Chain Store Age is proud to announce the winners of its annual Breakout Retailer awards.
The winning lineup for 2023 features Academy Sports + Outdoors, Boot Barn, Choice Market, Condado Tacos and It’Sugar.
“The Breakout Retailer awards recognize retail, restaurant and non-traditional specialty concepts that are investing in innovation and growth in brick-and-mortar,” said CSA editor-in-chief Marianne Wilson. “The honored companies understand the critical role physical retail in today’s omnichannel world.”
The awards, sponsored by architecture and design engineering firm Stantec, were presented at Chain Store Age’s 59th annual SPECS Show, March 19-21, in Grapevine, Texas. Senior executives from the five brands were on hand to accept their awards and to share insights into their companies during a special panel discussion.
Accepting the awards on behalf of their companies were:
• Jim Conroy, president and CEO, Boot Barn;
• Mike Fogarty, founder and CEO, Choice Market;
• Sumeet Mittal, Mittal, VP, construction and design, Academy Sports + Outdoors;
• Jeff Rubin, founder and CEO, IT'SUGAR; and
• Jason Siegler, chief development officer, Condado Tacos.
Here is a look at this year’s Breakout Retailers:
Academy Sports + Outdoors
A longtime Texas fave, Academy Sports + Outdoors has been around for a while. The company’s roots go back to 1938 — but in many ways it’s just getting started.
A little over a year ago, Academy, which launched a successful IPO in 2020, embarked on its most ambitious expansion to date, with a goal of opening 80 to 100 stores by the end of 2026. The retailer — which currently has 268 locations across 18 states — will kick off its 2023 growth in the spring, with the opening of its fourth store in Indiana.
Academy is opening stores in existing markets and adjacent ones. It’s also venturing into new states, such as Virginia and West Virginia, both of which it entered last year. In addition, Academy is also updating existing locations, typically with new carpeting and fixtures.
With an average size of 63,000 sq. ft., Academy stores are designed to appeal to a very broad range of sports and outdoor enthusiasts, with a merchandise assortment that includes national brands as well as Academy’s nearly 20 private brands. The stores also offer a full suite of free services that include bike and grill assembly, scope mounting, bore sighting and line winding/spooling. Customers can also buy hunting and fishing licenses in the stores.
Academy’s success has lot to do with its local appeal. A localized merchandising strategy ensures that products are targeted to the needs of specific markets. It also engages communities with strong outreach efforts, donations and partnerships that benefit children and youth team sports, field and stream organizations and more.
Boot Barn’s success is proof positive of the enduring appeal of the Western lifestyle. From its legacy Western boots, cowboy hats and work wear to its growing offerings of cowboy-chic fashions, which even includes wedding dresses, the retailer keeps roping in new customers — customers who keep returning to buy more.
Tagged as one of the top 10 retail brands to watch in 2023 by foot traffic analytics firm Placer.ai, Boot Barn has seen it brand skyrocket in recent years as the retailer has expanded its appeal — and marketing — beyond rodeo-going folks, ranch workers and the like to consumers nationwide.
While Boot Barn’s assortment still includes plenty of boots and other signature items, it also features things such as hiking boots, baseball hats and casual wear as well as a limited selection of home goods. Exclusive brands make up a significant— and growing — portion of its mix — including one headlined by popular country star Miranda Lambert.
As the company has broadened its appeal, its stores, which average about 12,000 sq. ft., have gotten a revamp also, with a more contemporary look and an improved customer experience.
With approximately 345 locations and 86% of its sales coming from brick-and-mortar, Boot Barn sees a long runway for physical growth. Last May, the retailer upped its long-term store target to 900 locations. It’s on track to open 43 new stores in its current fiscal year.
As it expands its footprint nationwide, Boot Barn is entering new markets. It recently opened its first stores in the states of Connecticut and New York, further expanding its growing Northeast presence.
Choice Market has set itself an ambitious goal: to reinvent the traditional convenience store model. The brand combines convenience, service and advanced technology with fresh healthy food and other items from local vendors.
The curated, better-for-you product selection also includes everyday basic necessities. A full-service, scratch kitchen offers seasonal meals — prepared by trained chefs — made from fresh, local and sustainable products.
Choice Market’s vision of the reimagined c-store is reflected in its Denver flagship, which houses products from more than 60 Colorado suppliers. The 5,000-sq.-ft. store offers online ordering, click-and-collect options, and delivery in 45 minutes or less — either from that in-house team that uses a fleet of electric bikes and cars or third-party service providers.
The store also deploys AI-powered ceiling camera technology that lets shoppers use the Choice Market mobile app to scan products as they shop and then use the app to pay, bypassing the traditional checkout experience.
Choice Market is also upending the traditional C-store model by opening in unconventional settings. The company unveiled its fully autonomous mini-mart format last year, at The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Denver. Designed for health care workers, students, faculty and staff, the 400 -sq.-ft. store is open round the clock, 365 days a year.
The smaller format is specifically designed for non-traditional retail spaces such as hospitals, airports and campuses. Choice plans to expand the concept nationwide. Moving forward, the retailer also plans to expand its signature format — and experiment with new ones.
Hitting the sweet spot between full-service and fast casual, Condado Tacos combines good times and great food in a colorful, high-energy environment. Founded in 2014, the casual-dining chain is celebrated not only for its signature Margaritas, tequilas and create-your-own tacos, but also for its strong company culture and festive environment. The walls of each of its restaurants are covered with custom, floor-to-ceiling, graffiti-style murals painted by local artists.
A strong sense of individual expression and inclusivity permeates the culture at Condado Tacos. The company’s tagline of “Come as you are” extends to its employees, who are encouraged to dress in a way that is authentic to them. There are no employee uniforms.
Company executives have said that Condado’s focus on its employees is as much a differentiator as its emphasis on quality and convenience. Above industry wages, open lines of communication, employee appreciation and recognition honors and added benefits all make for a loyal workforce in an industry known for rapid turnover.
The company keeps its menu offerings limited — tacos and dips — and kitchens well organized and streamlined, allowing it to prepare food with a speed and efficiency unusual for a full-service restaurant. Technology helps — the chain was one of the first in its category for wait staff to uses handheld devices that allow them to enter orders directly from the table and settle up checks as well.
With some 40 locations, CONDADO has been ramping up its expansion, fueled by an investment partnership with private-equity firm The Beekman Group. The chain is looking to open 90 to 100 restaurants by 2026. It will enter eight new markets this year.
Buying candy has never been more fun than it is at It’Sugar, which has grown into one of the largest specialty candy retailers in the world, with more than 100 locations in the United States and, most recently, Canada.
But It’Sugar is much more than a place to buy candy — it’s an experience, a celebration of all things sweet.
With some stores well over 10, 000 sq. ft. — the company refers to its supersized locations as candy department stores — It’Sugar combines thousands of varieties of confections and novelty gifts with over-the-top displays and immersive experiences. The candy selection ranges from familiar best sellers to international candies to retro items.
Favorite candy brands are brought to life with shop-in-shops and giant branded candy characters, which can be found throughout the space. Candy stations offer hundreds of different candies by the pound.
It'Sugar’s expansion has evolved to include three different store types, ranging from 3,000 sq. ft. to 10,000 sq. ft. plus. The real estate strategy includes permanent stores as well as pop-ups whose lease terms average from 13 to 36 months. For example, It’s Sugar opened an 11,400-sq.-ft. pop-up on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue on a site that formerly housed a Disney Store flagship.
The company, which is owned by BBX Capital, recently brought its unique store concept to one of the busiest locations in the world— Times Square in New York City. The 20,000-sq.-ft.-plus store features such Instagram-worthy attractions as a lollipop garden with more than 1,000 lollipops and a New York skyline made entirely of jellybeans.
Coming soon: a supersized It’Sugar on San Francisco’s famed Fisherman’s Wharf.