Fanning the flames of growth

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The annual Hot 100 feature is probably my favorite. Sure, there’s much to be learned from the Top 100 published in July. But that list ranks retailers by revenue and the leading companies don’t change much from year to year. The Hot 100 list, on the other hand, ranks companies by revenue growth — showing us which are “hot,” as the name suggests. (Walmart has topped the charts for decades, though Amazon has been creating plenty of buzz lately.)

Even after all the years I’ve logged at STORES, it’s still exciting to open the Hot 100 data and see who tops the list. This year it’s British-owned, Dublin-based Primark, best known as a supplier of fast fashion at prices that represent “value for money.” The retailer has an unyielding focus on volume and keeps a tight rein on operating margins. Based on our research, it appears Primark, which currently operates eight stores (including its newest in Brooklyn, N.Y.), is gaining traction here.

But I found myself drawn to two other retailers appearing in the Top 10: No. 8 Five Below and No. 9 Ulta. Both represent entertaining environments in which to shop, but for very different reasons.

Yes, I have adult children — and I don’t have grandchildren yet — but a trip to Five Below is nothing short of a party. I’m far from the target shopper, yet there is so much to play with, giggle at and scoop up — at a price that never hurts the wallet. When I’m invited to a friend’s milestone birthday or a girls’ night out, I wander the aisles in search of just the right item to make someone smile. My circle of friends stopped exchanging gifts a long time ago, but who can resist a mermaid tail pool float or a bath bomb shaped like a popsicle? And I’ll always remember that Five Below was where I found my mom a pair of “rose-colored glasses,” a material sign of how she lived her life and a memory I cherish.

Then there’s Ulta Beauty. Ulta is like a candy store for beauty junkies, and I qualify. While I can feel right at home in just about any beauty retailer — large or small — what sets Ulta apart is the range of products. On one end of the store are cult-favorite high-end cosmetics; on the opposite side are drug store favorites. There are products from brands you’ve never heard of and new items from brands you’ll swear you just read about.

Earlier this year, I celebrated Ulta’s 21 Days of Beauty sales — never mind “celebrated,” I crushed it. Not everything was for me; by the time 21 days passed, I managed to gain favored status with my daughter and my nieces. And as if sales and an ever-growing repertoire of brands were not enough, Ulta has a rewards program that allows participants to earn points to spend like cash on anything the retailer sells.

I’m just one shopper, but I like to think I played some tiny role in the growth of these retailers and others. It’s just part of the fun of the Hot 100.

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