CSG Industry Experts:

Natasha Perry

Apparel & Department

Rebecca Ewing

Grocery & C-store

Arthur Rosenberg

Home, Hardware, & Discount

Loren McCollom


Brian List

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


Boot Barn, Inc. was founded in 1978 and is based in Irvine, CA. Boot Barn’s website states the company offers more than 8,000 styles of the top brands of boots, jeans, shirts, hats, belts, jewelry and more. The company is ranked in the top 25 shoe retailers in Chain Store Guide’s database of Department Stores.

Most of the top shoe company’s growth came in the last 8 years. Since 2007, when there were 35 Boot Barn locations, the company grew 371%. The leading shoe retailer has opened 37 new Boot Barn stores in the last year and a half alone. Boot Barn Inc. currently operates 165 stores in 25 states and plans to open at least 17 more new locations next year.

Over the past several years, Boot Barn continuously opened new locations and also made a few major acquisitions. In 2012, Boot Barn acquired RCC Western Stores, including the company’s 29 stores and online retail website. Boot Barn stores were mainly located in the Western half of the United States while RCC had a strong presence in the Midwest and South. Bringing the store count to 116, the combined company created the largest specialty retailer in the industry with stores coast to coast. In 2013, Boot Barn acquired Baskins stores including its 30 retail locations, bringing the company total to 147 by years end. Because of their acquisitions and aggressive expansion into the niche market, Boot Barn was able to thrive throughout the recession.

Led by CEO Jim Conroy, Boot Barn Inc. will continue to grow while maintaining the good business qualities of a family-run company. Just last month, the fast-growing chain completed its initial public offering. The company sold almost 6 million shares of its common stock, which trades under the symbol “BOOT.” Now that the company must file an annual report, we will all have the pleasure of seeing its growth.





Discount, Dollar, & Hardware Retailers


And Then There Was Amazon…
Since its inception two decades ago, Amazon has done a lot more than survive and actually thrive the recession.  First the company had to establish a reputation of reliability as it sought to usher in selling retail without the implementation of actual stores or traditional catalogs, during the introduction of Internet merchandising.  During its early years the company had to use its corporate wits to overcome the many obstacles of selling through the new medium that was then a somewhat obscure Internet.  Thus it survived the bloodbath which was the bursting of the Internet bubble, where many web-based companies and investors discovered oblivion.

Amazon was founded just more than a decade prior to the arrival of the recession.  Originally promoted as a ‘new era’ mega-discount retailer of books, the company had to initially explain that as it operated no physical stores the company should be viewed as an enormous warehouse which avoided many of the real estate and personnel costs bogging down traditional retailers.  Amazon then boasted how the company eagerly passed those savings onto a rapidly expanding customer base.

Soon, as the book business became rapidly successful, Amazon quickly expanded product offerings with complimentary products such as movies and CDs, then on to electronics, hardware and newer frontiers.  After that it seemed the sky was the limit in terms of additional products which neatly fit under Amazon’s offerings umbrella.  The incredible scope of product offering has significantly increased, in part due to acquisitions of like-minded, well managed Internet retailers such as Zappos.

Amazon has been incredibly innovative as a retailer and has been copied by many traditional companies across the retailing spectrum.  After Amazon experienced great success in offering its website to third party vendors, traditional retailers followed.  Best Buy for one has added a considerable number of third party sellers to its website though with some degree of confusion amongst customers who question the consistency of policies such as returns from other vendors.  They also note that some of these products and brands are often no longer in Best Buy stores, which gives the appearance that Best Buy is short in terms of the diversity of popular brands compared to other brick and mortar establishments.

Amazon was a pioneer in e-book publishing.  Not only did it produce ground breaking contracts with publishers of tradition paper fare, it remains successful in developing and selling e-readers, alongside its ever-growing offering of tablets and now devices which enhance the functionality of television.  This as Barnes & Noble struggles to maintain its shrinking core of proprietary e-readers.

Amazon’s drive to offer as close to free shipping as possible, resulted in the annual subscription-based Amazon Prime.  To sweeten the offer and lock in many more devoted subscribers/customers, Amazon included a free subscription to its video catalog; this actually hit Netflix rather hard.  As with Netflix, Amazon now too produces films and TV style series offered directly through its subscription services. Speaking of innovations, for a 20 year old company, Amazon was one of the first principal retailers to expand Black Friday deals to a virtually November month-long event.  Amazon was also instrumental in establishing cyber-Monday on a par with Black Friday.

As with many retailers which survived the recession, much of Amazon’s recessionary success was set in place by solid business innovations planned and executed well before the recession was on the horizon.   At the turn of the century Amazon’s annual sales were approaching $3 billion. Amazon began the recession with annual sales nearing $15 billion.  Three years later their annual revenues more than doubled that figure.  Annual sales at the end of 2013 were just under $75 billion.

So much for the challenges of an Internet-only startup, when the Internet itself was a startup enterprise.  No bubble to burst.  No recessionary setback, only bold advancement.



Drug Store & HBC Chains


A key driver in the ongoing retail clinic market expansion, MinuteClinic has experienced steady growth since becoming a part of CVS Health. The partnership between MinuteClinic and CVS began in 2004 with the opening of its first walk-in clinics in the Minneapolis area; later in 2006, CVS acquired the company. Today, there are more than 800 locations inside CVS/pharmacy stores in 28 states and D.C.

Both CVS and MinuteClinic have evolved today into more of a true healthcare destination rather than just a traditional pharmacy or retail establishment.  CVS recently changed its name to CVS Health to coincide with the ending of tobacco sales in its stores.

Earlier this year, MinuteClinic celebrated 20 million patient visits since its inception in 2000. The company has benefitted from a number of factors throughout the recession, as well as offering a unique formula for consumers. The convenience of being able to walk into a CVS clinic with no appointment, with insurance or not, and during non-business hours gave the company a distinct competitive advantage against traditional healthcare providers. This, combined with 2014’s Affordable Care Act’s large enrollment increasing demand for healthcare options, has helped MinuteClinic’s growth throughout the nations’ tough economic conditions over the past decade.  Long-term, the company projects to have more than 1,500 clinic locations nationwide by 2017.




Grocery & C-Store Chains


While there is a plethora of negative things someone can say about Walmart, there is one thing that no one can deny; they found a need, filled it, created a brand, and capitalized on it. The need: low priced items. The brand: Save Money, Live Better. The money: taking grocery sales from an estimated $63 billion in 2007 to $142 billion today, an increase of more than $79 billion in just 7 years. Because the store is focused on providing the lowest costs to its customers, not only did the company thrive during the Recession, but it prospered from it. Consumers were forced to look for cheaper shopping solutions in every retail area and what better place to look than Walmart?

While Sam Walton opened the first store, in Rogers, AK, in 1962, groceries weren’t added to stores until 1988 and the Neighborhood Market concept wasn’t created until 1998. Unlike the traditional store format which averages 106,000 sq.-ft. or the supercenter format which averages 182,000 sq.-ft., the Neighborhood Markets average 38,000 sq.-ft. and primarily focus on food retailing. The development of this concept gave the company an opportunity to be located in new communities and compete with leading supermarkets for a greater percentage of market share. According to Business Insider, while under the leadership of CEO David Glass, between 1988 (when groceries were introduced to stores) and 2001, Walmart became the largest food retailer in the US and grocery sales reached $56 billion.

Now that the US is slowly pulling itself out of the Recession, many Americans can afford to shop at nicer, more expensive grocery stores, and they have. This past quarter was the first time in two years the company reported that same-store sales were up. The company is having to remind customers why it is relevant and still worth shopping at. It has its own private label line (one of the largest in the US), organic products, a thriving online website, and has added a new smaller concept to gain entry in urban markets. As the country comes out of the Recession, consumers are now beginning to pay more attention to what their favorite companies are actually doing and transparency is increasingly important. This hasn’t been great for Walmart’s business and reports of understaffing, overworking, and underpaying are always in the news.

Today, the company is the number one retailer in the world, has 474 Neighborhood Markets, and made $279 billion in total domestic sales last fiscal year. It recently had the most profitable Cyber Monday in history and announced that it plans to add 170 Neighborhood Markets in the next quarter. While the company is definitely a Recession Buster, it is also one to watch. Many Americans still love the company and because the US middle class is shrinking, Walmart will always have a place in lower income communities. But what is at stake is its good name that is already being challenged. How the company deals with the controversies, up-and-coming trends, and stagnant sales will be the true indicator of its long term future.




Restaurant Chains


From Oklahoma to California to Tennessee and a cleaning company entrepreneur to singer/songwriter to world-renowned cupcake baker, Gina “Gigi” Butler has done it all. With just $33 in her bank account, Gigi opened her first store. Gigi’s Cupcakes opened on February 21, 2008, at the start of the recession. It was a family affair when Gigi’s Cupcakes began to prosper: Gigi’s landlord, Alan Thompson (now Gigi’s Cupcakes’ President), and her father helped develop future franchised locations; her mom assisted in creating cupcake recipes, and her brother, Randall, directed business operations. By May 2008, Gigi’s Cupcakes was a fully-operational franchising company.

Since opening day, lines began to form around the block proving that Gigi’s Cupcakes was not only going to easily break into the specialty dessert market and succeed, but the company was actually going to dominate it. As a result of franchising and (of course) the cupcakes, the company’s locations grew nearly 3,033.3% from 3 locations in 2009 to 94 locations in 2014.

Each Gigi’s Cupcakes location is built as a full-service bakery equipped with a fully operational kitchen.  This means that specialty cupcakes – White Midnight Magic, Lemon Dream Supreme, Kentucky Bourbon Pie, Italian Cream Cake, Hot Cocoa, and so on – would be baked in-house on a daily basis. There’s no doubt that the wide variety of specialty desserts contributes to each location’s success; 51 units open more than a year reported average unit volumes of $419,955.

Spanning across 20 states, Gigi’s Cupcakes has plans to open an additional 25 franchised-locations in 2015. Last month, the company crossed international waters and announced a 100-unit franchise agreement in South Korea over the next few years.