Ranking The Leading U.S. Retailers
...have led the International Council of Shopping Centers to project that as many as 400 of the nation’s 1,100 enclosed shopping malls will fail within the next five years. Moody’s Investment Service indicates that there is more pain to come: They rate 16% of the hundreds of retailers with publicly traded debt as “financially distressed.” The list of junk-rated stores now includes venerable firms such as Sears and Neiman Marcus.
Against this dire background, the Top 200 music products retailers turned in a relatively strong performance. Sales for the group edged up imperceptibly, to $5.34 billion, compared with last year’s $5.32 billion, keeping pace with the modest uptick in total industry revenues. However, performance varied among the different retail groups. In addition, the aggregate top line was adversely impacted by a $56 million revenue decline at market leader Guitar Center. High-profile online merchants such as Sweetwater and American Musical Supply continued to gain market share, with a combination of expansive selection, convenience, and a high level of service. Yet the gains were not limited to just a few online merchants. 55% of the nation’s Top 200 m.i. retailers still managed to eke out sales gains, ranging from a whopping 72% to a negligible 0.8%.
The downbeat headlines speak to the significant challenges facing brick-and-mortar retail. With a practically limitless product selection available online, the tried-and-true formula of “a great selection at great prices” But what gets overlooked in the media accounts of contraction and collapse are the stories of retailers that are succeeding in the harsh new environment. Best Buy, which not too long ago was considered a goner and dismissed as “Amazon’s showroom,” has staged a remarkable comeback, posting significant comp store sales gains in the last year. Management attributes the turnaround to the “Geek Squad” service department that helps customers integrate complex consumer electronics, and a novel trial purchase program. TJ Maxx, the off-brand apparel retailer, has also escaped the retail downdraft. Its secret? A steady influx of unusual and unexpected merchandise that turns a store visit into a “treasure hunt.”
Faced with the prospect of responding to new competitors or going out of business, the retailers on the Top 200 list have proved remarkably adaptable. Whether it’s making use of online platforms like Reverb or eBay, stepping up their lesson programs, or creatively merchandising used gear, they continue to refine their business models in new and unexpected ways.
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