State's Private Retailers See Increases in 2011

Nearly all of the retailers on this year’s list of Arkansas’ largest private companies saw revenue gains over 2010.

(Click here for a list of retailers among the largest private companies in Arkansas.)

The biggest revenue jump came from RLJ McLarty Landers Automotive Holdings LLC of Little Rock, which sells automobiles. The company’s revenue climbed 15.6 percent in 2011 to $1.03 billion.

“What you see is that retail sales regained all-time highs in 2011,” said Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business & Economic Research at the University of Arkansas’ Walton Business College. “The consumer was spending money again in 2011. There was no doubt about that.”

One of the best retail sectors was automotive, she said.

Hickingbotham Investments Inc. of Little Rock has a number of auto dealerships in its portfolio of businesses that includes restaurants. In 2011, Hickingbotham Investments’ revenue increased 13.2 percent to $351 million.

“Across the company, we have just seen a general increase in our business, and we attribute that to some improvement in the economy,” said Gene Whisenhunt, a partner in the firm. “And the economy has forced you to do things a lot better.”

He credits the company’s leadership team for “doing a great job to capture the business.”

Out of the company’s portfolio of businesses, its luxury auto brands and Harley Davidson dealerships have seen “tremendous” improvement, Whisenhunt said.

And 2012 looks even better, he said.

The Crain Management Group of Sherwood, which includes auto dealerships, the Crain Media Group and Crain Investment, also reported revenue gains in 2011. Its revenue improved 17.2 percent to $345.8 million.

The added revenue moved Crain from No. 9 last year to No. 6 on the list of largest private retail companies.

Frank Fletcher Cos. remained the third-largest private retailer in Arkansas, although its revenue dropped 12.3 percent to $675 million in 2011. But that negative number is entirely because the company sold, on the last day of 2010, its two manufacturing subsidiaries, Silverwood Products Inc. and Cheyenne Industries. Excluding the $125 million revenue those subsidiaries generated in 2010, Frank Fletcher’s revenue would have climbed 8 percent in 2011. Its business portfolio includes auto dealerships and the Wyndham Hotel.

Arkansas Business also found a couple of companies that should have been on the list last year but weren’t. The new and used auto dealer Landers Toyota of Little Rock is No. 10 on the retailer’s list with $241.7 million in revenue, which was up 1 percent from 2010.

The Lewis Auto Group of Fayetteville also should have been on the list last year. In 2011, it had $91 million in revenue, an increase of 13.8 percent over the previous year.

Leaving the retail list was Forrest City Grocery Co. of Forrest City. Its 2010 revenue was estimated at $725 million. But Forrest City’s wholesale grocery business was sold in April 2010 to the publicly traded Core-Mark Holding Co. Inc. of South San Francisco, Calif.

A remaining asset of Forrest City Grocery was its subsidiary, Tobacco Superstores of Forrest City. Tobacco Superstores had $110 million in revenue in 2011, which was good enough for No. 15 on the list of retailers.

One of the retail trends that disturbs the economist Deck is that consumers had easier access to credit.

And consumer debt “is at very high levels despite all the bankruptcies and foreclosures during the recession and its aftermath,” she said.