CSG Industry Experts:

Natasha Perry

Apparel & Department

Brian List

Grocery & C-store

Arthur Rosenberg

Home, Hardware, & Discount

Linda Helman


Rebecca Ewing

Drug, & HBC


Our panel of Industry Experts and authors of CSG Through The Ages, brings you this year’s series: Recession Busters

Businesses need vision, strategy, and the right leadership to find success even in a tough economy.

Using the vast CSG database of historical data and inside knowledge of each industry, our expert panelists have followed the trends for the last decade and selected the Top 10 companies in each segment that survived the recession.

Each month we reveal a top company that weathered the storm. We will examine what they did, how they did it, and where they are going in the future.

Apparel & Department Store Retailers


Tilly’s is a specialty retailer of west coast inspired apparel, footwear and accessories. Stores are distinct and create a shopping experience that is unique, creative and fun. Tilly’s offers one of the largest assortments of the most sought-after brands for teen and young adult consumers in action sports, music, art and fashion. Products are also sold through an e-commerce website, www.Tillys.com.

Over the last few years, Tilly’s has served as a destination for the latest, most relevant merchandise and brands with a balance of guys and juniors merchandise. Still led by Co-Founder Hezy Shaked, the company has demonstrated its ability to grow rapidly, having more than doubled its store count while entering several new markets.

The first Tilly’s store opened in southern California in 1982. Twenty five years later, in 2007, the company had 73 stores. Since then the company has grown to 203 mall-based stores in 33 states. The private company estimated its sales at over $500 million last year, a 187% growth from fiscal 2007. In 2013, Tilly’s Co. was ranked in Chain Store Guide’s Top 100 Apparel Specialty Retailers. Competitors include Pacific Sunwear, Hot Topic, Zumiez and other fast fashion retailers.

Tilly’s niche is its name-brand assortment of merchandise in the surf, skate and lifestyle apparel industries. Both online and in-store, the Tilly’s shopping experience corresponds with its millennial consumers. The fast growing company plans to open at least 18 net new stores in fiscal year 2014.


Discount, Dollar, & Hardware Retailers


Back in March, this series properly featured the triumphs of Family Dollar for its ability to more than just survive the recession but actually thrive.  Similarly, Dollar General was able to use a blueprint derived at least a decade before the recession, to greatly grow its imprint in American retailing.  This was not so much despite the recession, but using recessionary conditions to exceed an already aggressive growth pattern.  As even affluent consumers were suddenly struggling, it was Dollar General to the rescue, cleverly and affordably opening new locations, even in newly struggling neighborhoods.

Along with national, regional and strong independent dollar stores, Dollar General devised a plan in the 90’s to invest heavily to install refrigerators and freezers at its locations, while upgrading its grocery mix, focusing on perishables.  This strategy was essentially a merchandising overhaul, designed to entice customers to visit stores more regularly while increasing average tickets at the checkout.  The success of the plan likely exceeded expectations.

However, as Dollar General’s dollar store competitors decided on similar investments in equipment, along with grocery merchandising adjustments, Dollar General went a step further.  DG created a new prototype, Dollar General Market.  These stores essentially doubled the size of the typical Dollar General prototype to become somewhat of a supercenter (though through a space about 1/10 the size of many supercenters) to the traditional Dollar General store.  As organics came more in demand, Dollar General expanded this concept further, while decreasing space for non-grocery, to seize the initiative on organics relatively early on.

These initiatives produced a climate of unprecedented expansion, despite harsh recessionary conditions.  In 2012, Dollar General opened its 10,000th location.  The actual opening occurred in California, just as the retailer was entering the state for the first time.  This was an indication that DG had lots of room for growth in still uncharted territories.

This year Dollar General is on track to meet its plan to open 700 new locations.  Not to be overlooked, the retailer also plans 200 remodelings.  The company constantly seeks upgrades of locations it deems as having potential to better serve communities when given an investment upgrade.  Aggressive store remodeling is an often overlooked aspect in Dollar General’s formula for success.

Dollar General Just announced that its chairman and chief executive officer, Rick Dreiling, 60, has informed the Board of Directors of his intent to retire as CEO effective May 30, 2015 or upon the appointment of a successor.  Mr. Dreiling has served as CEO since January 2008 and was named Chairman of the Board in December 2008.  These dates of course coincide with the ‘official’ start of the recession.


Drug Store & HBC Chains


Ranked number 1 on Entrepreneur Magazine’s Prestigious 2014 Franchise 500 list, Anytime Fitness has proven to outperform other gyms. Founded in 2001 by Chuck Runton, the company has grown from 444 gyms in 2008 to over 2,500 globally today. The company began franchising in 2002 and has become the fifteenth fastest growing franchise in the world, and number ten in America. Each club is independently owned and operated, and of the over 2,500 locations, only 28 are company owned.  Anytime Fitness has locations in all 50 states and 18 countries, and continues to grow.

One of the main aspects of the gym franchise which draws people in is its hours. It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and members can visit almost any other location at no extra cost. This is especially appealing for members that travel for work. Along with unlimited hours, many locations offer 24 tanning beds and each new member receives a free personal fitness orientation including demonstrations of basic fitness principles and a quick, effective, and safe program. Additionally, members receive access to www.AnytimeHealth.com. This website allows members to track their meals, workouts, goals, and overall health. The website keeps track of overall weight loss and boasts the total number of pounds lost and calories tracked by its users each week.  The website is innovative because it allows members to track all of their health needs in one place and ask any health questions they might have along with being connected to the gym.

Anytime Fitness has also been ahead of the game in corporate wellness. Their workplace wellness program allows companies to choose from four different programs to encourage their employees to get healthy. The four options are: anywhere club access, which allows employees access to all gyms and the online product, a rewards and incentives program which encourages team wellness and has partially reimbursed or subsided memberships based on usage, gym only membership which gives employees a discounted membership rate, or an online only membership. As corporate wellness is becoming more and more prominent, Anytime’s program is groundbreaking because the program is through a gym instead of an insurance company, and gives employees the freedom to become healthy on their own, but still gives them the structure and encouragement they need.

Named “One of Americas most promising companies” by Forbes, it is easy to see why Anytime Fitness has become an attractive option for anyone interested in joining a gym. It is a great option for anyone that travels in the US or around the world, companies that want to give their employees wellness opportunities, or anyone that simply wants to workout. The company now has over 2 million members and is adding clubs at a rate of 300 per year and has no plans of slowing down.


Grocery & C-Store Chains


Celebrating its 50th anniversary, convenience store chain Wawa has experienced strong growth in 2014 with a net increase of 40+ stores since last year. The company opened its first Wawa Food Market in Folsom, PA on April 16th, 1964. However, the company has done business in the U.S for over 200 years. In 1803, the company began as an iron foundry in New Jersey. Owner George Wood began processing dairy in 1902, and by 1964 George’s grandson Grahame Wood opened the aforementioned first store as an outlet for dairy products.

Wawa’s 640+ stores are located in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Florida, with nearly 30 projected openings still planned for this summer and fall. The company is privately held, and all stores are company owned and operated. Wawa’s growth over the past 5-7 years has been exponential primarily due to its unique product offering, as well as quality. The company truly has a distinctive store experience that is very different from the traditional ‘convenience’ or gas station format.  Inside, Wawa offers all of the amenities customers are used to, with large drink and coffee selections, a walk-in beer cave, and over 6,000 grocery items. What’s different is the built-to-order fresh food section. Ordering for fresh food items is down on touchpad screens by the consumer, with many customizable selections available. Extra mayo, light oil and vinegar, and toasted bread on your sandwich? All are a fingertip away with no human interaction.

Outside, 16 gas pumps line the parking line with easy access and competitive prices. Lunch crowds are large, and the quality of the fresh food and Wawa private label products are meeting customer expectations. Open 24 hours a day, Wawa serves over 400 million customers annually and brews more than 195 million cups of coffee each year. While the company is private, Chain Store Guide’s historical sales data estimate Wawa at 78.2% growth since 2008.


Restaurant Chains


Chuy’s Holdings is a fast-growing, full-service restaurant concept that offers a distinct menu of authentic, freshly-prepared Mexican and Tex-Mex inspired cuisine. It was founded in Austin, TX, in 1982 by Mike Young and John Zapp and became a publicly-held company in July 2012. The restaurants have a common décor, but each location is unique in format, offering what the company refers to as an “unchained” look and feel. The company motto is, “If you’ve seen one Chuy’s, you’ve seen one Chuy’s!”

Unlike many of its Texican competitors, all Chuy’s restaurants are corporately owned and operated, and the company has not announced any plans to begin franchising. Growth has been measured but steady, progressing from 12 locations at the end of 2008 to more than 50 currently. The company attributes its success to fresh and authentic cuisine, a fun and upbeat atmosphere, and an experienced management team. Steve Hislop was named CEO/President in 2007 when there were only eight Chuy’s restaurants, and he leads a senior executive group that averages 29 years of restaurant experience. Store-level general managers have worked for Chuy’s for approximately six years. Having such tenured staff has provided a high level of continuity of vision and performance.

Perhaps the most important factor in the recent belt-tightening recession years is Chuy’s value-priced menu options (most under $10 and an average check of $13.46). Despite a slight drop in recent years in the sale of alcoholic beverages, typically a high-profit item for restaurants, the company has managed to maintain attractive unit-level economics with an average unit volume of nearly $5 million, Current plans call for 10-11 new restaurants in 2014, and an approximately 20% annual growth in the following five years.