As far as Books-A-Million is concerned, reports of the death of the brick-and-mortar bookstore have been greatly exaggerated. “There are bookstores that are still growing,” says Shannon Tyndall, former vice president of real estate for the Birmingham, Ala.-based retailer. “We’re looking forward to 2015 and think it will be successful for us, which hasn’t been the case with a lot of bookstores in the past few years. I think bookstores are here to stay, which is great for us and great for the community.”

The company reported sales of $129.2 million during the 2014 holiday shopping season, an increase over the $127.9 million reported in 2013. “People are still buying books, they’re just doing it differently,” Tyndall adds.

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If you are what you eat, then the 630 independent Equity Members comprising the $8 billion Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG) Inc. cooperative want to keep their customers healthy by providing healthy food for them. To do that, the co-op established Valu Merchandisers Co. (VMC), a wholly owned AWG subsidiary dedicated to providing AWG members’ more than 3,000 store locations in 32 states with a comprehensive selection of quality health and beauty care products, general merchandise and natural, organic and specialty foods at the lowest possible cost.

“The biggest trend we’re seeing right now without doubt is the natural and organic trend,” VMC Executive Director Greg Oldright observes. “The largest growth in organic and natural is in the conventional channel, which is the majority of our customers. The national food chain has had its heyday and is very strong, but a lot of the new growth is coming out of the conventional channels.”

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7-Eleven Hawaii is in an expansion phase with plans to quickly grow its store count and truly become “your neighborhood store.” “Our research efforts are focused on locations in neighborhoods where 7-Eleven Hawaii has or does not have a presence,” Real Estate Asset Manager Ryan Fujitani says. “Our plan is to define convenience according to each neighborhood profile.”

The concept of convenience dates back to the 1920s and The Southland Ice Co., a Dallas-based company owned by the family of the modern day 7-Eleven store founders. The Southland Ice Co. became Southland Corp. in the 1930s and in 1947 the stores were renamed for their hours of operation, which were from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. 

Whether it was early morning or late at night, Texas shoppers could stop at 7-Eleven for ice, cold drinks and groceries. By 1978, 7-Eleven stores were open 24 hours a day and the first store opened in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. “While the company’s ownership has changed, the business model remains the same today: to offer our customers value, variety, freshness and innovation,” the company says.

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Born as Yes To Carrots in Israel in 2006, Yes To has quickly made a name for itself thanks to natural beauty products, award-winning formulas and unique collections that can be found in more than 20,000 stores. The company has since relocated its headquarters to San Francisco, and it is today positioned for further growth through a natural beauty product line that is made with fruits and veggies.

“We’ve repositioned the brand over the last few years, making our brand all about the ‘yes’ and not just about carrots,” CEO Joy Chen says. “Now we create products made from all different kinds of fruits and vegetables.”

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Fridays has long been a household name when it comes to casual dining establishments. For the past 50 years, the iconic restaurant brand has pioneered and popularized menu items such as potato skins and drinks, including the Long Island iced tea, that have since become ubiquitous in its industry.

The brand further established itself as a market leader and innovator in the 1990s, when it began licensing its name for food and beverage products. “Our customers wanted to enjoy our food and beverages at home; licensing was a logical way for us to give them what they wanted,” says Matt Durbin, vice president of brand strategy and menu innovation for the company. “Licensing provides touch points for our customer to experience our brand and brings further awareness to our brand. It is natural and logical that an iconic restaurant and bar brand like ours would have a robust line of products in the retail channel.”

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Rocky Mountain Soap Company, owned by Karina Birch and Cam Baty, is resolute in looking out for the best interest of its customers – even if that interest comes at a price to Rocky Mountain’s own. The Alberta-based company owns 11 stores in Canada, including two new stores in Vancouver and an ecommerce site, and continues to grow. Its products have been 100 percent natural since 2006 when Rocky Mountain made a decision to make products with only 100 percent natural ingredients. That decision led to the discontinuation of its most popular line at the time – an array of vanilla-scented products that were a mere 99 percent all-natural.

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For 40 years, the family owned and managed Promotions Unlimited has operated without the layers and bureaucracy of large corporate entities. This enables the company to make decisions for its customers very quickly, General Manager Ellen Phelps says.

“We can change on a dime,” she asserts. “If somebody hears something from a store on the phone, we don’t have to wait four weeks for the next board of directors meeting. We go down the hall, talk to the buyer [and make a decision]. We have very open communication.” 

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The delicate balancing act of continually improving technology while understanding the evolving needs of both suppliers and consumers is one of the largest challenges facing online retailers in today’s competitive environment. Overstock.com, founded in 1999, has stayed true to its history of innovation in the e-commerce world while priding itself on making personal connections with its partners and customers. 

“We are a retailer with soul, and that’s one of the things separating us from others in the online world,” says Stormy Simon, president of the Salt Lake City-based online shopping giant.

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