Kathy Ireland doesn’t just lend her name to the 15,000 or so products she licenses. To each item in the Kathy Ireland Worldwide catalog, the former model and lifetime entrepreneur gives a little piece of herself. “Our business model is different from others,” said the face of the world’s 28th largest licensor on License Global’s 2009 top 100 list. “Some people would like for me to go back to our old job description of shut-up-and-pose, and that’s not going to happen. I’m really curious, and I ask a lot of questions.” 

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Lucas Licensing is one of seven divisions operating within and supporting the Lucasfilm enterprise, the global corporation responsible for producing some of the most renowned films of all time, including “Star Wars” and the Indiana Jones trilogy, among many others. The privately held company was founded in 1971 by George Lucas and now generates approximately $3 billion in retail sales each year.  

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Woburn, Mass.-based solutions provider Kiva Systems has developed innovative technology that’s brought automated order fulfillment to a whole new level for retail merchandisers. CEO Mick Mountz, who founded the company in 2003, said that from the beginning, the team at Kiva has been wholly focused on solving the supply chain issues of retail merchandisers. 

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Most grocery shoppers today are looking for products that are lower in price and healthy yet still taste good.  Finding the right fit for each family can be a challenge, but Jason Cohen and Jerry Bello seem to have found the right mix with their brand of better-for-you snacks called Sensible Portions. “We set out to transform the snack category with sustainable, better-for-you products that weren’t part of an over hyped fad, said Cohen, president of World Gourmet, the parent company of the brand. “Portion control and the consumption of the right ingredients and nutrition are keys to improving overall health, and our products give consumers the same satisfaction they crave from unhealthier products.”

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When opportunity knocked, Furlani’s Food Corporation answered. Founded in 1984 as a small company producing garlic spread and chopped garlic, branching out into a related area helped the company expand its presence not only in Canada but the US as well. The company now resides in a 140,000-square-foot facility in Mississauga, Ontario. 

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Most retailers will agree: 2009 was a terrible year for business. But few were also hit with the largest single tax on a consumer product in the history of the US and an overhaul of federal regulations for the industry. Smoker Friendly, a national tobacco products retailer, was one of those few, but good planning, some luck, and an optimistic outlook helped maintain this Colorado-based retailer’s relatively strong position moving into 2010. 

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The six-store Hickman’s IGA chain headquartered in Mexico, Mo. recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and the family-owned chain continues to pride itself on being a company that maintains a small-town feel and treats its customers right. “We celebrated our anniversary in 2009 with a year-long event, and now we hope to keep going through another 50 years,” said Jim Hickman, president.

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The coming year will be similar to any other year for the team at Bomgaars, a farm and ranch supply store based in Sioux City, Iowa. But Dave Meyer, senior vice president at the company, explained very little changes year to year in this kind of business. “When the economy is booming, we don’t see much growth and in fact see some decreases in our profit margins because our customers opt for more expensive and fancier retailers,” he said. “But when times are tight, they rely on their neighborhood Bomgaars for the tools they need.”

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