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Consider Company X. Its annual sales—now $27.4 billion, or more than those of Estée Lauder, Hilton Worldwide, and Hershey combined—have risen 50% over the past six years. Its profits have almost tripled, to $2.1 billion. Its shareholders have been the beneficiaries of 18 consecutive years of earnings-per-share growth. In its nearly-four-decade history, it has had only one year of negative same-store sales. And it does all this by selling blouses…pots and pans…and bedding, sunglasses, sriracha seasoning, yoga mats, and the occasional $1,250 Stella McCartney dress.
Company X—make that TJX—may well be the biggest enigma in an industry so fragile and capricious that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz once likened it to the “human condition.” The business of retail is hard stuff. Chains soar when they manage to sell into the zeitgeist (“Tar-zhay,” anyone?) and collapse when the stars of public taste realign (Abercrombie). In the off-price realm that the TJX TJX Companies dominates, it is, if anything, harder. The past six years have seen the demise of Filene’s Basement, Daffy’s, and Loehmann’s, which has reemerged as an online-only store. The number of customer purchases at TJX, by contrast, has risen in each of the last six years; over that time, TJX shares have climbed over 200%.
“It’s the most consistent, most powerful apparel retailer in the United States,” says Howard Davidowitz, who has run his own retail consulting and investment banking firm for 33 years. “It’s a bold statement, but it’s true.” Ron Hess, a professor of marketing at William & Mary’s Mason School of Business, puts it this way: “They are stunningly good.”
But there is one other salient fact about the Framingham, Mass., retailer that adds to the enigma: It will do almost anything to prevent anybody else from knowing how it has managed all of the above. TJX is Company X: a black box—arguably one of the most secretive retailers around.
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