Retailers in Growth Mode

There’s no doubt that Canada is very much on the minds of U.S. retailers these days. As our cover story points out, Canada is attractive for a number of reasons, from its growing population to its resilient economy. But there is plenty of expansion going on here at home too. The extent of the activity is detailed in the “Spring 2012 Retailer and Restaurant Expansion Guide” from ChainLinks Retail Advisors. The comprehensive report, which details the current expansion plans for more than 2,500 U.S. retail and restaurant chains, finds retailer demand is up approximately 5% over last year’s levels.

“Demand is being driven by discounters, grocery store chains, off-price apparel retailers, fast food and fast-casual dining concepts,” said Garrick Brown, national retail research director, ChainLinks.

Retailers cited in the report include Subway, which is planning up to 2,500 stores worldwide in 2012, and Dollar General, on track to open 650 stores. Other retailers include Family Dollar (500), 7-Eleven (at least 300) and Dollar Tree (300).

Additional chains that are expanding in 2012: Chipotle Mexican Grill expects to open 155 to 165 locations — its most ever in one year. Big Lots is also in a growth mode and anticipates opening 90 U.S. stores. Vitamin Shoppe plans to open some 50 stores. Bed Bath & Beyond has 40 stores in the works across its banners.

In the off-price segment, Ross Stores continues to expand at a fast clip, both its namesake brand and its dd’s Discounts format. Ross still has plenty of room for expansion.            

In sporting goods, Dick’s Sporting Goods expects to open 40 locations for 2012. Hibbett Sporting Goods, which has flown under the radar for years, will add 55 to 60 stores in 2012.

Outdoor gear retailer Cabela’s will debut a smaller-sized concept, Cabela’s Outpost, this fall, in Union Gap, Wash. Gander Mountain Co. also has a smaller-sized prototype in the works.

Notably missing from the list so far are specialty apparel retailers. There is no getting round the fact that some of the largest apparel chains, from Gap Inc. to Abercrombie & Fitch, are closing more U.S. locations than they are opening new ones. But the sector has by no means grown dark. Specialty apparel remains a vibrant category, with newer players and spin-off concepts injecting fresh blood. Here is a sampling:

• Francesca’s Holdings: The fast-growing accessories and apparel brand will open 75 stores this year.

• Charming Charlie: The accessories brand has wasted no time in ramping up, with 60 locations on tap for its current fiscal year.

• Madewell: The casual young women’s apparel brand from J. Crew is ready for rollout. It will open about 15 locations this year, with a bigger ramp-up in 2013.

• Athleta: Gap has identified its women’s activewear brand Athleta as a primary growth vehicle for the United States, with plans to have 50 stores open by the end of 2013.

• C. Wonder: Launched in New York City last fall, this women’s apparel and lifestyle start-up has since opened in three mall locations, with several additional stores set to open. Owner Chris Burch plans to grow C. Wonder to more than 100 stores nationally.

As I said, there is plenty of activity in U.S. retail these days.

mwilson@chainstoreage.com