Stores to Watch: The 2012 Hot 100 Retailers

Each August the National Retail Federation (NRF) publishes its annual "Hot 100 Retailers" list which serves as a definitive ranking of the nation's fastest growing retail chains. A huge number of factors play into which stores thrive while others faulter. Personally, we look forward to reviewing the list each year and taking note of the qualities that have sky rocketed certain brands to the top of the growth charts. While we anxiously await the 2012 version of the Hot 100, here's a look back at some of the 2011 rankings along with our own brief commentary on what these retailers are doing "just right" to ensure their business is booming.

#6 Bodega Latina dba El Super
With locations throughout California, Arizona, and Nevada, El Super's key to success is Southwestern authenticity. As the store's name implies, El Super has a Hispanic corporate culture that is geared towards the Latin American demographic (roughly 17% of the US population). The store makes a point to stock the unique, authentic fresh and imported food products that its customers most desire and to offer products at a value price point. Because of this, its popularity is widespread to other demographics, including cooking enthusiasts. The stores offer a clean, friendly, latin-flavored environment with signage and other elements in both Spanish and English.

#7 Apple Stores
Apple's award-winning stores, maybe more than any other retail space, represent the zeitgeist of today's plugged-in world. And trendsetting products aside (we're sure you've never heard of Mac computers, iPads, iPods, or iPhones) Apple has really set the bar in redefining the modern, functional, and beautiful retail space. From nerd bars to glass staircases, shoppers appreciate, identify with, and often even identify themselves by Apple's values of simplicity, beauty, and function. Think, "I'm a Mac." Traditional and non-traditional retailers look to Apple as a flagship for how to present themselves to the modern shopper.

#9 H&M
Swedish retailers, Hennes & Mauritz, have quick become the second largest global clothing retailer with their fast-to-floor approach to fashion. The store hits home for Millennial and Gen X shoppers (for example, we all got VERY EXCITED when they partnered with Versace last year for a cheap chic line of clothing) with merchandise that changes pretty much daily and is always affordable and on-trend. The stores showcase their product in bright, modern retail spaces with modular fixtures, perfect for an ever-evolving offering.

#19 Tractor Supply Co.
This popular chain of outdoor-based department stores, Tractor Supply's tagline is, "For life out here" and its product offering follows suit. For small town, rural, and even suburban dwellers, Tractor Supply's balance of farm and garden gear, tools, and household supplies makes them a perfect one-stop-shop. The retailer also offers clothing, select groceries, and animal care products for critters from cats to livestock. The retail space is departmentalized and due to the extensive mix of product categories, requires easy-to-navigate directional signage.

#30 Whole Foods
Undeniably a trend leader for US and global grocery, Whole Foods has tapped into modern consumers' need to know the story behind the food they're eating. Each store is unique to its locale, with great care paid to design with local flavor - from layout, to color palette, fixturing, signage, and materials. The stores focus on value through natural, quality products sold in a beautiful, comfortable space. Whole Foods, similar to #7 Apple Stores, is as much a culture as a retailer, with an incredibly loyal following.

#57 Kohl's
In just a few years, Kohl's has risen from low profile to the status of a top department store. With traditional sections such as kitchen, bed, bath, clothing, and accessories, the stores provide a welcoming, traditionally designed, and nicely polished environment in which shoppers can pick up all the necessities. With notable brand partnerships such as Tony Hawk, Jennifer Lopez, Lauren Conrad, and Simply Vera Vera Wang, the stores offer a welcome option for shoppers looking to spend affordably and still purchase quality, ultra stylish merchandise.

 #59 Gymboree
With hundreds of children's clothing store and play areas throughout the US, Gymboree is a lifestyle brand for active parents of infants, toddlers, and primary aged youngsters. Their store spaces are brightly lit and beautifully designed with fun in mind.

#86 Ikea
Ikea's innovative store layout of showroom-to-warehouse with a side of meatballs have made the Swedish retailer of BIY (built it yourself) furnishings and affordable housewares an internationally recognized retailer and brand leader.

#95 Jo-Ann Stores
With the current economic slump coinciding with a renaissance of craftsmanship appreciation and entrepreneurialism (think Etsy people) it's no wonder that craft supply wonderland, Jo-Ann Stores made the list. Organized by department, with significant seasonal merchandise, the retailer relies heavily on display fixtures, merchandising, and wayfinding as well as a navigable layout to encourage shoppers to travel around and through the space with the easy ability to find what they're looking for, from yarn to scrapbooking supplies to gold sequine lame.