The Usual Suspects

August 9, 2017

Say what you want about the home textiles business but one thing remains a constant: the fundamental things apply.

When you scan the charts and numbers and minutiae of this month’s Top 50 Retailing Giants report, you’ll see the top 10 stores in the business are pretty much the same top 10 that have been on this chart for years and years.

But look beyond the footnotes and decimal points and you can see the future – and the past – of the industry:

Certainly, you don’t need H&TT to tell you that online is where the growth is in the world of sheets and towels and so you see Amazon, Overstock and their brethren continuing their climb up the boxes on our tables.

Likewise you don’t have to be a math whiz to see that within a year or three Amazon has the potential to crack the top five on this list. It’s got a long way to go before it edges out Walmart and Bed Bath at the top, but it’s not inconceivable to think that may happen in our business lifetimes.

The other big upward swing comes from the off-price channel. Five of the top 15 spots are now held by retailers who eschew the off-price model and any outdated (and frankly derogatory) references to them as Third Tier stores is both insulting and irrelevant. The TJX nameplates, along with Ross and Burlington, are by all accounts the future of physical store retailing and you will see these names attain higher and higher placements in the years ahead.

You can also see the anthropological relics of eras from the past. The ongoing implosion at the Kmart/Sears complex is the most obvious example and one can envision a day not too far in the future when neither name will show up on this list.

But it’s not just them. For a long time JCPenney was No. 1 in our rankings and as recently as a few years ago it was a competitive No. 3. Now it’s fallen a few more notches and while its home textiles business seems to be rebounding it is never going to get back to the levels it once achieved.

Caught somewhere in between are department stores, who even ten years ago would have occupied as many as a quarter of all the spots in these rankings. This year’s version has just five on the list and with the exception of the 800-pound gorilla in the mall — Macy’s — they are all toward the very bottom of the count. Will we see even fewer department store names on this list a few years from now? Quite possibly.

And what of the once new kids on the retail block? Remember when super specialty store chains were all over this list? Today there’s just one: BBB. Or the lifestyle stores like Crate, Pottery Barn and West Elm that many people thought would be gobbling up market share as the population matured? They too are largely flat as a group, though some individual operations have moved up or down a few notches.

So, look beyond the numbers and you’ll see how the industry is changing … as time goes by.