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Breakout Retailers


Innovation in retail means breaking down barriers, navigating a fiercely competitive marketplace and making connections with increasingly demanding customers. In this section, Chain Store Age profiles five retailers that are succeeding in both. They are the winners of CSA’s Breakout Retailers Awards.

In its second year, the award honors emerging retail and restaurant brands (less than 10 years old) that have crossed the “newbie” line and are well positioned for growth in the coming years.

Selected by the editorial board of Chain Store Age, the winning lineup features five forward-thinking brands from five different industry segments, including a women’s apparel retailer that combines bohemian fashion sensibility with a giving-back philosophy, a neighborhood pet store concept with a healthy nutrition focus, an upstart eyewear merchant that seamlessly blends the best of offline and online, a gourmet candy boutique for adults and a fast-casual pioneer with a people-first culture.

For all their differences, the five winning concepts share an ability to engage and delight shoppers — online, in store or both. Whether it’s through an on-target merchandise mix, a dynamic multichannel experience, compelling customer service, a strong social mission or any combination thereof, the Breakout Retailers stand tall in today’s disrupted retail Sponsored by market.


It’s all about the customer experience, as well as the company’s mission, at Altar’d State.

Since 2009, the young women’s fashion brand has expanded its footprint from one fledgling store in Knoxville, Tenn., to 73 locations throughout the Midwest, South, mid-Atlantic and Northeast. During that time, its merchandise offerings and store interiors have grown more on trend. But the company’s mission to help change the world for the better has remained constant.

“The give-back mission isn’t just what we do — it’s who we are,” stated Altar’d State’s chairman and CEO Aaron Walters. “From the very beginning, our mission has been to help the less fortunate in and around the communities where we have Altar’d State boutiques.”

From its first day of business, the retailer has sought to connect retail with goodwill, with efforts that range from donations in local communities to funding a program that helps support underserved children in Peru.

“Our commitment is to consistently give at least 1% of sales to local and global philanthropic efforts on an annual basis,” said Mary Beth Fox, chief brand officer at Altar’d State. “Each year, our funds donated to charities through our give-back program have grown faster than our sales — a fact of which we are extremely proud.”

Through its “Mission Monday” initiative, all Altar’d State stores donate a portion of their net proceeds every Monday to global and local nonprofit organizations. In November, the company celebrated the opening of its store at the Mall of America with a series of activities that included a partnership with local coffee shops to provide pay-it-forward hot beverages for paying guests.

The company also actively supports volunteerism. This past November and December, employees received a total of more than 8,000 paid hours to support the nonprofit initiatives of their choice.


Altar’d State’s stores are warm and inviting, with an eclectic feel. The feminine-styled interiors are beautifully detailed, with chandeliers and vintage accents.

“Altar’d State is a place of refuge, relaxation and rejuvenation for our customer, where she can find a smiling face, beautiful fashion and a truly unique environment,” Fox said.

The merchandise mix, which includes clothing, accessories and select home décor items, has a bohemian vibe. Home goods and gift items are integrated throughout the store. Price points are moderate. Almost all of the merchandise is sold under the Altar’d State brand.

Altar’d State will open 15 to 20 new stores in 2017, with locations in both new and existing markets. Store sizes vary, but start at 5,000 sq. ft. The real estate strategy includes shopping centers as well as street locations.

“Our brand translates very well whether in a lifestyle, outdoor or shopping mall situation,” Fox added.

How does the company stand out in today’s crowded retail scene? “We believe the presentation of unique fashion assortments in one-of-a-kind beautiful environments and great people who have the mission to stand out for good all differentiate and position Altar’d State well in a very competitive environment,” Fox said.


Why should eating healthy, organic food be limited to humans? Our four-legged friends deserve the best possible nutrition, too, say the founders of Bentley’s Pet Stuff — and they’re building a retail chain on that philosophy.

Bentley’s currently operates 65 stores, with locations in Colorado, Georgia, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. The fast-growing company ranks as one of the largest independent natural pet supply retailers.

Lisa Senafe, founder and president, first conceived the concept back in 2007 after losing two cats to illness. After examining the ingredients in her pets’ food, she was horrified to discover the number of chemicals and lack of protein and essential nutrients.

She and her husband, Giovanni Senafe, decided to create a store that would put the emphasis on healthy food, along with high-end toys and treats. They debuted the concept, under the banner of Bentley’s Corner Bakery (named for the family dog), in Arlington Heights, Ill., in 2008.

“I wanted to give my dogs and cats a fighting chance for their immune system and overall health,” Senafe explained on the company’s website. “I wanted other pet parents to be aware of all the great options available so they can make an informed and conscious decision about their pet’s health.”

From the one location, the company slowly expanded in the Chicago area, with the Senafes running everything themselves. When it was time to accelerate growth, they turned to an expert: successful entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis, host of the CNBC television show “The Profit” and CEO of Camping World.

Lemonis helped the Senafes bring in a management team, reinvented and updated the store design and provided financial support. He helped them expand through acquisitions of individual stores and small regional chains and new store openings.

In 2015, Bentley’s merged with Pet Stuff, another suburban Chicago chain, essentially doubling from eight to 15 units, and taking on the name Bentley’s Pet Stuff. Smaller acquisitions followed, including a delivery service for the Chicago area. As part of its acquisition strategy, the company retains key people from the acquired company as partners or part owners.

Bentley’s stores average 2,200 sq. ft., with a bright and inviting interior and a signature green paw print on the outside canopy. They have a strong local bent, hosting numerous events throughout the year, from parties to veterinary clinics.

“We celebrate bringing in your dog by hosting numerous events in our stores to make it a fun place to bring your dog shopping,” Senafe said.

The company has donated more than 50,000 lbs. of food to local pet shelters and rescues, and offers regular adoption events at its locations.

The mer

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