marsMars Retail Group works closely with licensing partners to bring new M&M’S® offerings to consumers and retail customers everywhere. By Stephanie Crets

Mars Retail Group is taking the candy world by storm and bringing incredible offerings to its customers every day. From its delicious chocolate candy to fun, well-known characters, M&M’S® has something for everyone. For more than 75 years, the brand has brought colorful chocolate fun to M&M’S® fans around the world and Mars Retail Group is helping to further that ambition.

“Our goal within Retail Brand Activation has always been to bring some of the unique experiences of M&M’S® World and MY M&M’S® to life with our everyday retail partners,” says Director, Retail Brand Activation, John Capizzi. “It’s really about fine-tuning our overall offering to our customers.”

Mars Retail Group operates on the basis of three executions: licensing, Colorworks and mass customization. Licensing brings unique branded merchandise across all channels, including mass drug, grocery retail and digital. “It gives people a small sample of the wonderful products they can find in our M&M’S® World stores,” Capizzi notes.

fresh thymeFresh Thyme has opened 53 stores in less than three years and plans to open up to 17 more by the end of 2017. By Bianca Herron

Although Fresh Thyme Farmers Market is a mere three years old, the natural and organic grocery store chain has already opened 53 stores in 10 states in the last two-and-a-half-years. In 2014, Chris Sherrell launched Fresh Thyme in Downers Grove, Ill. The company has since seen much rapid growth, employing 4,500 people and has plans to open up to 17 more stores before the end of the year.

“The timing has just been right for us,” CEO Sherrell says. “We set out to open roughly 50 or 60 stores in a seven-year time span. However, when we really got into it we realized that this concept is the future and the results have certainly continued to prove that it is.”

Fresh Thyme is a natural and organic specialty store that specializes in fresh foods and produce. According to Sherrell, the company’s goal is to be a transitional option to get consumers to eat healthier.

FastFor more than 30 years, Fast-Fix Jewelry and Watch Repairs has been providing on-site jewelry and watch repair services with a growing franchise business. By Stephanie Crets

Fast-Fix Jewelry and Watch Repair is different from other retailers – it’s not in the business of selling, but fixing. Since its inception in 1984, it has become the largest franchise in the world for jewelry, watch, cell phone and eyeglass frame repair with more than 160 locations across 26 states, including four locations in Dublin and one in London.

“We are in the business of fixing,” CEO Gerry Weber says. “One of the things I really like is that it’s one of the few businesses that won’t be made obsolete by the Internet. If you have an engagement ring, you’re not going to take it off and send it somewhere you don’t know and you might get it back in a few weeks. You want the comfort of knowing you’re there talking to one of our jewelers about what you would like to have done and they then do it while you wait. The name is Fast-Fix, so we get most of the work done while our customer is shopping in the mall.”

Whether a customer needs a clasp on a necklace fixed, a new earring back or a new screw in a pair of glasses, they are entrusting Fast-Fix with their most precious possessions and heirlooms, so they expect the highest-quality work. “We have to have very high standards,” Weber says. “Customers expect that we treat their items with respect and care and then give it back in better condition than they left it. We have a multitude of services and even provide cell phone repairs in one-third of our stores, and we can also create jewelry for customers. We do sell some products, like watches, jewelry items and some accessories, but our core – what truly sets us apart – is our repair service.”

BartellBartell Drugs has been serving customers in the Pacific Northwest for 127 years and continues to grow every year. By Stephanie Crets

Bartell Drugs has been serving the Pacific Northwest for 127 years and is the oldest family owned pharmacy chain in the United States. Its longevity in the area has given it a local feel for anyone that grew up in the Seattle area, but now has 65 stores in the region.

“Our level of service, the unique products we carry and the very real feeling of home-grown hospitality and service have given Bartell a very loyal customer base,” says CEO and President Brian Unmacht. “The affection our customers have for us, and we in return, is something that is difficult to replicate by the cookie-cutter national chains.”

Its brand recognition allows it to continue to grow. This year, Bartell Drugs is opening two new stores – one in a popular residential area in north Seattle and a second in an emerging neighborhood east of Seattle. The company hopes this will strengthen its brand in areas where it already has good recognition but will also increase convenience for loyal and new customers.

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Learning Express teaches its franchisees what their customers are looking for and how to respond to their individual markets.

By Bianca Herron

After nearly 30 years at play, Learning Express is the nation’s leading franchisor of children’s educational toy stores with more than 120 locations in 27 states. According to CEO, Sharon DiMinico, the Devens, Mass.-based company prides itself on the quality and uniqueness of its toy selection: a mix of products that foster a love of learning through play.

"We are a franchise company, so our success is based on the success of our stores,” DiMinico says. “We are primarily a support and marketing organization, and are fortunate to work with franchisees who are creative, high-energy, hard-working people.”

Learning Express tries to differentiate itself from other toy retailers by having an eclectic mix of toys, fashion forward accessories, and a great selection of STEAM toys. In addition, the company fully supports its franchisees by providing graphic design and artwork for advertisements, email, signage and Facebook at no cost.

“Our stores actively share selling, marketing, merchandising and cost-saving information,” DiMinico explains. “They understand that what is good for them is good for all. We produce seven catalogs annually for them and help them advertise many in-store events, including costume character appearances, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and through email and text messaging.”

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Sit ’n Sleep goes above and beyond the call of duty to satisfy a customer and strives to give back to the community that brought it success.

By Stephanie Crets

After nearly four decades, Sit ’n Sleep has become one of the largest mattress retailers in the United States. With 37 locations – and counting – across southern California, the company offers the largest array of mattress product with 110 SKUs. Helping customers find the right mattress for their needs, body type, health and wallet is the driving force behind Sit ’n Sleep.

“Whether a customer wants a $200 set to a $10,000 set, we can help them through the process,” CEO Larry Miller says. He recalls a time early on in the business when he put this philosophy into practice to help a customer purchase a $199 king mattress set. Ten years later, that same customer came back to purchase a $999 set, and after another 10 years passed, the customer returned to buy two deluxe, high-end Tempur-Pedic adjustable mattresses for $3,200.

“It’s not how big the sale is initially; it’s what can we do to attract new customers, service them properly and treat them the right way,” Miller says. “You can build customers for life.”

Miller believes Sit ’n Sleep can promote happy and repeat customers because the company hires the best people. And it’s not even about people with mattress retail experience; it’s important to hire people that care about other people, Miller notes. “We can teach people what they need to learn to sell the mattress but we can’t teach people to be better human beings,” he says. “We want people that want long careers. Most people are here about 10 years and some 20 years. We treat them properly. We hire, attract and keep great people. Some companies feel their sales associates are secondary but I feel they’re critical to our success.”

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Ritzman Pharmacy intends to rebrand the pharmacy experience by sticking to its customer-driven roots.

By Bianca Herron

After 65 years in the industry, Ritzman Pharmacy is taking a page out of Starbucks’ book to rebrand the pharmacy experience, just like the fast-casual giant did with coffee. “We call it ‘customer centric’ because everything we do is seen through the eyes of the customer,” COO George Glatcz says. “We use the Starbucks analogy because they created a completely different experience by creating new language for their drink sizes and a whole new environment for what a cup of coffee should bring you.”

It’s all about the brand experience that customers have, Glatcz says, which is why the Wadsworth, Ohio-based company has changed its language by calling its pharmacies ‘practices’ as opposed to ‘stores’ because they practice healthcare. In addition, Ritzman has also consciously changed how its organization is structured.

“For example, our practices now have what we call a ‘concierge,’ that greets everyone when they come into the practices and identify what needs they have within the location,” Glatcz says. “So they’re recommending them to the pharmacist, as the person who helps them with their nutrition or wellness. Our pharmacists are specifically trained in those tasks and services that we are providing customers.”

Ritzman is also remodeling the look and feel of its locations. “When you walk into one of our pharmacies now, it doesn’t look like a pharmacy, but a wellness center,” Glatcz explains. “Customers cannot see where the pharmacist or technician are counting pills – that’s completely hidden from the customers. So the experience that the customer is having is more about the healthcare professional and less about the transaction of the prescription. So interaction is critically important.”

In addition, the company has implemented technology bars in its new and renovated practices. “In the old days, the pharmacy had a soda fountain where people would come and gather. We now believe the tech bar is where people can do the same thing,” Glatcz says. “Many people want to learn about technology and there is more than 22,000 health apps out there in the world. Who can better help navigate them for our consumer but the pharmacist?”

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