In the world of high-fashion retail, there are few names that carry as much weight as Saks Fifth Avenue. Whether they shop at the company’s flagship store in New York City or any of its other locations, customers flock to Saks Fifth Avenue because of its position on the cutting-edge of luxury fashion. 

One of the people in charge of keeping the store on that edge is Thomas Ott, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of menswear, home, food and gifts. Ott has been with Saks for more than 20 years, and in that time he has seen many changes to not only fashion but to the retail environment as a whole.

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The Canadian optical market is fragmented, and New Look Vision Group is taking advantage of the situation. One of the fastest-growing companies in Canada’s optical retail industry, New Look Vision Group is rapidly expanding through a series of key acquisitions.

“We’re growing fairly quickly,” says Antoine Amiel, president of the Montreal-based company. New Look Vision Group had 76 stores in Quebec before making two major acquisitions in the past two years: Vogue Optical in 2013 and Greiche & Scaff the following year. Vogue Optical is the leading optical retailer in the Canadian Maritime provinces. 

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Mackenthun’s Fine Foods is the oldest grocery company in the state of Minnesota and a family business in the truest sense of the phrase. The store has been passed down through five generations, beginning with President and CEO Kim Mackenthun’s great-grandfather in 1917 with a meat market. 

Kim’s father, Marvin, a World War II veteran, started the full grocery business. Marvin and his father, along with a German sausage maker who never spoke a word of English, brought recipes from Germany – the same sausage recipes that are still used in the store today. 

“We make 110 different kinds of sausage,” Kim says. “We do everything from scratch. And we still make the weird stuff the old Germans like, such as blood sausage and liver sausage. They keep coming from farther and farther away to get it because it’s tough to come by.”

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After being in the fashion industry for more than 15 years, John Varvatos, acclaimed men’s fashion designer, is getting back to his roots. 

This past March, Varvatos opened a new store in Detroit, his hometown. He’s watched the city go through troubled times since he was a child in the 1960s. But he sees hope in the city, believing it will become one of the most talked-about places in the next several years thanks to urban development, opportunity and reinvention. “I see a light shining through it today,” he says.

Varvatos’s store is one of two retail shops within 15 blocks and the only fashion retail store in the downtown area. Most of the storefronts are closed, but he believes it was important to plant his flag in Detroit and be part of the upcoming turn-around. 

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For more than two decades, House of Blues has excited audiences with a wide variety of musical flavors, but now the company wants to tantalize taste buds as much as eardrums. The House of Blues Bayou Heat Hot Sauce is just one of the many products the renowned music venue offers as part of its push into the licensing world, an effort that includes guitar picks, mugs, clothing and even cornbread mix.

Through licensing, parent company Live Nation, one of the world’s largest live entertainment and e-commerce businesses, is turning House of Blues from solely a place for live performances into a brand synonymous with the music lifestyle. By collaborating with product manufacturers, House of Blues can place its name in grocery stores, retailers and upstairs markets to give the brand access to a broader variety of consumers. "Licensed products allow House of Blues to connect with fans outside of our venues and reinforce the memory of their experience," notes Allison Meyerson, vice president of merchandise. 

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When Brad Bowen took over ownership of Golf USA in late 2013, he understood that to be successful the brand had to renew its commitment to its small town stores. Prior ownership had expanded too aggressively into bigger markets where Golf USA found itself competing against large chains with deep pockets. But it was at the small town locations where Golf USA’s attentive customer service stood out and franchisees became a part of the community, creating personal relationships with junior and senior golfers alike. “That’s where we’ve seen a lot of success over the years,” Bowen says.

Golf USA’s were never designed to compete with the large, 60,000-square-foot retailers on inventory, but Bowen says its stores still offer all the familiar products that customers desire. “We have all the same wanted items, the same brands,” he states. “We just don’t carry the overkill in depth.” 

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Foodarama is affectionately known in Houston as the go-to friendly neighborhood market, having served the community for more than 40 years. Although local customers who grew up shopping there with their parents or remember it opening for the first time might feel nostalgia for the grocery stores, Foodarama is changing with the times to better serve its customers.

“We are excited about the changes we are making and moving forward in 2015,” says Kim Alepa, CEO and daughter of founder Carrol Cox. “Our biggest challenges are not only the presence of competition, but also the always-changing trends of the grocery business. Customer shopping habits and patterns are very crucial to how we market our items.”

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Located in New Orleans, Dorignac’s Food Center has carved out a niche for itself as a full-service grocery store that knows how to get what its customers want. Founded in 1947, the company has built its reputation by stocking hard-to-find items and making sure that consumers know that Dorignac’s can be counted on to take care of their needs. 

“We deliver service consistently and get to know our customers on a personal basis,” President Ronnie Dawson says. “Our store is a place in the community where our customers can get together and meet to catch up on what is going on in each other’s lives and other social happenings.”

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