GerberGerber continues to prioritize its standards after 90 years, even as it changes to meet the needs of today’s parents and babies. By Bianca Herron

After the arduous daily task of straining peas for her seven-month-old daughter, Sally, Dorothy Gerber asked her husband to come up with a convenient and consistent way to puree high-quality fruits and vegetables for their child. In 1927, Dorothy and Dan were inspired to make canned baby food.

The husband-and-wife duo introduced Gerber Baby Food in 1928 in Fremont, Mich. It was the first baby food sold in grocery stores. Initial varieties included strained peas, carrots, spinach, prunes and vegetable soup.

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 LandmarkLandmark Industries prepares for future growth and celebrates its 35th anniversary. By Kat Zeman

Business is booming for Landmark Industries. The Houston-based company, which celebrated its 35th anniversary in December, owns and operates 218 convenience stores throughout Texas under its Timewise brand.

“We’ve been in a substantial growth mode in the past year,” General Manager Marshall Dujka says. “There is an influx of people coming into the Houston area. Houston is a booming town and there are a lot of properties available if you know where to look.”

Last year, the company opened six new locations in the Houston metropolitan area. It has 15 locations on the drawing board and plans to open four to six new stores this year. Aside from the growing market, the company attributes its success to the way it does business.

Fun ExpressFun Express sees growing interest in customized and licensed party merchandise. By Kat Zeman

When it comes to fun and games, Fun Express is the bees knees. Need a few thousand whoopee cushions or cans of silly string? Not a problem. How about whistles, noisemakers, puzzle games and magic toys? It can be arranged. Remember those orange and black spider rings? Yep. They’ve got them too.

Fun Express, founded more than 80 years ago to service the carnival industry, is in the business of wholesale funtertainment. Its endless supply of party swag is hard to match. The Omaha, Neb.-based company has more than 40,000 funnecessary items in stock at its 1.2-million-square-foot storage facility, which it calls its fulfillment center. “When it comes to fun, we’re all business,” says Mark Naylon, director of retail and wholesale. “We sell fun and we live by that motto.”

Thousands of orders of wholesale toys, novelties, favors and gifts stream from the fulfillment center every day. Known for consistently maintaining an industry-leading 95 percent-plus fill rate, the center houses a plethora of crafts, hats, costumes, jewelry, party supplies, toys and novelties, electronics, candies, balls and light-ups.

Retail MWith its expansion into the United Kingdom, Retail Monster aims to become the No. 1 preferred brand extension and licensing company. By Bianca Herron

In the nearly two years since Retail Monster launched, the brand extension and licensing company has become a force to be reckoned with. The U.S-based company assists brands, retailers and licensors looking for solutions for brand extensions and licensing opportunities.

Retail Monster has offices strategically located near big retailers in Los Angeles, New York City, Delaware, and Bentonville, Ark., and recently expanded to the United Kingdom with its London office.

Pursuing Opportunity

Retail Monster aims to make every brand it takes on the best in class in its industry. The company’s goal hasn’t changed with its U.K. expansion, which launched in September. Just like its U.S. offices, Retail Monster U.K. is focused on branding and licensing efforts in four key areas: traditional licensing, retail sales and marketing, licensee consulting, and intellectual property (IP) development and franchise management.

Foot SolutionsFoot Solutions continues to find new ways to grow its brand and sales, including with new stores and licensing concepts. By Jim Harris

For more than 15 years, Foot Solutions has lived up to its name by offering assistance and specialized products to people who need relief when they’re on their feet.

The Atlanta-based company is a leading international retailer specializing in personalized assessments, stylish high-performance footwear, and custom-fitted and custom-crafted arch supports and accessories.

Most of Foot Solutions’ customers are people over the age of 40 who’ve started experiencing foot and heel pain as the result of their arches collapsing with age. This causes the foot to spread out and ultimately increase in shoe size, and pulls ligaments away from the heel bone, causing sharp pain, founder and CEO Ray Margiano says.

“As a person ages, especially females – easily 65 to 70 percent of our customers are female – [they] start developing foot issues they never had before,” he adds. “That’s why we focus on that market – they have issues we can solve pretty easily.”

Elan PoloElan Polo leverages technology and customer service to connect with its customers – and better understand their needs. By Bianca Herron

Elan Polo International is a global organization that designs, sources and delivers millions of pairs of men's, women's, and children's shoes to retailers worldwide. The St. Louis-based company continues to operate and grow its private label business, which was implemented when Elan Polo was founded in 1976.

Its 15 offices across five continents not only allow it to leverage “economies of scale of worldwide footwear production, but also insight into a truly globalized economy,” Executive Vice President Jamie Bethke notes. “Along with our extensive reach and insight, we are structured in a way that we can act and react like a small business: flexible and adaptable to the market's demands,” Bethke says.

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Beverly HillsBy cultivating a family-oriented culture, the Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company aims to be the go-to small plush company. By Bianca Herron

For more than two decades, the Beverly Hills Teddy Bear (BHTB) Company has been tapped by world-renowned organizations – including the Walt Disney Company and Wal-Mart – to design, create and manufacture in-line or value-added products such as custom, private-label and licensed toys.

“We develop safe, high-quality merchandise at price points designed to work across all channels of trade,” Founder and CEO David Socha says. “Our clients include toy companies, insurance companies, banks and promotional companies where they give product away to try and drive their business. We also oversee a couple websites, including plush.com and stuffedanimals.com.”

BHTB celebrates its 25-year anniversary this year, which Socha attributes to hard work and being “faith-filled.” “We give everything to God and have been very blessed to be in this fun toy business, and make millions of kids happy through stuffed animals or our figurines,” he says, noting the company’s reputation is what he is most proud of.

“We do what we say and say what we do,” Socha explains. “We all live in a crazy world and make mistakes, but as my pastor says, ‘It’s not the mistake you make, it’s what you do with it.’ We like to think we do the right thing.”

Home OilHome Oil’s Hobo Pantry stores pamper customers with strong service and knowledgeable employees.
By Tim O’Connor

In the face of an increasingly competitive retail environment dominated by giant companies, smaller family owned businesses often struggle to keep up. But Home Oil, an operator of gas stations and convenience stores in the Southeast, has found that the old standby – good service – can still set it apart from larger competitors.

“When we started seeing an influx of the super marketers and the Walmarts and the Murphy [USA]s, those people, we sat down as a corporation and made a conscientious decision we weren’t going to match them on pricing,” President Tim Shirley says. “We were going to be a branded marketer and focus on customer service.”

That sense of service trickles down to every level of the Alabama-based company. Employees are trained to not only greet customers every time they walk through the door, but also to educate the customer on the difference between branded and unbranded products, and the importance of keeping the pristine look of the stores. “We put a very attractive product out there,” Shirley says. “We maintain that product. If a light goes out we better fix it before dark.

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