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Hot Retailers


A women’s lifestyle apparel brand born on the Web, a fast-growing burger eatery, a discount German supermarket chain and a homegrown watchmaker are the 2011 recipients of the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Hot Retailers awards. 

The annual honors, based on a survey of more than 55,000 ICSC members worldwide, are designed to recognize innovative retail concepts. 

Here’s a brief look at this year’s winners:

Athleta: Founded 12 years ago and acquired by Gap Inc. in 2008, Athleta has evolved into a premier women’s active lifestyle brand, with apparel for yoga, running, swim, gym, hiking and skiing. 

Previously available only via catalog and online, Athleta officially entered the retail space early this year, opening in San Francisco’s fashionable Pacific Heights neighborhood. The 5,000-sq.-ft. store has an inviting and comfortable feel, and showcases the brand with inspirational imagery. 

Two additional locations are on tap for this summer, both in New York City, with a goal of 50 stores across North America by 2013. At presstime, Athleta was reportedly on track to open two stores in Southern California in the fall.

Smashburger: With 100 locations nationwide, Smashburger is on the fast track. Founded in 2009, the Denver-based, fast-casual restaurant company plans to open 85 stores in 2011, and is targeting 500-plus units in the next few years. While franchising is key to its growth, corporate-owned stores and joint-venture partnerships are also part of its strategy.

International expansion also figures into Smashburger’s plans, as it aims to be the No. 1 global “better burger” brand. It expects to open its first global location this year. 

Aldi: With more than 1,100 locations in 31 states (and 8,000 stores worldwide), privately held, German discount grocer Aldi ranks as one of the nation’s fastest-growing food retailers — a distinction it has achieved without merger or acquisition. 

A model of efficiency, Aldi trades only in essential supermarket services. The chain is known for its low prices and edited selection of some 1,400 items, 95% of which are sold under its own private labels. 

With the bulk of its U.S. stores located primarily from Kansas to the East Coast, Aldi still has plenty of room for expansion. It plans to open 80 U.S. stores this year, and recently entered two new markets: Dallas/Fort Worth and South Florida. In February, Aldi opened its first location in New York City. 

Fossil: Fossil is best known for its namesake watches, the business that started it all in 1984, but in recent years the company has moved far beyond its roots. Today, Fossil markets an array of branded fashion accessories, from handbags and jewelry to sunglasses and, most recently, women’s shoes. 

But timepieces remain Fossil’s bread and butter, and here too, the company has expanded its reach. Fossil still produces its own Fossil, Relic and Zodiac brands, but also has licenses to make watches for a number of designer labels, from Michael Kors to Burberry. 

Fossil’s products are sold in department stores, specialty shops, and specialty watch and jewelry stores across the globe. The company also distributes its products in more than 360 company-owned retail stores and through its e-commerce channel. 

For 2011, Fossil’s primary initiatives are to accelerate its direct-to-consumer channel expansion and grow its international watch businesses, with a major focus on Asia. Plans include opening 80 to 85 stores worldwide.

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