Who doesn’t love a good cookie? Alabama’s The Cookie Place Inc. has grown into the largest Great American Cookie franchise in the country because it knows how to provide customers with quality food and exceptional customer service.

Led by CEO Jeff Pizitz, the company has 55 stores open and operating today with a diverse geographic footprint that extends from Florida up to North Carolina and as far west as Oklahoma. It currently has another 10 stores on the drawing board and expects to open about 75 percent of those stores this year.

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The Topps Company has long been known as one of the premier producers of baseball cards, but 30 years ago kids would have been just as likely to sit around trading cards featuring “Messie Tessie” or “Adam Bomb” as they would any of the major baseball heroes of the time. That’s because 1985 was the year Topps introduced the Garbage Pail Kids sticker cards, creating a phenomenon that disgusted parents, outraged teachers and – most importantly – thrilled children around the world. The cards and stickers were a major hit on with kids almost immediately, and eventually Topps produced more than a dozen series of cards. Garbage Pail Kids even made the jump into international markets, becoming incredibly popular in Europe, Latin America, Israel and Australia. Topps ceased production of Garbage Pail Kids cards and stickers after 1988, but their popularity has kept them in the public consciousness ever since.

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The success of the “Dumb Ways to Die” franchise could be used as a case study in irony. A public service announcement that manages to be cool? Animated short videos that show silly characters meeting unfortunate and absurd fates and yet effectively promoting safety? A program made to benefit the general public that turns into a commercial success? These things should not happen, and yet, they have. 

“Dumb Ways to Die” was conceived by McCann Erickson Melbourne on behalf of their Australian client Metro Trains Melbourne. McCann created short videos showing animated characters clumsily dying because of shortsighted decisions – getting toast out of the toaster using a fork, poking a grizzly bear with a stick, dressing up as a moose during hunting season and so on, all to the lyrics of a sing-songy tune. The last three examples show different characters making unwise decisions at train stations – standing too close to the tracks, going around gate crossings as a train approaches, and walking across the tracks. And at the end, a plea from Metro to “Be Safe Around Trains.” 

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In today’s competitive petroleum and convenience store marketplace, offering fuel, snacks and beverages alone is no longer enough for stores to keep customers coming through the doors. “Stores now have to have a Dunkin’ Donuts, a Subway, a car wash and ATMs in addition to gas and diesel. Real estate needs to be utilized down to every square foot,” says Pat O’Connell, vice president of operations of Massachusetts-based Energy North Group (ENG).

As an operator of 30 convenience store locations and distributor to hundreds of wholesale customers in the New England and upstate New York region, ENG ensures that the stores it serves can keep up in a rapidly consolidating market. “We try to share the programs that make our retail locations successful with our wholesale customers,” O’Connell says. “Our belief is that if we can give them the tools to make them better, they will thrive in business and succeed going forward.”

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For 65 years, EbLens has evolved with its industry, but its values have always stayed constant, President Richard Seaman says. “Our main goal is to give the customer the right product in a fantastic shopping environment.”

Based in Torrington, Conn., EbLens operates 38 stores that offer clothing and footwear from active brands such as Nike, Jordan, adidas and New Era fused with lifestyle products from Timberland, LRG, Smoke Rise and Soho Babe. The company’s history goes back to 1949, when friends Ebner “Eb” Glooskin and Leonard “Len” Seaman opened EbLens Workingman Store in downtown New Britain, Conn.

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A family owned convenience store chain that has continued to evolve in the Midwest over the past 40-plus years, Chuckles Convenience Stores has worked hard to establish the quality of its brand. Today, Chuckles (also known as C. E. Taylor Oil) has 29 locations throughout southern Indiana and western Kentucky.

“The company was started in 1967 by my grandfather, Charles Taylor Sr.,” Merchandiser and Buyer Layne Stuckey says. “At the beginning, we just hard service stations but started to add convenience stores into the mix in the mid-1980s.”

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Before + Again founding partner Peter Daneyko says starting a new clothing company from scratch in 2008 with partners Joe Werner and Jon Rianhard seemed to be a fool’s errand. But within one year, the company established its niche and the label took off by catering to the needs of specialty boutiques.

“We reviewed specialty boutiques and looked at the challenges specific to them for a possible sweet spot,” Daneyko says. “It was really about asking what their problems were and they told us it was choice, quick turns, bigger selections and low minimums. We built a system that allowed us to mitigate the risk of poor sellers in the store, gave them choice and no minimums.” 

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Who says profits just make rich people richer? Not when they are going to seven charities that help people with substance and domestic abuse, adolescent adjustment and family care challenges in the United States. That is the mission of America’s Thrift Stores’ 18 store locations in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, which process up to 2 million donations of clothing and hard goods monthly from more than 2,300 locations. 

Each store stocks and displays thousands of “gently used” items, approximately 70 percent of which are clothing and the rest is hard goods. “The range is from 4,000 items at the small store level to 15,000 at one of our larger stores,” CEO Ken Sobaski says. “The way the thrift business works is if it hasn’t sold within four weeks, it’s not going to sell. So the number of items in the store fully rotates in four weeks.”

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