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Wharton’s Marshall Fisher discusses why retailers must break their ‘addiction’ to top-line growth.

Successful retailers can grow quickly in their early years simply by opening new stores. But eventually they run out of real estate, and then they need the discipline to stop opening new stores and focus instead on driving more sales through their existing stores. They can boost sales and profits dramatically by making changes in the way they run their existing stores, such as with help from analytics and the use of technology.

In fact, several such small changes brought in profits that helped 17 retailers outperform the stock performance of the S&P 500 index, according to a new study titled “Curing the Addiction to Growth” published in the Harvard Business Review by Marshall Fisher, Wharton professor of operations, information and decisions, along with his co-authors, Vishal Gaur (who has a PhD from the Wharton School and now is a professor at Cornell’s Johnson School) and Herb Kleinberger (who has an MBA from Wharton and for many years led PWC’s retail practice).

The study covered a 22-year period, ending in 2015, at 37 companies. This group began the 22-year period with double digit top-line growth, which inevitably slowed to the low single digits during 2011-2015 as the retailers reached the maturity stage of their life cycle. Some winners, such as footwear retailer Foot Locker, saw their stock market returns grow 33% a year over this period, or nearly triple the S&P 500 average. Others that witnessed handsome stock market gains include Home Depot and McDonald’s.

The lesson for the laggards is to pause, acknowledge the slowing growth, and look for solutions other than opening new stores. Fisher says retailers, as they mature, must break their “addiction” to top-line growth and adjust their strategies to the changed realities. He sees that maxim play out also with companies outside the retail industry. That approach could apply even to countries as they shift gears, he says, citing China’s efforts to move away from low-end contract manufacturing for the rest of the world to building its own brands for its domestic market.

Listen to the Podcast – http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/how-retailers-can-cope-slowing-growth/

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