The name Five Below says it all for Bakersfield shopper Brianna Jones. What's not to like about a store filled with items priced around $5 or less?
"It's like a mini-Walmart but more affordable," the 26-year-old said after leaving the chain's Bakersfield store at 4310 California Ave. with her friend Ambrielle Jackson, who was equally enthusiastic about Five Below.
"It has pretty much everything I need," said Jackson, who normally does a lot of her shopping online. "It has good prices and quality."
The Philadelphia-based chain is a rare example of a brick-and-mortar retailer that's thriving at a time when many other stores are pulling back in the face of competition from e-commerce.
Inside the chain's brightly lit stores are a wide variety of products ranging from consumer-electronics accessories to sporting goods to candy. Not everything inside costs less than $5, but much of it is and anyone with $10 to spend can walk out with a bag full of household items.
Aside from its focus on value, observers say much of the company's attraction is its constantly updated product inventory and its knack for bringing in members of the millennial generation — people like Jones and Jackson, who are price-conscious and ready to go online if it's easier but also willing to drive to the store if it's close by and convenient.
"Retail has to be an experience to compete with Amazon," Michelle Madhok, CEO and founder of online fashion and shopping guru SheFinds Media, said by email Friday. "Five Below does this by changing inventory frequently and keeping prices under $10 so tweens can treat themselves to something new."
"There’s a thrill in shopping there that’s like a treasure hunt. This is the same thing that people feel when they visit Costco and TJ Maxx. It’s more than shopping. It’s the thrill of seeing what a bargain you can get and discovering new products," Madhok wrote.
The chain's growth continues to impress. Its first-quarter sales were up 23 percent year over year at $364.8 million. Net income, meanwhile, increased by almost 18 percent as the company reported opening 39 new stores during the three-month period, leaving it with 789 locations in 36 states.
What may be most striking is the context for those numbers. Industry trackers say more retail stores pulled up stakes during the first half of this year than closed during all of last year as e-commerce clobbered stores unable to coax consumers away from online shopping sites with lower overhead, wide selection and convenient shipping.
Data-focused news website Thinknum.com pointed out recently that Five Below presents a rare picture of a store chain in strong growth mode. It noted the retailer has said in public filings that it aims to operate as many as 2,500 stores, which is about three times as many as it reported having during the first half of this year.
Other observers said Five Below's success offers hope to stores and shopping center owners that the e-commerce age will not spell the end of getting in the car and driving to the store.
Public relations firm Walker Sands Communications said millennials, the hottest demographic for retailers these days, may have grown accustomed to buying necessities online but that they still prefer an in-store experience if the conditions are right.
Erin Jordan, the firm's retail technology practice vice president and partner, said Five Below stands to do well at a time when consumers, especially young shoppers, are leaning toward what she called a clean, organized lifestyle focused on sustainability.
"While this could eventually lead to a decrease in consumer purchase in fast-fashion and more trendy goods," she wrote by email, "there seems to be an opportunity for brands like Five Below to better connect with its target audience using an in-store experience as an opportunity."
Five Below did not respond to requests for comment.
Bakersfield resident Chris Sosa, 31, was leaving the company's Bakersfield location with his family Friday morning when he was asked what he thought about the store. He said the store's prices and selection are what bring him back.
"I like it because it's a wide selection and everything," he said. "You can get it right then and there instead of ordering it online."