Retailers are constantly striving to distinguish themselves from the competition. One way to do this is by targeting a specific audience. With addresses in swank locations such as Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara and Atlanta's Buckhead, Anthropologie caters to the upscale customer who doesn't want to wear the same clothes or decorate their home with the same things as everyone else.

"It was designed to appeal to a 30 to 40-something affluent suburban or urban couple or individual who wants to differentiate themselves from the masses," says Wade McDevitt, exclusive tenant representative for the chain. "They've read Metropolitan Home and Wallpaper. They want to own something in their home that no one else would have and that would be a conversation piece. They're aware of style and buy what's perceived as the latest fashion."

Anthropologie sells a wide range of merchandise including women's apparel, accessories, gifts, furniture and home furnishings through its stores, catalog, and website. Exclusivity and uniqueness are the watchwords for the company. Buyers travel throughout Europe, India and the Far East to find inspiration for limited quantity designs and rare one-of-a-kind items. Within the store are Indian hand-beaded picture frames, a hand-painted floral sconce based on a 1940s Italian original, glazed Japanese ceramics, and a rattan and teak British colonial sleigh bed. Prices range from the affordable ($7 for vegetable soap) to the luxurious ($12,000 for an antique Breton armoire).

"We do buy some produced pieces of furniture, but we also buy a significant number of what we call found objects," McDevitt explains. "We have a team of buyers who spend the entire year traveling around the world going to antique stores, flea markets and small towns in the U.K. and India looking for pieces. They send crate after crate back on the steamers and we distribute those objects to the stores and then merchandise around the found objects."

Anthropologie is designed to follow the customers of its parent company, Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters, into the next phase of their lives. Whereas Urban Outfitters targets an 18-28 year-old student or graduate in their first apartment, Anthropologie customers have moved into a home and are already successful in their careers. Their affluence allows them to nurture their desire for the new, different and fashionable.

"They don't want to wear the same thing everyone has on as they're walking down the street," says McDevitt. "It's someone who is curious and worldly."

Most stores are 10-12,000 sq. ft., with a few running as large as 15-18,000 sq. ft. Each location has its own merchandiser and its own budget for props to assist in building a unique appearance.

Even though each Anthropologie may have distinct merchandise and a somewhat singular feel, the stores do maintain a certain consistency in their look.

For example, along the wall of each store can be found a series of vignettes that create small rooms separated by five-foot walls. One may be a living room, the next a bedroom or a general store. This look and feel encourages customers to come in and linger. The average shopping time is more than 40 minutes.

"We're also very sensitive to each environment," says McDevitt. "What consumers are buying in Santa Monica may be different from what they're buying in New York or Atlanta."

In addition, the company doesn't view other chains such as Pottery Barn or Pier 1 Imports as its competition, but "the one of a kind boutiques because they tend to have the most creativity and are the least prototypical."

Since its launch in 1992, the chain has opened 21 stores, and has plans to build six to eight new locations this year in cities such as San Francisco and Cincinnati.

"We rarely do malls," explains McDevitt. "Our preference is to be on the street. In a suburban market we want to be in a village atmosphere that has pedestrian as well as vehicular traffic. When we're in a market that doesn't offer a true downtown village environment, the next best thing would be the mall."

Company officials believe that the more than $230 million in annual sales generated by Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters proves that they have found a niche that defies the mass market taste.

With expansion underway, the concept of selling to the fashionably adventurous seems to be a success.

Contact: Wade McDevitt, McDevitt Co., 1809 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103; (215) 665-0060.

Last year, Pasadena, Calif.-based Wetzel's Pretzels went from 53 stores to 100. This year Wetzel's growth will accelerate with 75 units joining the system as it becomes one of the dominant pretzel makers in the country.

"We started in 1994 and we've been growing at a pretty good clip," says company president Rick Wetzel. "In 1996 we brought in some venture capital and were able to put in a lot of infrastructure that allowed us to go to the next level. Each year we've been able to secure more sites. It's taken time for our relationships with landlords to develop. Now we're seeing those efforts pay off."

>From the opening of the first store in 1994 at South Bay Galleria in >Redondo Beach, Calif., the chain has spread throughout 22 states and as >far away as Australia.

"If you look at a lot of (snack food) categories like bagels, for example, they're really dying," says Wetzel's CEO and co-founder Bill Phelps. "If you look at cookies they've really flattened out. Cinnamon rolls are declining. The pretzel category just keeps going."

The pretzel market is expanding because "it's the guilt free snack," explains Phelps. Customers tend to be mall-going females ages 18-55 and children who are looking for an on-the-go snack.

Wetzel and Phelps, both of whom are corporate veterans of Nestle, have developed a carefully crafted approach to marketing based on extensive research.

"Because we have a background in brand management we applied those techniques to starting this company and growing the business," says Wetzel.

Ranging in size from 200 sq. ft. kiosks to 1,000 sq. ft. stores, Wetzel's Pretzels feature colorful three dimensional pretzels bursting from the store as "aroma waves" light up the ceilings. An array of bright colors illuminates the store's curved counters. An irreverent attitude is cultivated by using the theme of being "twisted" in advertising slogans.

"We don't see ourselves as just building a restaurant, but more as building a brand," says Wetzel. "We don't want to be just a plain mall concept. We want to be more of an emotional experience."

This approach seems to be working with $400,000 a year per store sales and more than $20 million in sales system wide last year. The owners expect earnings to reach more than $30 million this year.

Only four locations are company stores, with the remainder made up of franchise operators. In addition to expanded growth in malls, airports and train stations in the U.S., Wetzel's Pretzels also expects to see international expansion.

Contact: Rick Wetzel, president, Wetzel's Pretzels, 65 North Raymond Avenue, Suite 310, Pasadena, CA. 91103. (626) 432-6900. Randy Southerland is an Atlanta-based writer.