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Sustained Sizzlers (2013)

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Maintaining sales growth such that they’ve qualified for STORES’ Hot 100 Retailers each year since the list’s inception in 2006 is a challenge met by only 10 companies or chains. Some of these retailers, like Dick’s Sporting Goods and PetSmart, are dominant in their chosen corner of retailing; some, like Tractor Supply Co., are virtually a niche unto themselves.

Ascena Retail Group and O’Reilly Automotive have sustained their sizzle through acquisitions. Amazon.com may not have created e-commerce, but it certainly popularized and led its expansion over the last decade and a half. Dollar Tree bulked up via expansion earlier in the decade, then spent last year aggressively opening new locations; apparel retailers J.Crew, Ross Stores and Urban Outfitters have employed smart merchandising and controlled expansion to keep them cooking for the last eight years.

Urban Outfitters’ staying power among the nation’s hottest retailers is unusual for a fast-fashion retailer, given the vagaries of popular taste. The chain has carefully spread its offering over three apparel brands and two smaller concepts, each serving highly focused merchandise. The two-store Terrain brand is a lifestyle merchant aimed at gardening and outdoor living, while BHLDN, with three locations, features anything that “contributes to a wedding,” but primarily gowns and accessories.

The Free People brand, which was the original Urban Outfitters operating name, targets “young, contemporary women” ages 25 to 35 at more than 80 stores. The private-label brand also wholesales to higher-end department stores across the county. Anthropologie stores attract female consumers in their 30s with a merchandise mix that includes some home décor and furnishings. The core Urban Outfitters locations are the largest in the group, averaging 8,900 sq. ft. and offering both men’s and women’s apparel and accessories designed for consumers between the ages of 18 and 28.

Urban Outfitters has an edgy side — one that has earned criticism at times, such as the recently sold (and more recently pulled) novelty containers designed to look like medication drug vials and bottles bearing such labels as “prescription” shot glasses. “On behalf of … the families across the country affected by the issue of prescription drug misuse and abuse, we commend Urban Outfitters for doing the right thing,” said Steve Pasierb, head of The Partnership at Drugfree.org, after the retailer said it would discontinue the items.

Ross has been sailing along, and is on pace for what could be another Hot 100-type year. Sales were up 8 percent in the first quarter and management raised expectations for the current fiscal year. “Both Ross and [its] dd’s Discounts’ sales and profits continue to benefit from our ability to flow a larger percentage of fresh merchandise to our stores by operating our business with lower inventory levels,” president and COO Michael B. O’Sullivan told investors at the time.

J.Crew managed to push sales up 12 percent in the first three months of this year, but at the cost of gross margin (down 6.1 percent) and operating income (-2.8 percent).