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FINANCE

Party City buys franchise stores

BY Marianne Wilson

Party City Holdco Inc. is increasing its corporate-owned store count.

The company has entered into an agreement to acquire a master franchise group representing 18 franchise stores in North Carolina and South Carolina for a purchase price of $31 million.

Prior to the acquisition, the company’s retail operations included 765 company-owned Party City stores and 164 franchise stores.

“This latest franchise acquisition expands our footprint in the Carolinas and provides us with an opportunity to strengthen the brand integrity of these locations and to explore opening additional company-owned stores in this market over time,” said James M. Harrison, CEO. “We will continue to evaluate accretive franchise acquisitions going forward in order to expand our company-owned footprint, improve the operational efficiencies of these stores and enhance the customer experience.”

Party City’s retail operations include over 900 specialty retail party supply stores (including approximately 150 franchise stores) throughout North America operating under the names Party City and Halloween City, and e-commerce websites.

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C-SUITE

Discounter on hunt for new chief merchandiser

BY Marianne Wilson

The chief merchandising officer of Dollar General Corp. is retiring.

The retailer announced that James “Jim” W. Thorpe, executive VP and chief merchandising officer, will retire from Dollar General effective April 15, 2017. Dollar General said it has started a search for a successor and will consider both internal and external candidates for the job.

Thorpe joined Dollar General in 2006 and served as its VP and general merchandise manager until July 2012. He returned to Dollar General as executive VP and CMO in August 2015. Prior to Dollar General, Thorpe served in merchandising leadership positions with Sears Holdings Corporation and in marketing roles with Zenith Data Systems and MAXIMA Corporation.

“Jim’s strong understanding of our core customer and passion for our business have been instrumental in driving innovation in our merchandising initiatives,” said Todd Vasos, Dollar General’s CEO. “When Jim rejoined the company in 2015, we agreed upon a clear set of objectives for his tenure as CMO. As I knew he would, Jim has delivered on the merchandising strategies we identified as our highest priorities. I’m grateful for his contributions and wish Jim and his family the best in the future.”

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WORKFORCE

Report: Majority of shoppers feel they ‘know more’ than store associates

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Brick-and-mortar retailers are fighting harder than ever to remain relevant among digitally driven shoppers.

This is not an easy task as 83% of shoppers believe they're more knowledgeable than retail store associates — often due to the online research they conduct before entering a store, according to a new survey from Tulip Retail.

The good news is 79% of survey respondents said knowledgeable store associates are "important" or "very important." Additionally, 64% of respondents believe physical retail locations will be part of the shopping journey in the future, which is welcomed news by retailers that are faced with headlines today questioning the existence of brick-and-mortar down the road, the report explained.

In fact, 77% of consumers believe the biggest advantage of shopping in-store is the ability to touch, try on, and see products, and 63% prefer to shop both in-store and online. And 53% believe that store associates are either "very valuable, very helpful" or "valuable, helpful.” But that doesn’t mean retailers still have work to do.

"Our survey had some sobering findings that should keep executives of brick-and-mortar retailers up at night – including the fact that nearly 90% of respondents shop at Amazon and that store associates are not meeting customer expectations," said Ali Asaria, CEO of Tulip Retail.

"But there's also some really good news for retailers that our survey uncovered – knowledgeable store associates are valued by shoppers, and those empowered with mobile technology are delivering better shopping experiences,” Asaria said. “Bottom line, investing in store associates needs to be a high priority. With the right tools, they can become beacons of knowledge, trusted advisors and drive sales.”

For example, 72% of shoppers that dealt with a store associate who uses a mobile device to provide things like product information, credit card checkout, and inventory look-up, said it resulted in a better shopping experience. And almost 30% know the store associates by name at the retailers they visit.

These experiences are driving increasing shoppers’ expectations, however. Nearly 50% of shoppers said a knowledgeable store associate who is able to suggest products based on their purchase history would encourage them to shop in-store. Meanwhile, 73% would be interested in having a store associate text or email them about the status of their order or that their order has arrived in the store, the study reported.

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