Barbara Rentler: The 1 Store that is 100% IRL and Booming

March 13 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: Touchdowns and Trends

During the Super Bowl, I noticed two things: First, when a flag is thrown, usually a player emphatically points his finger at someone from the other team, and another dude throws his hands up in the air, as if to say, “It wasn’t me!” It was reminiscent of the playground. One of the ways in which football is appealing is the second thing: There are rules, and lots of them. There’s instant replay and too many camera angles to count. Many, if not most, of the penalties can be verified, and the rulebook (or whatever you call it) is followed to a T. Everyday moments in life are never that clear, though, are they?


People like to point to exactly why something is the way it is. Drones aren’t flying around getting shots of that fender bender you just got into, and no one’s around to throw a flag. What we can notice are trends. For instance, it’s pretty obvious that as our online shopping increases, brick-and-mortar stores are seeing fewer customers. Department store sales went down 1 percent since last year. When was the last time you set foot in a department store?

WOMAN TO WATCH: Barbara Rentler, CEO of Ross Stores

One of my girlfriends ordered a vase online, only to realize that once the box arrived, the vase was, in fact, three times as big as she thought it’d be. There are a lot of benefits to seeing an item in person versus buying it online. Barbara Rentler is the CEO of Ross Stores, the place that you go to if you’re in the mood to shop ‘til you drop.

From homewares to footwear to gift bags, Ross is many women’s go-to destination to seek out good deals. It purchases leftover inventory from stores or brands. Ross started as a department store in California in 1950. It has since evolved, with more than 1,400 stores.

Barbara has been with the company since the mid-80s and climbed the ranks as she held various merchandising positions. Now, she’s helping maintain positive growth for the retailer. She’s the 25th female CEO at a Fortune 500 company and is the only one leading a fashion firm.

It appears that having Barbara in charge is a smart move for the biz. Barbara has declined to be an online retailer, as well, which is a pretty staggering move in this day and age. Ross is worth nearly twice as much as the big department store Macy’s, and it’s poised to exceed earnings estimates this year. It’s clear Barbara’s onto something.

So what’s her secret? CNN says it’s about having a “flexible purchasing strategy.” While department stores may be taking a hit overall, discount chains, in particular, are still growing. Shoppers head to Ross to purchase products at a reasonable price; most items are below $30. There’s also something appealing about the hunt, right? One retail analyst says that Barbara’s insistence on avoiding e-commerce has actually helped the biz grow.

It takes guts to not go with the flow, with what everyone else is doing. As Barbara demonstrates, doing so might just pay off.


In 2011, Leymah Gbowee became the Nobel Peace Laureate for her work as a Liberian peace activist. She said:

"You can never leave footprints that last if you are always walking on tiptoe."

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