales.com

Department Store

Happy 150th birthday to the store like no other. Bloomingdales has been through any number of transformations over that century and a half, perhaps most notably from its decidedly downscale origins as Bloomingdales Bros to the heights of trendy retailing during the Saturday’s Generation go-go days of the last few decades of the 20th Century. But give it just as much credit for its most recent reinvention as a retailer that is as focused on finances as it is on fashion. I still think it has a level of excitement that no other store in the country can duplicate. Pass the cake.

9/12/22

Retailer of the Week: DSW

Columbus, OH

DSW.com

Specialty chain

Don’t know about you but I am most intrigued by the merchandising strategy of this footwear chain that has been buying up well-know brand names in the field to give it control over the distribution of those labels in its own stores and selected third-party retailers. Several years ago it bought the Camuto Group, owner of the Vince brand, and more recently it has added others, both buying them outright and licensing them. Rather than the owned brand strategy of Bed Bath & Beyond which tried to build labels from scratch, DSW is taking control of well-known established brands. Still unsure of how wise it is to wholesale them too but for retailers trying to differentiate their assortments this is a fascinating strategy.

9/6/22

Retailer of the Week: CVS Health

Woonsocket, RI

CVS.com

Chain store

With its announcement that it was buying Signify Health, a service that provides doctors for house calls, this retail chain continues to show why it is head and shoulders above its competition in embracing health services and moving away from the traditional drug store chain model of selling salty snacks, greeting cards and, oh yes, the occasional prescription. CVS, you remember, made the bold step years ago to stop selling cigarettes, giving up a reported $1 billion in sales, to start its repositioning as a health services company. This is just its latest move to continue those efforts and as other retailers try to catch up, CVS Health (even the name is smart) has upped the ante once again. Take that Walgreens, Rite-Aid, Walmart and Target.

8/29/22

Vacation

8/22/22

Retailer of the Week: Central Group

Bangkok, Thailand

Centralgroup.com

Retail Conglomerate

With its purchase of the iconic British department store Selfridges now complete, Thai based Central Group has added another world-class retailer to its portfolio of brands, which already included Germany’s Kadewe, Italy’s Rinascente, Switzerland’s Globus and Denmark’s Illum. It’s an impressive collection but more importantly it shows that the right department store is not only a viable retail business but one with significant value. Bad department stores — like any bad retailer — are just bad but the right department store is a great format. I’ve seen Kadewe and Rinascente and they are great stores but in my opinion Selfridges is the best department store I’ve ever visited. Makes you wonder if Central ever will come to the U.S…and with who?

8/15/22

Retailer of the Week: Ace Hardware

Oak Brook, IL

Acehardware.com

Specialty Chain

With the dynamic DIY duo of Home Depot and Lowe’s dominating the home improvement retail sector, sometimes you lose sight over the independent networks of stores operated by Ace Hardware and True Value. But they are forces to be reckoned with and this past week Ace showed why. After posting solid first quarter results it announced it would be opening 60 new stores by the end of the year, plus three new warehouses over the next five years. That’s a dramatic expansion for a company that already operates more than 5,600 locations in 70 countries and might be considered a mature retailer. If maturity brings smarts and aggressive plans while others are pausing to hesitate than Ace is indeed much more mature than many other retailers.

8/8/22

Retailer of the Week: Ethan Allen

Danbury, CT

Ethanallen.com

Specialty Chain

Its strategy sometimes seems counter-intuitive but the upscale chain seems to be making it work in a home furnishings environment that has not been too kind to some of its competitors. Last week it reported solid fourth quarter numbers and just as importantly an expansion of its Design Center format with six new locations in the works. While others are going bigger, Ethan Allen is trimming its physical footprint to offer a digitally driven experience with a lot more screens than sofas. In a market where so many retailers are trying to figure out how to make their stores work, EA seems to have found a solution.

8/1/22

Retailer of the Week: Pottery Barn

San Francisco

Potterybarn.com

Specialty Chain

With its introduction last week of its Accessible Home collection of home furnishings products for those people with disabilities, injuries or aging issues, the specialty chain continues the social awareness policies and programs of its parent company Williams Sonoma. This new introduction is just the latest in a series of steps Sonoma brands have taken to be more inclusive, ecologically correct and socially strong across a broad number of issues. In doing so, Sonoma has proven that it’s not just the right thing to do for the world, it’s the right thing to do for its business too.

7/25/22

Retailer of the Week: Toys’R’Us

New York

Toysrus.com

Leased Department Chain

OK, so this one is a bit of a leap of faith. Toys was once one of the best retailers in America, practically inventing the concept of the Big Box Category Killer chain when Charlie Lazarus ran it. Eventually it was mismanaged, financially abused and generally abandoned as a retail business. It’s tried a few comebacks, the latest of which is about to hit with its leased department placement in Macy’s. I don’t know if it will work, department stores are no longer a place where people shop for toys and Macy’s doesn’t have a great track record with this sort of thing. But the TRU name is still very powerful with shoppers and the physical retail environment still has a place for a store selling toys. Whether it will be Toys I just don’t know. But it could.

7/18/22

Retailer of the Week: Costco

Issaquah, WA

Costco.com

Membership Club

Yes, I’m picking Costco again, they’ve been selected a number of times here and they remain one of the best retailers in the country with so many merchandising, operational and financial achievements it’s sometimes overwhelming. They get the nod this time for a hot dog…more specifically a hot dog and soda combo meal that they have held the price on for decades. Costco announced last week they will maintain the $1.50 tag even as they reluctantly raise prices on a few other food items. But the hot dog combo, as well as its rotisserie chicken, are signature items at the store and help define their value image to shoppers. And they are smart enough to know not to mess with them even as they are no doubt loss leaders and have been so for years. Imagine if more retailers adopted a key item in their assortments and held the price regardless of cost? It might tip that line on the balance sheet but would say so very much to consumers that it would be more than worth it. Hot dog.

Retailers of the Week: New Bookstores

300 around the country

Independent specialty stores

So, just when you decide you’ve got the retailing business figured out, along comes something like this: The New York Times reported today that more than 300 independent specialty stores selling books have opened around the country in the past few years: The past few years of the pandemic, crazy consumer purchasing patterns and, oh yeah, this little online bookseller named Amazon. It’s an amazing turn of events for a sector that most so-called experts said was doomed not all that long ago. The spirit of independent retailing — good independent retailing — lives on.

7/5/22

Retailer of the Week: Popshelf

Goodlettsville, TN

Popshelf.com

National chain

OK, so it hasn’t done anything particularly extraordinary this past week but there was a first for Popshelf — they write it out as pOpshelf — over the last few days: I saw one of their stores for the first time. Quite simply, it’s the freshest idea in retailing I’ve seen in a long time. Equal parts dollar store, HomeGoods wannabe and local convenience store with a touch of whimsy and clever merchandising, this new division of Dollar General has found a niche that simply didn’t exist in the marketplace previously. You need to go see a Popshelf — there are now about 75 in the country and that total is growing every month — to find out how physical retailing can still identify untapped spaces. It’s worth the effort.

6/27/22

Retailers of the Week: Patagonia, Dick’s, Levi, Starbucks, et al

Assorted websites

National Retailers

This week we salute a group of retailers — and we’re sure there are more not included here — that have stepped up in light of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, banning abortions on the national level. These retailing companies have made the decision to help pay the cost for abortions for their employees, a bold step that is both brave and fraught with controversy. The group includes Dick’s Sporting Goods, Starbucks, Patagonia, Levi, Disney and a lot of other companies like PayPal, Netflix and DoorDash that have retail components. I applaud these retailers who just said we’ve got to do the right thing in a very wrong situation. We can only hope this starts a process to reverse the ruling…eventually.

6/20/22

Retailer of the Week: White Castle

Columbus, OH

Whitecastle.com

Restaurant chain

OK, I admit it, I’m a big fan of little square cheeseburgers and have been looking for some justification to acknowledge the iconic chain White Castle here. (By the way, they are generally acknowledged as the first fast food retailer in the country, going back to the 1920s.) Thanks to their new summer promotion, Night Castle, I’m finally able to do it. Kicking off today on the eve of the summer solstice this week, the renowned Slider Source is running a series of promos, events and giveaways in connection with the summer season, including special merchandise tied in to the theme. It’s a great gimmick — and a great excuse for me — but it also shows some retail creativity to get away from the usual marketing events tied to traditional holidays. Just shows that you can still find new hooks to promote business…and get people to eat more little square cheeseburgers. How can that be a bad thing?

6/13/22

Retailer of the Week: Tractor Supply Company

Brentwood, TN

Tractorsupply.com

Specialty Chain

For those who live in big cities, Tractor Supply Co. may seem like something out of the old Green Acres television show, but the truth is it’s one of the best retailers in America and it continues to excel while others are stumbling. This past week it put out a forecast for its next quarter earnings — due at the end of the month — that it said would be a record-breaker. It also plans to open 75 to 80 additional stores this fiscal year, pushing its total to nearly 2,100 nationally. For folks who still aren’t paying attention to this company I say, get with the program, they are worth following.

6/6/22

Retailers of the Week: Silpo, Jysk

Ukraine

Silpo.uk

Jysk.com

Specialty Chains

Our Retailer of the Week selections both did something very typical for retail businesses: they opened. But for both chains it was where they did it rather than what they did that made them honorees. Both reopened their stores in Ukraine this past week, a remarkable achievement in a country being cruelly and unjustly attacked by Russia. This is not the place to get into geo-politics or morality but we can all agree it is amazing that retail businesses are trying to return to normal operations under such horrible conditions. And it serves to put into perspective any problems western retailers might be having to deal with these days — merchandise shortages, price increases, labor issues, skyrocketing costs, changing consumer purchasing patterns. When just opening for business Monday morning is a major accomplishment all the rest becomes much less troubling. Peace.

5/31/22

Retailer of the Week: Fashionphile

Carlsbad, CA

Fashionphile.com

Specialty Reseller

When companies keep saying they need to give shoppers a reason to get off their screens and come into their physical stores but aren’t sure how to do that, they need to look at the new Fashionphile store in Manhattan. The 60,000-square-foot location (part-store, part-warehouse, part-office) is in the Starrett-Lehigh building in West Chelsea and it features more than 15,000 handbags and other fashion accessories, all pre-owned, from the likes of Hermes, Chanel, Prada and other luxury brands. It is not just a store: it’s a destination, a day-trip and — heaven help me for using the word – – an experience. Fashionphile started on eBay and still sells online but this new place takes it into another realm. And serves as an example of how to provide something to shoppers they can’t get on their devices.

5/23/22

Honda

Torrance, CA

Honda.com

Auto Dealer Franchiser

It is by no means alone in taking a hard serious look at how it sells cars, but Honda seems to be the most vocal about changing the process when it comes to its franchised dealers. This past week it announced it would be advocating a smaller footprint for its retail outlets — and yes, car makers call them stores too — that takes into account the way consumers are shopping for and eventually purchasing vehicles. This will be a long process — Honda doesn’t actually own the dealerships and can’t require that they be resized — but it’s a start and we’ll see the results over the next few years. Love this comment from an auto consultant: “The dealership doesn’t need to be some Taj Mahal on the highway somewhere.” Size does matter and retailers of all goods need to rethink how they meet their customers.

5/16/22

Retailer of the Week: Ikea

Delft, Netherlands

Ikea.com

Specialty Chain

Whether it’s kronas, euros or dollars, Ikea’s news last week that it would spend $(US)3.2 billion reworking its entire company to open more urban stores and allow its very-big-boxes out on the highway to serve as DC points shows a retailing company that gets it…and is willing to pay for it, too. Reminds me of Target when Brian Cornell got there and told Wall Street and anyone else who would listen that it was going to spend serious money to fix itself, it was going to take time and the company’s stock would be taking a big hit in the meantime. Look at Target now. Ikea is taking a similar strategy and it makes you wonder why more retailers who are trying to fix their problems don’t handle it this way. Are you listening, Gap, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, JCPenney?

5/9/22

Retailer of the Week: Nike

Beaverton, OR

Nike.com

Specialty Chain

Nike has been in the forefront of taking control of its vertical distribution, cutting back third party retail sellers and focusing on selling its products directly to the consumer, both in its own stores and online. It’s the business model of the future for big brands and retailers need to understand this. Nike is now taking its efforts up a notch with the news that it will open a store sometime in the next year in the U.S. exclusively for its perennial best seller Michael Jordan brand. No details on where or exactly when. One can ask what took them so long to do this but it makes perfect sense and is another sign that big brands are increasingly going to control their retail destinies.

5/2/22

Retailer of the Week: Snapchat

Santa Monica, CA

Snapchat.com

Social Commerce

OK, so Snapchat is not really a retailer and in a time when Twitter and TikTok seem to be getting all the social media selling attention, it may get lost in the shuffle. But hey, Snapchat has more than 600 million users — up from 500 million last year — and it’s doing some interesting things that should put it on your radar. Last week the parent company — Snap Inc. — said it was introducing some new features to make augmented reality selling easier on its site, plus it was rolling out a new lightweight drone camera called Pixy that ostensibly could have e-commerce functionality as well. Social selling is gaining in popularity big time and Snap is determined its site be a part of that process. I think we’re only just starting to see how social media sites will take a larger role in online retailing. Stay tuned…or clicked…or whatever.

4/25/22

Retailer of the Week: Carvana

Tempe, AZ

Carvana.com

Specialty Chain

Mixed messages with this week’s selection: Carvana just reported a rotten quarter and has been hit hard by the recent economy and its costs. But on the other side — and the reason why we’re writing about them this week — is their brilliant branding symbol, the 10-story tall auto vending machine. As gimmicks go it’s right up there with the best of them but as a way to differentiate itself and identify its dealerships it is really terrific. In a retail landscape where standing out is so difficult these days in a sea of signage and big box rectangles, the Carvana tower accomplishes what it set out to do. The finances may be troubling but you have to recognize marketing when you see it.

4/18/22

Retailer of the Week: The Container Store

Coppell, TX

Containerstore.com

Specialty Chain

Here’s a retailer that’s been around for awhile and in fact has been public for awhile but has never been as popular with investors as it is with its own customers (and its employees too). I’ve always said it was the retailer that should have never gone public. But more recently there is all kinds of positive news coming out out CTS, from its new loyalty program just announced this month to branded programs with The Home Edit and Maria Kondo. There’s still much work to be done here but I like these encouraging signs and think this is a retailer that needs to be acknowledged for its recent positive improvement.

4/11/22

Retailer of the Week: Miniso

Guangzhou, China

minisousaonline.com

Specialty chain

There’s a 4,200-store chain that operates in 60 countries — including the US — that chances are you’ve never heard of. Miniso is a cross between a dollar store — although the merchandise offerings can go as high as $10 — a toy store and, well, unlike just about any other retailer you’ve seen at this scale. Think of it as a giant impulse store, as if you took the items you’d find in the checkout lanes at a TJ Maxx or Bed Bath & Beyond and created an entire store around them. With 53 stores in the U.S., including its first just opened in Manhattan, Chinese-based Miniso has done what the experts said couldn’t be done: bring a new retail concept to the marketplace. Check it out.

4/4/22

Retailer of the Week: Five Below

Philadephia, PA

fivebelow.com

Specialty chain

It’s a retailer not easy to define but you get the idea the minute you visit a store…and there will be over 1,000 more of them over the next three years. Five Below has taken the dollar store concept and twisted it around the idea of impulse shopping in a way none of the other players in the sector have figured it out. Some people think of it as a Gen Z toy and game store but it’s so much more than that. And with its planned expansion over the next few years it is staking a leadership role that will be tough for competitors to deal with. This store needs to be on your radar, it’s a new concept — a successful new concept — and we don’t see too many of them in the retailing world anymore.

3/28/22

Retailer of the Week: Williams-Sonoma

San Francisco, CA

williamssonoma.com

Specialty chain

Lots of companies talk the talk about environmental correctness and sustainability but few actually walk the walk. The big exception is Williams-Sonoma, which has been in the forefront of this movement under CEO Laura Alber for years and has made it part of its core business plan. Last week, in announcing record earnings, it also issued a new plan to plant six million trees by 2023, doubling its original goal. Its part of the company’s bigger strategy to set an environmental path second to none. No wonder Williams-Sonoma was just named to Newsweek’s list of “America’s Most Trusted Companies.” The rest of retailing has much to learn from how this company combines environmental consciousness with good business…and excels at both.

3/21/22

Retailer of the Week: Walmart

Bentonville, AR

Walmart.com

Discount chain

The metamorphosis of Walmart over the past decade — largely since Doug McMillon became CEO — has been nothing short of remarkable. From a store that was ahead of the curve operations-wise but well off the competition in its merchandising and face to its customers — not to mention one of the more disliked businesses in the country — Walmart is doing so many good things these days, often best in class. One area of note is in livestreaming, an effort begun about a year ago but this month ramped up with new capabilities. Livestreaming has the potential to be one of the biggest selling tools in all of retailing and Walmart is showing it gets that…and is pulling ahead of most other retailers.

3/14/22

Retailer of the Week: Companies That Have Pulled Out of Russia

More than 340 Western corporations including dozens of retailers

Politics and retail make for strange bedfellows but these are unprecedented times and Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine has caused a massive pull-out of American and other Western businesses from the Russian marketplace. One tracker puts the number at 340 overall and includes such retailers as Amazon, H&M, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Crocs, Estee Lauder and many others. These are bold moves with a scale and speed rarely if ever seen before. What happens next is a big issue — I write about it in this blog: https://stupidbusiness.com/2022/03/13/from-russia-whats-next-for-western-companies/ — but for now, it’s wonderful to see such a global response to this tragedy. Our thoughts go out to the people of Ukraine and those in Russia who oppose this madness.

3/7/22

Retailer of the Week: Target

Minneapolis, MN

Target.com

Discount Chain

OK, it’s getting to be a habit here but when you’re the best retailer in America right now — it’s what we said naming them Retailer of the Year for 2021 — you keep doing good things. The latest is the announcement Target would start paying up to $24 an hour for store and distribution center workers, an extraordinary step to both attract and retain employees but also to up the national conversation on the pathetic situation facing worker salaries. Bravo to Brian Cornell and Target for taking this bold step and hoping to end once and for all the urban legend that higher employee salaries hurt companies. It’s the insane levels of management compensation that stretch into the tens of millions of dollars — not $24 an hour for a guy picking orders in a DC — that are the real problem and Target’s ongoing success will continue to dispel this ridiculous myth.

2/28/22

Retailer of the Week: Amazon

Seattle, WA

Amazon.com

E-commerce

Does anybody else see the irony that the retailing company that has done the most to hurt physical stores is also the one being the most innovative in that channel? Amazon’s Just-Walk-Out technology is certainly the most innovative development in in-store retailing since the development of central check-outs. And now it is rolling it out in its first Whole Foods store in Washington, DC. Once again, the rest of the retailing work is far, far behind on this technology — as they were with e-commerce back in the early years of this century — and they are giving Amazon a huge advantageous head-start. It will take years for the others to catch up…as they are still trying to do online. Some people never learn.

2/21/22

Retailer of the Week: CVS

Woonsocket, RI

CVS.com

Drug Store Chain

CVS has been a leader in the drug chain sector ever since they made the decision — the expensive decision — to stop selling cigarettes and position itself around the entire health theme. It was way ahead of its time and this month it took another step in that direction with the introduction of a new line of home medical equipment for seniors and disabled people designed by the Michael Graves organization. Graves, who made history with his original collection of designed household products for Target, has been gone for several years but his company lives on. After becoming paralyzed with a rare infection Graves spent much of his final years designing products for disabled people but few ever got to market. The CVS line — things like canes, shower seats and commodes — takes those designs and finally brings them to people who don’t want that antiseptic hospital look in their homes. Good for CVS for continuing to find new ways to exemplify its focus on health and good for Michael Graves who never met an object he didn’t believe he could make better to use…and better to look at.

2/14/22

Retailer of the Week: Gallery Furniture

Houston, TX

Galleryfurniture.com

Specialty Retailer

Even non-football fans — much less those not in the Houston market looking to buy furniture — have no doubt read about the $9.5 million bet Gallery’s high-profile owner Jim McIngvale — aka Mattress Mack — made on the Cincinnati Bengals for the Super Bowl yesterday. Apparently when the Bengals lost so did Mack, but lost is a relative term. He no doubt sold millions of dollars of furniture during this promotion, something he has done before with his previous big sports bets. Did Mack get the points? Maybe, so maybe lost isn’t the right term on the bet itself or the resulting publicity this stunt generated. It’s a lesson for retailers of all sizes that unorthodox promotions and crazy marketing still have their place in a business increasingly ruled by algorithms and Excel spreadsheets. Win, lose or draw, retailing needs more guys like Mattress Mack.

2/7/22

Retailer of the Week: Kohl’s

Menomonee Falls, WI

Kohls.com

Department Store

Here’s an interesting choice this week: Kohl’s is our selection not necessarily because of anything they’ve done as a retailing company…though they do do some things very well. No, this is all about a business under siege that is trying to justify its existence and convince investors that it is in better hands with its current management, current ownership and current structure. The barbarians at the gate are out to change all three of those things and, while ultimately, they may succeed it won’t be because Kohl’s rolled over and played dead. If the invaders win it may be better for them but it’s not going to be better for Kohl’s as a retailer, you can almost guarantee that, Good luck Kohl’s, keep fighting the good fight.

1/31/22

Retailer of the Week: Lowe’s

Mooresville, NC

Lowes.com

Specialty Chain

It’s not easy being number two in a retail channel. Especially when the number one player is so good. It’s the spot Lowe’s finds itself in competing against Home Depot and it’s why the big DIY-er continues to look for ways to differentiate itself. The latest effort is a tie-in with Petco to put pet product shop-in-shops in its stores. It’s a modest start — just 14 of its close to 2,000 locations — but it gets people’s’ attention and that’s a big part of the move. It’s one more way the retailer can both get some headlines and set itself apart from the other guy. A big business? Probably not. A big deal? Probably.

1/24/22

Retailer of the Week: Amazon

Seattle, WA

Amazon.com

E-commerce

With all that Amazon has done to change the very nature of the retailing business, it’s always difficult to pick out individual actions but the news last week that the company will be opening its first physical store dedicated to apparel makes the cut on many levels. For one, it reinforces the belief that Amazon understands it needs physical stores to continue to grow and expand its business. It’s a lesson that other online players are still learning the hard way. But it also addresses one of the weaker areas of the Amazon merchandising matrix, clothing. They are a huge seller of apparel — maybe the largest — but still have much work to do when it comes to fashion apparel. This is a big step.

1/17/22

Retailer of the Week: Costco

Issaquah, WA

Costco.com

Warehouse Club

The news hook is that Costco said it will open 28 new stores this year, but really we’re picking the giant warehouse club this week just because they do so many things well. Their merchandising, their operations, their ethics and the way they treat their employees: any of these reasons alone would be enough to select them. Costco proves a big national retailer can execute on a micro-level even as it is one of the biggest companies in the business. There’s so much other retailers can learn from them. In the meantime, excuse me, got to get some of those free food samples.

1/10/22

Retailer of the Week: Ace Hardware

Oak Brook, IL

Acehardware.com

Specialty Chain

It’s an awkward word but omnichannel has come to define the business strategy that retailers in every sector need to embrace to be successful. So rankings this week from an independent organization — Incisiv — that rated Ace as the best in overall omnichannel customer service are important and make this hardware chain worthy of note. Ace finished first in these ratings, with the top spots in customer experience and purchasing process. It shows that independent retailers can outperform the national Big Box chains, giving them a real competitive advantage. This is not just a pandemic thing, this is the way retail is going to be for the foreseeable future.

1/03/22

Retailer of the Week: Patagonia

Ventura, CA

Patagonia.com

Specialty Chain

This past holiday shopping season could have marked a seminal change in how retailers dealt with operating hours and procedures. But even as many closed for Thanksgiving and others tried to adapt worker and shopper-friendly policies none went as far as Patagonia, which closed its entire retail fleet and e-commerce fulfillment operation for the full week between Christmas and New Year. Patagonia, which is usually on the leading edge of social policie,s said it was doing “its best to not be bound by convention and to look out for people and the planet. We’re giving employees a break this holiday season with some paid time off.” It was a remarkable step and while other retailers are not likely to go to this extreme it does move the bar and set a challenge the rest of the industry. Conscious Capitalism? This goes one step beyond…maybe even two.

12/20/21

2021 Retailer of the Year:

Target

Minneapolis, MN

Target.com

Category: Mass merchant

This selection was one of the easier ones I’ve had to make during this year-long competition for Retailer of the Week. Target just does so many things right and for 2021 they upped their game in all facets, from merchandising to omnichannel capabilities to community service to marketing. They are the exception to the rule that says a big, price-oriented retail chain can’t also be exceptional at the customer experience. Congrats to Brian Cornell and his entire team.

And congrats too to runner-ups Williams Sonoma and Ikea for their excellent efforts during 2021 to keep doing the right thing. For the former it’s been an ongoing story and for the latter one of reinvention, sometimes even tougher than maintaining the status quo.

Finally, an honorable mention to the Shops at the Silos, the Magnolia Home complex in Waco, TX that is the freshest idea on the retail landscape in a very long time. Retail as a village is a concept we’re going to see a lot more of in the years ahead.

Retailer of the Week will take the week off next week, see you in 2022.

12/14/21

2021 Retailer of the Year Finalists

I began this weekly chronicling of the retail scene at the start of this year to recognize the retailer that had done the most outstanding thing for the previous week. Over the course of the year I’ve honored more than 40 different companies from mainstream retailers like Lowe’s and Nordstrom to fast fooders like Popeyes and Whataburger to providers like Klarna and other buy-now-pay-later services. There have been overseas honorees like Selfridges, obvious choices like Apple and obscure ones like Zingermans. I even selected Physical Stores one week in acknowledgement of their enduring role in the retail business.

But a few companies turned up multiple times and they are the finalists for Retailer of the Year for 2021. It’s not a quantifiable contest but the overall honoree will come from this group who have been noted more than once: Costco, Ikea, RH, Target, Walmart, Warby Parker and Williams Sonoma. There is also one non-retailer service provider in the finalists: Shopify. Interestingly, when you look at these names it pretty much constitutes the best retailers in America, don’t you think.

The 2021 Retailer of the Week will be announced in this space on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.

12/6/21

Retailer of the Week: Dollar General

Goodlettsville, TN

Dollargeneral.com

Category: Dollar Chain

A quirk of business nature, I guess, that the two leading dollar chains are back-to-back winners of the Retailer of the Week designation. And in a way, they are both for the same reason. Dollar General announced last week they were opening another 1,000 stores focused on their Popshelf format, which takes the chain into new and higher merchandising price points and categories. It’s a recognition by both chains that their core business model is not sacrosanct and that each needs to evolve with the times. It’s also a lesson all retailers — indeed, all businesses — could and should learn.

11/29/21

Retailer of the Week: Dollar Tree

Chesapeake, VA

Dollartree.com

Category: Dollar Chain

A “buck-and-a-quarter” is no doubt the punchline of some long-lost joke somewhere but it was no laughing matter for Dollar Tree, the giant dollar store chain which announced it was raising the prices of most of the merchandise it sells by 25 cents. And while I give them a big “you’ve got to be kidding” for not admitting this has to do with inflation and supply chain impacting market conditions, I applaud them for taking this big step to stay current and not get hung up on antiquated premises that are just not relevant anymore. Too many retailers hang on to out-of-date strategies because that’s what they’ve always done. Businesses need to adapt to the times and that’s what Dollar Tree has done. Well done.

11/22/21

Retailer of the Week: CVS Health

Woonsocket, RI

CVShealth.com

Category: Specialty Chain

From the day it decided to stop selling cigarettes and tobacco seven years ago — giving up an estimated more than one billion dollars in sales — CVS Health has been focused on a new identity for its nearly 10,000 stores. Adding Health to its name was another step as the chain began a repositioning from a glorified convenience store that happened to have a pharmacy to a business focused on health. As such they were years ahead of other retailers who are now just getting with that program. Last week the chain said it was closing 900 stores — just under 10% of its fleet — to focus on locations where it could offer a total health and wellness store, with services every bit as prominent as products. The important thing here, missed in the superficial headlines, is not the store closings. It’s the continued quest to invent a new kind of retail business, one that is so well positioned for American consumers today.

11/15/21

Retailer of the Week: Dover Street Market

London, UK

doverstreetmarket.com

Category: Specialty Chain

If you’ve never been at a Dover Street Market store, or even worse, never heard of it, shame on you. The specialty retailer, which has US stores in New York and Los Angeles, pretty much defies description. Owned by fashion brand Comme des Garçons, DSM is mostly about apparel but it’s really mostly about what’s interesting out there. On any given day you’ll find an assortment of clothing, but also home, accessories, books and whatever else the merchants there find of interest. Now it is launching a new events-driven program called 3537 that Business of Fashion says marks yet another “reinvention” for the retailer. Go see this store, it is doing things nobody else is and if sometimes they don’t work or are just too damn weird, it only means they are out there…way out there, sometimes…which is a lesson all retailers need to learn.

11/8/21

Retailer of the Week: John Lewis

London, UK

johnlewis.com

Category: Department Store

The Christmas holiday advertisement has always been a mainstay of the promotional calendar for any retailer and it says a lot about the company in its tone, messaging and aesthetics. So we were especially taken with the TV ad this season from British department store chain John Lewis called “Unexpected Guest.” It’s an ET meets It’s a Wonderful Life spin but it’s so appropriate for this year when so many of us are worn out from the pandemic and politics and could use some spiritual uplifting. Will let you enjoy it without giving away too much: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTttgc0DPA4. Some other retailers are going down a similar route but this is the best holiday ad we’ve seen so far this year.

11/1/21

Retailer of the Week: Shopify

Ottawa, Canada

Shopify.com

Category: Retail Services

We’re calling Shopify a retail service but increasingly the company — which facilities online shopping for smaller businesses — is looking like a retailer itself. This past week the news came out that it bought Eporta, a UK-based tech company that focuses on connecting buyers and sellers in the design community. It stands to reason that it will use that platform elsewhere, like in the U.S., as it builds out its B2B business. In fact, connecting businesses with each other, rather than with consumers, is shaping up as a major area of expansion for Shopify. It’s still the anti-Amazon for many independent retailers looking for an online selling solution, yet it may eventually end up being a competitor too. Either way, everyone in the retailing world needs to keep their eyes on what Shopify is doing.

10/25/21

Retailer of the Week: Spirit Halloween

Egg Harbor Township, NJ

Spirithalloween.com

Category: Specialty Retailer Chain

Big Box stores used to make a big deal out of opening 50 or 60 stores a year. And the national dollar chains can open as many as 1,000 units a year. But both pale in comparison to Spirit Halloween which opens 1,400 stores…and they do it over a period of just a few weeks…and they do it each year…and every year. It’s a remarkable achievement in the retail business from site selection to staffing to inventory management but this seasonal retailer — a division of Spencer Gifts — has got it down to a science. There’s really no other retailer that operates on this model and seems to do it so successfully. The company is privately owned so we never see their financials but you have to assume they wouldn’t keep doing it if it wasn’t working. There are pop-ups…and then there’s Spirit. It’s scary good.

10/18/21

Retailer of the Week: Buy Now Pay Later Services

Assorted companies

Category: Retail Service

Talk about something nobody in the business really saw coming. Everyone knew the internet was going to be huge — at least eventually — and all the omnichannel tactics like BOPIS and delivery caught on really quickly during the pandemic but I don’t remember anybody nailing buy-now-pay later services like Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay to name just three taking hold of retailers and consumers alike so rapidly. The idea of paying over time has been around since department store layaway more than three-quarters of a century ago, but the PNPL boys have found a new twist that seems to be too good to be true for shoppers, even as it is one more thing chipping away at retailer margins. But it looks like this is going to be part of the business for some time to come. Who knew?

10/11/21

Retailer of the Week: Williams Sonoma

San Francisco, CA

williamssonoma.com

Category: Specialty Chains

I keep coming back to Sonoma because they keep doing so many good things that set them in the upper echelon of both outstanding retailing companies and outstanding people. This past week, the company — parent to Pottery Barn, West Elm and its own eponymous brand, among others — announced a new eco policy that places it in the lead of global corporations in the issues of sustainability and environmental correctness. They also announced an increase in their pay rate for employees. Other companies are doing similar things but Sonoma always seems to be the best and the brightest on these issues. From CEO Laura Alber on down, this is a terrific retailer…a terrific company.

10/4/21

Retailer of the Week: Tiffany

New York, NY

Tiffany.com

Category: Speciality Chain

Certainly one of the best-known retailers — luxury or otherwise — in the world, Tiffany has new owners in LVMH and they have decided the brand needed a major refresh and update, even though the last team in there had done some interesting progressive things. The most visible sign so far of the repositioning as been the new marketing campaign starring Beyonce and Jay Z. The TV commercials and print ads are well done, but we all know it’s a risky move to try to bring in a new demographic while retaining your current loyal customers. We’ll see if this works but so far the effort is impressive and creative, so they may pull it off. Maybe…but you have to give them credit for trying, too many retailers wait too long and by then the transformation becomes impossible.

9/27/21

Retailer of the Week: Costco

Issaquah, WA

Costco.com

Category: Warehouse Club

Costco continues to do so many things well they could be honored here nearly every week. But I’ve selected them this time after they reported another strong quarter — topping $60 billion in sales for the first time — and announced new measures to help it deal with the supply chain mess, both on the back end with more transportation solutions to help supply and on the front end with measures to control demand. Costco has developed one of the most loyal customer bases in all of retailing and that’s a remarkable achievement given the fact that it charges consumers for the privilege of shopping at its stores. It had this figured out way before Amazon came up with Prime.

9/20/21

Retailer of the Week: IKEA

Coshohocken, PA

ikea.com/us/en/

Category: Specialty Retailer

IKEA, the Swedish home furnishings import, is in a most interesting position in the marketplace. Long stereotyped as the home of disposable furniture in giant stores on the outskirts of town, it is moving like crazy to recast itself as both a sustainable retailer and one on the cutting edge of retail merchandising trends. Its latest marketing initiative certainly hits those buttons. Last week it hosted the IKEA Festival, a virtual online event that featured live music performances, home tours, assorted decorating sessions and more than a few mentions of its products. It’s one of the best virtual presentations I’ve seen, combining elements of Instagram, Zoom and Spotify. If you didn’t catch it, here’s a link, it’s still up as this is being posted: https://www.ikea.com/global/en/events/festival/home-concerts?id=591239643. You can reposition a retail business, it takes time, money and creativity. IKEA seems to have all three of those elements right now

9/13/21

Retailer of the Week: RH

Corte Madeira, CA

RH.com

Category: Specialty Retailer

What can you say about RH, another repeat Retailer of the Week? In announcing their second quarter earnings last week, the upscale furniture specialty operation not only put up outstanding numbers but laid out its future plans that are nothing short of astonishing. They include its first foray into Europe, the debut of a RH Contemporary brand, its first Guesthouse hotel opening (delayed but finally arriving) next year and all kinds of other initiatives over the next decade. It’s inspirational for other retailers but it proves once more that taking chances, doing dramatic things and just playing outside the big brown box that is the furniture business can be successful. As I asked in a piece on them for The Business of Home, when is a furniture store not just a furniture store? When it’s RH.

9/6/21

Retailer of the Week: Physical Stores

Category: DTC Specialty Retailers

The Direct-to-Consumer model was going to change the retailing business…but in fact it was the other way around. When operations like Warby Parker, Allbirds, Casper and Rothys came into existence a few years back they promised that bypassing physical stores and selling directly to consumers was the way to go. Well, it was one way at least. But when the first two of the above group filed to go public over the past two weeks it turns out each sees physical stores as their prime vehicle to growth. Casper was already there and Rothys also just announced a step-up in its physical store program. DTC is one component of the overall successful retail strategy but it must be in the context of selling to shoppers in whatever format they want. It’s the prime directive for the retail business going forward.

8/30/21

Retailer of the Week: Mervyn’s

No longer in operation

Category: Junior Department Store

Two very odd points about this week’s Retailer: One, they are labeled as a junior department store — a category that no longer exists and that while the trade understood, most shoppers never did — and, most importantly, the retailer is no longer in business. But when it was, Mervyn’s was an outstanding retailer, perfecting a business model that had been around for decades but taken to a new level. And why this week? It’s because its founder and namesake Mervyn Morris died last week at the age of 101, 72 years after he opened his first store, 43 years after it was bought by what is now Target, 42 years after he stepped down (forced out?) as CEO, 17 years after Target sold the retailer to private equity buyers and 13 years after those owners shut it down and liquidated what was left. If that isn’t the story arc of recent retail history, what is? Mervyn’s was a great store and on the passing of its founder we should honor its memory.

8/23/21

Retailer of the Week: Macy’s

New York, NY

Macys.com

Category: Department Store

For those who might be confused about this week’s choice, given its struggles over the past few years, remember this selects the retailer of the week and nothing more. Macy’s had a good week, putting up financial results that were surprisingly strong, beating analyst forecasts. It announced the final steps of its current store closing program (it still needs to do more) and it said it would expand its small-store Market format to Atlanta this fall. (We remain skeptical of this concept given the initial Texas stores) There was also the Toys’R’Us tie-in, which is a good idea but one that will need strong execution…something that Macy’s is not particularly well-known for when it comes to third party and/or in-store programs. Let’s see what happens with this, the potential is certainly there. Macy’s still has a lot of work to do and there remain too many questionable actions in its plans to make the department store format relevant again. But, as I said, they had a good week and that’s something, isn’t it?

8/16/21

Retailer of the Week: Sephora

Paris, France

Sephora.com

Category: Specialty Chain

Over the past week or two, Sephora began opening its store-in-store shops inside Kohl’s, transitioning this business out of its former home, JCPenney. It’s a big move for all three retailers: JCP is losing a valuable draw and revenue generator, Kohl’s is staking a big part of its HBA business on a third party and Sephora is betting that its new partner is right for the long run. Have to agree the beauty chain needed to do something given the declining picture at Penney so I applaud them for taking a bold action. Wish more retailing companies took these kinds of decisive steps when it came to addressing issues rather than incremental baby steps the way many businesses do. No guarantee this will work but pretty sure doing nothing would be worse.

8/9/21

Retailer of the Week: Shopify

Ottawa, Canada

Shopify.com

Category: Retail Service Provider

Shopify was picked here earlier this year for its role in helping independent specialty retailers get set-up in e-commerce and that remains their biggest part in the retail business. But earlier this month it opened its first store, in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, that is part selling space and part evangelical showroom for the company’s services. Google is doing the same thing with its new store in the Meatpacking District in Manhattan so this concept is not exactly new. (When you think about it, Apple’s been doing this for decades, though they’ve turned it into a good business on its own.) But for Shopify as a way to get exposure, spread its gospel and maybe give a little boost to some of its retail users, it’s a nice vehicle. Full disclosure: I haven’t seen it yet and I suspect the physical manifestation of Shopify is not as much a breakthrough as its online vehicle — the Google store certainly wasn’t. But it’s a worthwhile platform for the company and it further melts the rules about what is retailing and what is not.

8/2/21

Retailers of the Week: Target, Walmart

Minneapolis, MN; Bentonville, AR

target.com; walmart.com

Category: Mass Merchant

Another two-fer this week because each of the giant national chains stepped up and did the right thing. Target gave out another round of bonus checks to its frontline employees for their efforts above and beyond during the pandemic conditions while Walmart reinstituted a mandatory mask mandate for its employees in selected high-danger areas while reemphasizing its suggested mask policy for shoppers. Both retailers took the lead on what could be contentious issues — the former with profit-obsessed Wall Street and the latter with certain of its shopping demographics — and in doing so, showed how big business must do its part in our society to make things better. More retailers — hell, more big companies — need to be doing the same thing.

7/26/21

Retailer of the Week: Bed Bath & Beyond

Union, NJ

bedbathandbeyond.com

Category: Specialty Chain

Still very much a work in progress, this Big Box home furnishings chain is in the midst of a massive remake and nothing personifies that more than its just reopened Manhattan flagship. Once a landmark store but more recently a terrible place to shop, the giant Chelsea location has been blown up and completely redone. It’s everything it wasn’t before: open, airy, well merchandised and generally a lovely place to shop. It says everything you need to know about the future of this brand. Yes, it has to work and — more importantly — they’ve got to be able to maintain the store in this condition as it gets heavily shopped but for now it’s one of the best store redos I’ve ever seen.

7/19/21

Retailer of the Week: Sam’s Club

Bentonville, AR

samsclub.com

Category: Warehouse Club

Even as Costco continues to lead the market share war in this channel — and get many of the headlines — Sam’s has quietly, consistently and creatively become a viable competitor with any number of retail initiatives. Its latest is a new Scan & Ship program that lets shoppers make a purchase in-store through the Sam’s app and have the item shipped to their homes. For products too big or bulky to take with you it’s a smart service, opening up another omnichannel element nobody else had come up with before. Sam’s seems to be the tech stalking horse for big-brother Walmart with this and other introductions, giving it a real point of differentiation…no easy task in retail these days.

7/12/21

Retailer of the Week: Warby Parker

New York, NY

Warbyparker.com

Category: Specialty Retailer

Back as our pick for a second time this year, the DTC pioneer continues to morph into a multi-channel retailer that took its digital-first strategy and flipped it to a physical-store-first positioning. This year it will open more than 35 stores and it says the eventual plan is to open “hundreds” more. This is the way a modern retailing company needs to operate…not like Gap UK closing all its stores or years ago Victoria’s Secret getting rid of its print catalog. If a retailer isn’t prepared to meet its customer anywhere they want to shop — in a store, online or any point in between — that retailer is nowhere. And with WP looking to go public it continues to be the role model for retail start-ups…a lesson that should not be lost on so many others who have gone astray.

7/6/21

Retailer of the Week: Kroger

Atlanta, GA

kroger.com

Category: Supermarket Chain

If you could have named any retailer in the grocery space that was most vulnerable to the one-two punch of Walmart and Amazon, it would be Kroger, the largest free-standing supermarket chain (they have so many brands it’s hard to list them all here). Yet, through this digital onslaught, through the pandemic and through the supply chain mess that resulted from the latter, Kroger has come through stronger and in better shape, thanks to quick actions, some innovative solutions to the new realities of grocery shopping and its adaption of technology, particularly its tie-in with automated warehouse company Ocado. It’s still a tough business and one where the competition is fierce but Kroger circa 2021 looks in a better position than anyone could have reasonably expected.

6/28/21

Retailers of the Week: Apple, Lego

Cupertino, CA; Billund, Denmark

apple.com, lego.com

Category: Specialty Chains

Here’s a first for TROTW: Two Choices. We’re picking Apple and Lego because both have just opened new stores that are the epitome of what retailing companies need to do to make their physical representations relevant, exciting — and successful. For Apple, it was the repurposing of the historic 1927 Tower Theater in Los Angeles into its newest store, keeping and restoring all of its glory and making it a destination in downtown LA. For Lego, it’s its new New York City location that creates a whimsical and imaginative marquee store for kids of all ages. Each of these new stores is part of their parent company’s broader strategy of having high-profile, highly visible showplaces that are part of their broader go-to-market strategies. While we realize not every retailing company can afford to do these kinds of things without getting a proper return on investment, they must be considered as statements for what their brand stands for in an age when in-store business is threatened as never before. We can’t wait to see them both in person. Nor should you.

6/21/21

Retailer of the Week: Best Buy

Richfield, MN

bestbuy.com

Category: Specialty Chain

That we’re selecting a retailer that not all that long ago was being voted most likely to fail by many industry observers is downright remarkable. But Best Buy, under some smart leadership and with a strategic plan that combined common sense and a few surprises has come back from the near-dead to become a model for specialty chains everywhere. Both online and in its physical stores it is doing some remarkable retailing and proving legacy brands can prosper. We especially look at their service capabilities as truly both innovative and inspiring. For all the old-time chains that couldn’t adapt we point to Best Buy to say it can be done.

6/14/21

Retailer of the Week: Klarna

Stockholm, Sweden

klarna.com

Category: Retail services

Once again, we’re moving a bit out of the center with this week’s selection of Klarna, the buy-now-pay-over-time service that just raised another shitload of money and is now valued at about $45 billion. We have to admit we were skeptical when we first heard about services like Klarna, Afterpay and Affirm that offer an alternative to credit cards for shoppers looking to spread out payment terms. But with increasing acceptance by a wide swath of retailers in the U.S. and around the world, Klarna and its competitors seem to have found a niche in the marketplace, especially as e-commerce gained enormous market share during the pandemic. It still sounds a bit like layaway on steroids but Klarna just proves that variations on a theme can work with the right new twist.

6/7/21

Retailer of the Week: Harry Potter New York

New York, NY

harrypotterstore.com

Category: Specialty Store

If you want to know what it takes to get shoppers off their screens and back in to a physical store, then you have to see this brand new retailer, which seems to have all the pieces necessary to make that happen. At 21,000 square feet spread out over three levels (it’s the former RH space in the Flatiron district), it contains 15 different themed areas, virtual reality experiences, movie props, an art gallery, a candy stores and, of course, a bar to get a bottle of Butterbeer. In reading about it — full disclosure, haven’t seen it in person yet — it is exactly the kind of store that retailers need to be creating in this new shopping environment. I’m not even a big Potter fan but I’m dying to get to it.

6/1/21

Retailer of the Week: Williams Sonoma

San Francisco, CA

williamssonoma.com

Category: Specialty Chain

On the theory that you shouldn’t punish a company just because they do good things over and over again, this week’s selection is a repeat, Williams Sonoma. Last week it turned in another stellar quarter but more importantly it was how they got there: great merchandising, working the supply chain and logistics mess as well as anybody and having a smart overall strategy that serves them so well. Even more, they took the bold step to say they expect the good times to continue, unlike some other retail businesses that are still tip-toeing around making forecasts. Said it before and saying it again: Is there any other retailer handling the current business climate as well as Williams Sonoma?

5/24/21

Retailer of the Week: Warby Parker

New York, NY

Warbyparker.com

Category: Specialty Retailer

If there was ever a poster child for direct-to-consumer retailing, it would be Warby Parker, the eyewear company that launched in 2010 and has been the role model for countless other retail operations ever since. It realized early on it needed physical stores to be a successful business and now it has 125 with plans to open more. And it will be opening more because as co-CEO Dave Gilboa recently told Modern Retail, “We’re still big believers in physical retail because many customers are still drawn to a fun, seamless customer experience.” Let that sink in: “a fun, seamless customer experience.” Any retailer looking to define their physical stores has to understand this. Warby Parker sees it quite clearly.

5/17/21

Retailer of the Week: Selfridges

London, UK

Selfridges.com

Category: Department Store

Whenever a struggling department store retailer — particularly in the U.S. — talks about trying to fix its problems and re-strategize its business, the conversation invariably resorts to talking about Selfridges, the British operation that very well could be the best in the world. Its mix of leased departments, special events, food-focus and exciting presentation has made it the poster child for every department store in the world. And whenever there’s a new thing in the field — resale or rental or whatever — it seems to be one of the first to adapt. For American department stores from Nordstrom to Macy’s, the irony can’t be lost that Selfridges was started by Henry Gordon Selfridge…an American.

5/10/21

Retailer of the Week: Food52

New York, NY

Food52.com

Category: Online Direct Seller

Here’s an online operation that started life giving recipes and cooking advice but has expanded into e-commerce with a very sharp, focused approach that makes it a standout on the web. Food52 enhanced that last week with its purchase of the Dansk brand, one of the most well-known — and underdeveloped — names in tabletop and cookware. Owned by Lenox for the past few decades it was never able to find its rightful place in the retail hierarchy, which is a shame because its designs and approach were so perfectly suited to these times. I can’t wait to see what Food52 does with this iconic brand, it’s going to be a feast for the eyes.

5/3/21

Retailer of the Week: Tractor Supply Co.

Brentwood, TN

Tractorsupply.com

Category: Specialty Chain

If there’s been any single retailer that seems to be best positioned for the pandemic era it probably has to be Tractor Supply Co. Its “Out Here” merchandising strategy combining actual real commercial farming products with a heavy dose of Green Acres Gentleman Farmer goods is the right combination as all those Millennials flee the city and head out to the burbs, planting vegetables in their backyards and setting up bird baths. A heavy focus on pets is only a plus. With 2,000 stores and another 80 planned for this year, TS is the right store at the right time in the right place. How many other retailers can make that claim?

4/26/21

Retailer of the Week: Lowe’s

Mooresville, NC

Lowes.com

Category: Specialty Chain

It’s not easy being the Number Two in any field. Ask Avis…or Gimbels. It’s been the challenge for Lowe’s, a good retailer that is getting to be a very good retailer — but has the disadvantage of competing against a great retailer, Home Depot. This past week, though, Lowe’s took a big step towards closing that gap with its acquisition of the Stainmaster label, the most important brand in the soft floor coverings business. As part of its overall efforts to assemble a stable of well-known brands in the home space, it’s a big piece of that strategy. With its annual revenue only about two-thirds of Depot, Lowe’s still has a long way to go but this was a very smart move.

4/19/21

Retailer of the Week: Nike

Beaverton, OR

Nike.com

Category: Specialty Chain

The obvious question is what took us so long to recognize Nike? They are perhaps the most strategic, progressive vertical brand — manufacturing straight through to its own retailing — in the marketplace today and their ongoing efforts to control their distribution are on the cutting edge of the business. By pulling their products from third-party retailers who are not sticking with the Nike program — pricing and presentation primarily — they are setting the new business model for brands that want to meet the consumer with a consistent facing in-store and online. They will be the poster child for many others going forward who will find they must adapt a similar strategy.

4/12/21

Retailer of the Week: Shopify

Ottawa, Canada

Shopify.com

Category: Retail Service Provider

Sometimes the retailer doing the best things out there is not even a retailer. Case in point, this week’s choice, Shopify, the digital service provider that is allowing thousands — or is that millions? — of smaller, independent and tech-challenged retailers to compete in the world of e-commerce. Everytime I hear a specialty store say they can’t sell online because of the cost of setting up the digital services they need, Shopify comes to mind as the answer to their problem. Yes, it doesn’t solve all the pieces of e-comm and yes, it takes a cut hitting the retailer’s margins but these are small quibbles in the bigger picture of any retailer that’s not online is going to go out of business. There’s no other way to put it…and nobody better than Shopify for helping small retailers to prevent that from happening.

4/5/21

Retailer of the Week: Whataburger

San Antonio, TX

Whataburger.com

Category: Fast Food Restaurant

Many retailers rewarded their employees during the early stages of the pandemic with efforts above and beyond but that movement seems to have died down as the crisis drags on and maybe starts to subside. Not Whataburger, a regional fast fooder, that announced last week it was rewarding its 45,000 workers with a $90 million pot of bonuses for their efforts this past year. It also recognizes efforts during the recent blizzard conditions in Texas and is being supplemented by added contributions to 401K plans as well. Too many companies — especially retailers — have moved on from understanding the role their front line workers play in their success and overall customer satisfaction. Not Whataburger…which, by the way, makes a damn fine burger too.

3/29/21

Retailer of the Week: RH

Corte Madera, CA

rh.com

Category: Specialty Chain

If there was ever a retailing company that proved going against the rules and relying on the out-and-out entrepreneurial and merchant skills of its leadership works, it is RH. Under Gary Friedman it has zagged while others have zigged and created one of the most successful and special operations, not just in the home furnishings sector but in all retailing. For every retailer that believes operations, finance and real estate are the only keys to a good company, I give you RH which has done it through its merchandising, product development, marketing and sheer guts. The retail business — not to mention — consumers — need more companies like this…and fewer algorithm-only robot-retailers.

3/22/21

Retailer of the Week: Williams Sonoma

San Francisco, CA

williamssonoma.com

Category: Specialty Chain

Is there any retailer in the home furnishings space — or in the entire retailing business for that matter — that has nailed this online/in-store balance and integration better than Williams Sonoma? With all its nameplates — especially its namesake kitchenware brand — excelling, it has ridden out the pandemic era with strong e-commerce sales (70% of its overall revenue in its fourth quarter), aggressive adaption of omnichannel capabilities and excellent back room operations and logistics. It says it expects the home business to continue to do well even as Americans start to venture out of their homes again later in the year. Based on how they’ve performed recently we have no reason to doubt them.

3/15/21

Retailer of the Week: Dick’s Sporting Goods

Pittsburgh, PA

Dickssportinggoods.com

Category: Specialty Chain

There’s something to that old saying about being in the right place at the right time…but you’ve got to know what to do once you get there. Dick’s was certainly in the sweet spot of retailing this past year as people looked for activity gear to get them through the pandemic conditions. The retailer, however, ran with the opportunity and took advantage of all that it offered, putting up stellar numbers while stepping up its omnichannel capabilities. It is also experimenting with two new formats — a close-out concept and an oversized superstore that will open soon. While the sporting goods category has been cruel to some of its long-time players — Modell’s and Sports Authority to name two — Dick’s has prospered and learned it has more than a sporting chance of keeping up the good work, even as we start to return to more normal behavior patterns.

3/8/21

Retailer of the Week: Target

Minneapolis, MN

Target.com

Category: Mass Merchant

Our first repeat winner in this weekly report on retailing, Target continues to outperform, out-produce and outshine every other big retailer in the country. Its fourth quarter results, announced last week, confirm that both in its stores and online the Big Boxer is making virtually every part of its business work. But the most valuable lesson to be learned from Target’s success is its long-term gameplan. While other retailers continue to pander to Wall Street and quarterly results, Target’s long-range strategy should be the role model for every other retailer — hell, every other business — out there. To CEO Brian Cornell, the patient and understanding board of directors and its employees (sorry, still will never call them team members just as I will never call their customers guests), congratulations on excellent work.

3/1/21

Retailer of the Week: Costco

Issaquah, WA

Costco.com

Category: Warehouse Club

Perhaps no other retailing corporation in America has been on the right side of social issues and treating its workers well as often as Costco. The membership warehouse club seems to be a favorite on just about every level: a good investment, a good place to shop and, perhaps the cause of the first two factors, a good place to work. Last week the company said it will start paying its employees a minimum wage of $16 an hour, up from its current $15 an hour. In doing so it continues to prove that retaining good workers by paying them a little more helps avoid the infernal turnover rate that inflicts most of the rest of the retailing world.

2/22/21

Retailer of the Week: Walmart

Bentonville, AR

Walmart.com

Category: Mass Merchant

It wasn’t all that long ago that Walmart was the poster boy for abuse when it came to politically incorrect, insensitive and often abusive retailers in the U.S. That mantle seems to be worn by Amazon now as the Big Box from Bentonville has made a remarkable transformation to a corporation that is doing more good things than bad when it comes to it workers, social issues and the environment. Its latest initiative, announced last week, is a raise for its 425,000 workers that will bring average pay up to $15 an hour. Even though it still isn’t raising its minimum wage and there are other areas where it needs to get its political and social act together, Walmart has shown big companies can change. CEO Doug McMillon deserves much of the credit for leading this effort…and showing that doing the right thing is not only good for the planet, but also good for business.

2/15/21

Retailer of the Week: Popeyes

Atlanta, GA

Popeyes.com

Category: Fast Food Restaurant

It’s not easy to come up with a new promotional twist to product introductions these days, so congrats to the folks at Popeyes who rolled out their new Cajun Flounder Sandwich last week with a 15 cent insurance policy: Customers unsure about a fishy choice could pay an extra 15 cent premium and if they didn’t like their choice they got a free chicken sandwich instead. Following the success of that chicken introduction in 2019 the fast fooder has been shaking up the business and this marketing gimmick is just one more example of a fresh take on getting consumers to try something new. A delicious idea.

2/8/21

Retailer of the Week: Nordstrom

Seattle, WA

Nordstrom.com

Category: Department Store

This week’s winner is a tough call. Nordstrom certainly hasn’t figured out all the answers on how to reinvent the department store model. But here’s the thing: at least it knows the questions. With its new “Closer to You” program unveiled last week it showed it understands what its customers want and need. It’s localization program, integration of its off-price unit into the mothership and other initiatives on operations and logistics all address its core business. Competitors are either off working on tangential businesses or just trying to get away with the same old thing. Neither will work. Nordstrom ultimately may not make all of this work. But they’ve got the best shot of any department store in the country to be successful.

2/1/21

Retailer of the Week: Walgreens

Deerfield, IL

Walgreens.com

Category: Drug Chain

In an industry where women are everywhere on the sales floor and in the merchandising offices too, but hardly ever in the corner office where the president sits, congratulations to Walgreens for picking Roz Brewer as its new CEO, taking over next month. Brewer comes most recently from Starbucks but before that headed up Sam’s Club, the Walmart warehouse club division. What makes Brewer’s appointment all the more special is that not only is she a woman, but she is a black woman. And a black woman with an excellent track record too. It’s a big deal…but it shouldn’t be.

1/25/21

Retailer of the Week: IKEA US

Conshocken, PA

Ikea.com/us

Category: Home Furnishings Specialty Chain

It’s very often the biggest retailer that people in the home furnishings business choose to ignore when it comes to understanding their competition but that is a big mistake. A powerhouse with its big stores, Ikea is now moving into a-little-less-big urban locations and even smaller stores for design planning and order pick-ups. This one-size-doesn’t-fit-all strategy is brilliant and a marked contrast to most national retailers who have limited format options. The retailer’s initiatives in sustainability and eco-awareness are also world class, one more component others choose not to address. Ikea is a very good retailer getting even better every day.

1/18/21

Retailer of the Week: Target

Minneapolis, MN

Target.com

Category: Mass merchant

What can you say about Target…except that it is doing virtually everything right these days. Its 17% jump in sales in November and December was driven across the board: strong in-store merchandising, an excellent e-commerce effort, terrific omnichannel integration, well-developed private brand programs, creative marketing and advertising and continued development of its multi-format physical store strategy. And remember, this was a company that rebuilt itself just a few short years ago, playing the long game and not worrying about short-term quarterly results. Forget the cliches about hitting the bullseye, target marketing or any other obvious gags: Target is the best large retailer in America right now.

1/11/21

Retailer of the Week: Magnolia Market at the Silos

Waco, TX

Magnolia.com

Category: Home, gift, food & fashion

Building on the foundation of their successful TV home remodeling and decorating show, Joanna and Chip Gaines have created a retail business that is a total experience from its original Market store to the just added Magnolia Home outpost, six specialty “cottages,” food trucks, a bakery and a coffee shop, plus plenty of outdoor gathering spaces. There’s even a church. Taking inspiration from Disney it’s a fully integrated, full-on branding complex that can be the role model for specialty retailing in this age of dominant Big Boxes. And well worth the 1-1/2-hour drive from Dallas.

1/4/21

Retailer of the Week: Zingerman’s
Ann Arbor, MI
Zingermans.com
Category: Food, grocery & gifts
As giant retailers continue to gain market share this group of physical and online food and gift retailers proves that there is a place for independent specialty retail in the marketplace. From their carefully selected merchandise assortment (please don’t say curated anymore in 2021) to their clever and whimsical presentation in print and online to their personal, amazing customer service Zingerman’s is the role model for any specialty business trying to find its way in the retail world today. And their food is delicious, too…trust me, I know.

 

 


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