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  • Jennifer Marks

Big Keep Getting Bigger

When it comes to HTT's Top 50 Retailers Report, much attention focuses on the Top 10 companies. That's understandable. It's been fascinating to watch the big boys amassing ever more market share year after year.

It's a tough club to get into, and befalling some calamity is often the route out. Seven of the Top 10 retailers were Top 10 retailers a decade ago: JCPenney, Walmart, Kmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Linens 'n Things and T.J. Maxx/Marshall's. (The other three were Sears, Mervyn's and Fingerhut.)

The headline at the time: "Big are continuing to get bigger, faster." The 10 fastest growing retailers by sales volume all grew at double-digits: Macy's East, 12.7%; Foley's, 13.5%; Ross Dress for Less, 15.5%; Fingerhut, 17.5%; Waccamaw, 18.3%; Linens 'n Things, 19.4%; Stein Mart, 19.7%; Kohl's, 22.2%; Meijer, 22.5%; and Bed Bath & Beyond, 31.0%.

Yes, those were the days — the days when consumers were piling on debt, factors had money to lend and regional retail chains were dropping like flies in the face of consolidation. Forty-five out of 50 retailers reported year-over-year home textiles sales growth. In this year's ranking, that was true of only five: Ikea, Ross Stores, Home Goods, and HSN.

I also thought it might be interesting to compare today's final 10 — ranking from 41 to 50 — with the final 10 for the sales year of 2008.

The group was dominated by department stores: Burdines, Waccamaw, The Bon Marche, Belk, Kaufmann's, Carson Pirie Scott and Stern's. The remaining 'small fry' were Family Dollar (now No. 11), Ikea (now No. 12) and Plej's (now deceased). Together, the 10 retailers generated sales of $642.3 million — or $844.8 million when adjusted to 2008 dollars. The current final 10 churned sales of $633 million.

But the numbers show that even in a very bad year, the big guys rang up more money than they did in the very good year of 1998. This year's Top 10 did an aggregate $16.6 billion in sales vs. an adjusted $14.3 billion 10 years ago.

The pie may have shrunk last year, but they still have a bigger slice.

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