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LAS VEGAS-Five retailers ranging from purveyors of new high-tech concepts to an accessories marketer nearly 65 years old won the “Hottest Retailer” awards Tuesday during presentations at the 2005 ICSC Spring Convention. The winners, chosen in a survey of nearly 3,000 North American shopping center management professionals compiled by the ICSC’s Shopping Centers Today, were the Apple Stores, Coach, White House/Black Market, Steve & Barry’s University Sportswear and Williams Sonoma.

Shopping Centers Today asked center managers to identify the retailers that they believe “create exciting and interesting shopping experiences that contribute to the success of the shopping centers,” explained Michael P. Kercheval, ICSC’s president and CEO, who kicked off the presentation to a packed house. The winners, he said, “have worked hard to create products and services that bring customers to shopping centers around the world.”

Executives from each of the winning companies received their awards in presentations hosted by TV personality Melissa Rivers, who acted as master of ceremonies for the awards event. Rivers interviewed each of the winners about their retailing and marketing philosophies. The interviews, in turn, included videotaped interviews conducted with customers in each of the winners’ stores as well as video presentations explaining the companies’ histories and growth.

The Apple Stores, which Cupertino, CA-based Apple launched in May 2001, sell not only Apple computers and iPods, but various third-party “digital lifestyle” products such as mp3 players, digital still and video cameras, and PDAs. Apple operates approximately 100 of the retail locations in the US and four outside the country. One of the biggest is the London store, according to Apple Retail SVP Ron Johnson, who accepted the Hottest Retailer Award for the company. Apple plans to continue with its current strategy of opening about 25 to 35 new stores per year, Johnson told the ICSC audience.

The Coach chain, founded in 1941, remains a family-run business that is one of the best-recognized accessories brands in the country, with more than 200 stores in the US and nearly 200 locations in other countries. Customers interviewed in the video presentations ranged from women who have been buying the brand for years to newcomers who have either discovered the brand or were introduced to it by their mothers. The spanning of generations is the result of a shift that the company bean in the late 1990s to add trendier styles to the traditional and classic looks for which Coach has long been known.

Steve & Barry’s University Sportswear has become a favorite of shopping center management after starting in 1985 as a chain of college campus-based stores and evolving to carry full lines of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing in addition to officially licensed collegiate wear from more than 250 colleges and universities. The chain, which offers extremely low prices, has become one of the fastest growing mall-based concepts with nearly 70 units today and more than 130 planned nationwide by year’s end.

White House/Black Market is a chain that sells clothing and accessories for women only in the shades of white and black. It began with White House, which sold only white merchandise, then was combined under one roof in 1997 to become White House/Black Market. The company operates more than 160 stores in the US, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In addition to clothing, the store also showcases an array of lingerie, jewelry, picture frames and gifts.

San Francisco-based Williams-Sonoma, founded in 1956 to sell cookware imported from France, has expanded and diversified since then to a chain that “covers every room in the house,” the company says. The chain now carries hundreds of products and operates more than 200 stores nationwide, including its larger Grand Cuisine formats.

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