July 20, 2019

The Brick and Mortar Store That's Beating Amazon

“The sheriff’s deputy arrives early, assuming his position before 9 a.m. He stands silently, in a dark uniform beneath a bulletproof vest, and waits, sipping a small cup of thin coffee. As time rolls on, it becomes apparent he isn’t much needed here, stationed in a big, glassy store alongside a highway in Sterling, Virginia, by Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

Sometimes when an Ollie’s Bargain Outlet opens, the crowd can get large—particularly if Ollie’s arranges for a Nascar star or MLB player to visit—and law enforcement is needed to help manage the situation. By contrast, everyone on this wintery March day is well behaved, not a race-car driver or slugger in sight, leaving the deputy to contemplate the gigantic bin of plush, chicken-size Peeps (price: 99 cents), shelves of Farberware cookware sets ($39.99) and pallet of four-quart bags of Earthgro potting soil (also 99 cents).

The CEO, chairman, president and cofounder of Ollie’s is Mark Butler, a slightly built man with a big mustache and graying hair silvering over to white. When he walks in around 10, he is almost indistinguishable from his customers. Butler, 60, has attended every one of Ollie’s first 104 openings, but it’s harder to get to them these days with Ollie’s rolling out almost 40 a year. “Looks good,” he says, a group of lieutenants gathering around him. “Parking lot is very, very full.” Something is off, though. “Turn the music down a bit.” The Kinks can be heard, clearly, through the store’s public-address system. “What station do we have on?” Soon the tunes get softer and more modern. (“Something like the radio bothers the daylights out of me,” he admits.)”

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