JewelryK&M fuses logistics and design to stay competitive. By Chris Kelsch

In the insanely competitive world of wholesale distribution, K&M Accessories has navigated a difficult environment by doing two things extremely well: design and logistics.

Founded in 1959, the company was known as “K&M Associates” until two years ago. That’s when President Todd Marcus decided the company needed a bit of a rebranding of its own, and decided to go with a moniker that more accurately reflected what the company did. Hence, the name change to “K&M Accessories.”

And what K&M does, it does very well. It remains a top-100 leader in fashion accessories, serving all channels of retail. It has a unique understanding of an individual brand’s aesthetic, Marcus says, and that has led to producing accessories for such well-known licensors as Guess, T Tahari and Jessica McClintock. Additionally, its design acumen has led to the development of its own house brands such as Facets by Vendôme®, Finishing Touches® and Glitz and Glam® that allows K&M to provide a variety of labels to its retail partners. In addition to its licensed and house brands, K&M prides itself on understanding a retailers Private Label offering as well. “Our merchants have become experts at quickly understanding the needs and finding ways to support a retailers Private Label brands” says Marcus.

LoopCalifornia-based Au Energy is developing a new concept to bring healthy foods and offerings to the traditional convenience store. By Stephanie Crets

Au Energy began in 2010 and now has 119 locations throughout California dedicated to high-quality fuel and a high-quality experience, always providing a clean and well-lit store for its customers. “We’re very good at being nimble, creative, and innovative,” President Varish Goyal says. “We are strong operators. We really understand real estate and how to develop sites.”

Goyal’s family has been operating convenience stores since 1978. He was originally planning to become a doctor, but he moved back to California after college and joined the company in 2002 to develop the company’s new IT infrastructure.

“Once you get good at IT, everything else revolves around it,” Goyal explains. “So, I started to get more involved with marketing and merchandising, then operations, HR and a little finance and accounting to understand how data from the stores went into the general ledger. Through that, I started to take on different roles in different parts of the company. In 2010, we acquired 74 stores in the Bay Area. With the added stores we had to bring in more talent, and I took on the president role.”

private Ricciardi Brothers continues to build on its decades-long legacy as a top paint and decorative products dealer. By Jim Harris

The secret behind the Ricciardi family’s nearly 90 years of success in retail is pretty simple. “For us, it’s about hard work and working long hours,” says Walter Ricciardi, president of Ricciardi Brothers, the family’s New Jersey-based independent chain of paint and decorating stores.

“We are open seven days a week, try to keep as much inventory on hand as possible, hire experienced people and pay them well, and partner with key manufacturers to help us grow the business,” he adds.

The company traces its history back to 1929, when Walter Ricciardi’s father, Joseph, opened a paint store in Newark, N.J. Ricciardi Brothers formally incorporated in 1970, when Walter and his brother Robert opened a store of their own in Maplewood, N.J. Many Ricciardi Brothers’ employees have been with the stores for 20 or more years, Walter Ricciardi notes.

fresh thymeFresh Thyme has opened 56 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 56 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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