Diane’s Beachwear has a pedigree in the swimwear business that stretches back more than 50 years, but it came about entirely by chance. Founder Diane Biggs’ mother purchased a box of slightly damaged swimsuits at a closeout sale and started selling them to friends and neighbors for $5 apiece. In time, what started as a whim grew to ordering suits from manufacturers and then eventually the opening of Mickie’s Swim Shop, which is still open today under the name Mickie’s Beach. 

Biggs worked at her mother’s swim shop for a while before getting the idea to start her own store, which was first located in a vacant candy counter at a movie theater converted to retail space in Santa Monica. Today, through hard work and a lifetime of experience in the swimwear industry, Diane’s Beachwear has 20 locations, mainly in Southern California. The company says its mission remains the same now as it was in the 1960s, and that has been the foundation of its success over the years. 

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For CEO Tom Via, leading the successful turnaround of retailer Brookstone is more than just mere work. “It’s my most recent passion,” the 37-year veteran of retail declares. 

Based in Merrimack, N.H., the specialty retailer offers functional and distinctive products, including outdoor furniture, electronics, bath and spa products, and fitness accessories. Its recent additions include the BodyForm Foam Roller, which helps achieve faster muscle recovery after an intense workout.   

“When people think about unique and innovative products, they think of Brookstone,” Via states. “They think of gifting a great product.”

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For Bealls/Burkes Outlet and its stores, it is critical to connect with customers. “We are a very customer-centric organization,” President Dave Alves declares. “We want people to feel we’re there for them with the latest fashions, the latest brands and all the prices that make it connect with them personally.”

Based in Bradenton, Florida, Bealls Inc. is the parent firm for Bealls Department Stores Inc., Bealls Outlet Stores Inc., and Burkes Outlet Stores L.L.C. Alves, who also serves as the president of Burkes, notes that the main company’s history goes back to 1915.

That year, Robert M. Beall opened his first dry goods store at the age of 22. Because he had spent his entire $2,500 investment on stock, he used over-turned wooden packing crates as display tables. Additionally, nothing in the store was priced over a dollar, leading to its name, The Dollar Limit.

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‘When customers come to Visionworks, they get great service from people who focus every day on doing the right thing,” Jim Eisen says. “That, more than anything has contributed to the success we’ve had over the past several years. Our brand promise at Visionworks is you leave with much more than just a pair of glasses, you leave a better you.” 

Eisen is the president of Visionworks, a provider of eye-care services with stores in 40 states and the District of Columbia. He also serves as the CEO for its parent company, HVHC Inc.

The San Antonio, Texas-based Visionworks started operations in 1984 as Eye Care Centers of America. “It grew through various acquisitions of regional optical chains,” Eisen says, noting that the company grew to a point where 500 stores had the Visionworks name plus 15 other brand names.

When the company sought to rebrand itself into one brand, it polled longtime customers and potential clients on which name they preferred. “The answer was Visionworks,” he recalls, adding that the company agreed. “We felt that really depicted what we do as an organization.”

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Value Drug Mart, a consortium of rural Alberta pharmacy owners and pharmacists, has undergone many changes in its nearly 38 years in business. Today, it includes 33 Value Drug stores, 10 Apple Drugs and 10 Rxellence Professional Dispensaries. The individual stores operate independently but benefit as a group by centralizing purchasing, marketing, warehousing and distribution.  

The company was founded in 1978 when 13 pharmacists decided to form an association to gain purchasing power usually available only to much larger companies. “Those 13 pharmacist-owners had a vision: to form an association so they could get all the benefits of centralized purchasing and distribution that the big chains enjoyed, while still maintaining the spirit of independent ownership and community focus that the people in their neighborhoods had come to depend on,” the company says. 

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Based in El Dorado, Ark., Murphy USA is a national gas station and convenience store chain. Founded in 1996 by Murphy Oil Corp., Murphy USA spun off in 2013 as a stand-alone retail entity focused on providing customers with savings on fuel and c-store items. 

Today, Murphy USA operates more than 1,050 Murphy USA branded gas stations and convenience stores in 23 states. There are also more than 200 Murphy Express branded stores. Altogether, the company serves approximately 1.6 million customers a day. Most of its locations are strategically positioned near the parking lots of Walmart supercenters.

“In the mid-1990s, Murphy Oil saw how hypermarkets in Europe were adding a low price fuel offering and taking share from branded major oil companies,” President and CEO Andrew Clyde says. “Murphy worked with Walmart on some pilots and eventually began to build kiosk gas outlets in front of Walmart supercenters in the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest.”

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Practically all successful licensing programs have two common elements: a recognizable brand and/or a likable character. Candy-making giant Mars, Incorporated is fortunate to have both. 

“Mars, Incorporated has so many iconic brands that consumers love,” says John Capizzi, general manager of retail brand activation for Mars Retail Group (MRG), which manages the company’s licensing and retail programs. “The M&M’S brand represents colorful fun, and consumers of all ages connect with our M&M’S Characters.” 

The M&M’S Characters, which have been featured in a series of successful television ads for nearly six decades, first began to emerge as a licensing phenomenon in 1997, the year the first M&M’S World store opened in Las Vegas. “At that point, our M&M’S Characters were really starting to develop personalities, and that store proved our chocolate consumers had a desire to experience the brand in new and different ways,” Capizzi says. “The overwhelmingly positive reaction of consumers entering our M&M’S World stores gave us the confidence that we could expand licensing into everyday retail, not just within the candy aisle but in a variety of different categories and channels.”

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The place to shop in Los Angeles is Kitson. Over the past 15 years, the company has continued to offer exclusive, dynamic fashions and merchandise that exudes the essence of Los Angeles and draws a fair share of attention from celebrities, stylists and wardrobe departments. “L.A. is a big part of our background,” owner Fraser Ross says. “When there was ‘Sex and the City,’ it was always said that the fifth girl was New York City. I always say there is a marriage between Kitson and L.A.”

Ross started the company in 2000 as an entertainment/concept store that sells items such as clothing, accessories, books, perfume and toys for a broad audience. Kitson offers trending items for men, women and children of any age, and items change regularly depending on what is hot now. “We sell from soup to nuts, cradle to grave,” Ross says. “We are like a mini department store that carries a lot of commodities and appeals to all demographics. For example, Kitson has a book called ‘Fabulous at 50’ and ‘Keep Calm You’re Only 21.’”

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