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Shopping for Growth in the Retail Sector

You can learn a lot about the retail sector by looking at Stores Media's "Hot 100 Retailers" list.

Stores Media is the publishing and communications of the industry trade group the National Retail Federation and the list ranks all public companies with more than $300 million in retail sales, and it provides a good snapshot of who's growing and why.

AP

So how did most of the retailers achieve growth in this tough retail environment? They bought it. Seven of the first 10 companies on the list grew by acquisition.

Topping the charts was DineEquity, formally IHOP, which acquired the Applebee's chain last year. Sales for the company's restaurant chains have more than tripled since the acquisition.

Supermarket operators have rarely made it to the list, but A&P has hit No. 4 by purchasing fellow New Jersey-based grocer Pathmark Stores. Susser Holdings , a convenience store operator, landed in the No. 3 spot after buying Town & Country Food Stores and Village Market grocery stores.

But where's the organic growth? Los Angeles-based casual apparel store American Apparel was tops in this group, with revenue rising 57.6 percent from 2008. This pace was enough to put it in the No. 2 spot overall.

Apple Stores , which ranked No. 5, is another chain with strong organic growth. That should come as no surprise to anyone who has been at a mall with an Apple store lately. While other stores may have a handful of shoppers browsing around, larger crowds of customers hungry for iPods and iPhones are typically milling around Apple Stores, regardless of the day or hour. What's more, they're not just window shopping. Apple Store revenue was up 46.0 percent over the past year, according to the survey.

Apple's also been busy opening new stores. Last year, the company opened 50 new stores, but that pace will be halved this year.

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But what might not be so obvious is that jewelry retailer Finlay Enterprises , the owner of the Bailey Banks & Biddle, Carlyle and Congress chains, would land at No. 8 at a time when most consumers are cutting back on discretionary purchases.

Rounding out the Top 10, is Amazon.com , which continues to dominate the online shopping world.

Stores Media also highlighted a few companies that have "sustained sizzle." This group includes companies that have maintained growth since they began the list in 2004, averaging a 10.8 percent compound annual growth rate. These companies include: GameStop, Urban Outfitters, Best Buy, Cabela's, PetSmart, J. Crew Group and Dick's Sporting Goods.

This grouping puts the spotlight on a few consumer trends, including demand for gadgets, gizmos and games as well as continued demand for clothing for teens and tweens.

No doubt, J. Crew has gotten a bump up in sales because its Crew Cut label is the preferred clothing brand worn by President Barack Obama's daughters.

More from Consumer Nation:

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com

Retail