A cool island breeze. The warm sand underfoot. Shoppers won't have to go far to experience the relaxing atmosphere a perfect island getaway creates once Tommy Bahama expands its retail and restaurant locations.

The Tommy Bahama clothing line was born when apparel industry veterans Tony Margolis, Lucio Dalla Gasperina and Bob Emfield created an upscale clothing collection based on their dream of the perfect lifestyle.

"They wanted to sell nicer clothing that would appeal to affluent shoppers on holiday," says W.C. Wells, The Guy in Charge (as his title reads on his business card) of Seattle-based Tommy Bahama. "You can get cheap cargo shorts and aloha shirts anywhere, but you can't buy a printed silk shirt in many places."

The three men created a line of casual, fun-in-the-sun sportswear in 1992, naming it after an imaginary character, Tommy Bahama, who lives the perfect life of leisure. Three years later, the company founders opened their first retail store in Old Naples, Fla.

Soon, they added a juice bar, which then expanded to a full-scale restaurant, Tommy Bahama's Tropical Cafe. Today, Tommy Bahama has two retail-only stores, located in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and San Diego, Calif., and four restaurant/retail compounds, in Naples and Sarasota, Fla., and Newport Beach and Palm Desert, Calif.

The company plans to open eight retail-only stores this year, including: Tampa, Fla., in May; Kansas City, Mo., in June;Las Vegas in August; Scottsdale, Ariz., in October; Austin, Texas, and Marco Island, Fla., in the fall; and Houston in the last quarter of 2000. The company also is working on locations in Chicago; Dallas; and Palm Springs, Pasadena and Santa Barbara, Calif.

In addition, Wells says the company will open restaurant/retail stores in West Palm Beach, Fla., in October, and in Maui, Hawaii, in November. Tommy Bahama is considering Hilton Head Island, S.C.; Miami; and Scottsdale, Ariz., for future locations as well.

"We are excited about expanding this project, but we want to do it in a careful and controlled way to prevent overexposure," Margolis says.

Tommy Bahama stores consist of wide, open spaces with high ceilings. The interiors resemble an opulent island plantation that captures the feeling of the tropics. The story of the Tommy Bahama character is that he used to live in the guest house, and now he is fixing up his parents' plantation house, Wells says.

"You see all sorts of different wallpapers," he says. "Everything is aged and touched. We are not trying to be tight and clean like in a Banana Republic or Polo shop. It is supposed to be comfortable, like a pair of shoes, not necessarily brand new."

Retail-only stores average about 4,000 sq. ft., and the company will seek locations between 4,000 and 6,000 sq. ft. as it expands with a line of Tommy Bahama brand furniture. The retail/restaurant compounds take up 10,000 sq. ft. (5,500 sq. ft. for the restaurant and 4,500 sq. ft. for retail), plus another 1,500 sq. ft. for outside seating.

When seeking retail locations, the company's top choices are upscale destination resort communities. Tommy Bahama avoids regional malls and gravitates more toward "great retail, strolling around, upscale locations," Wells says.

"Choosing sites is one of those things where you just stand there and you know," Wells says. "We look at who else wants to be there. We don't feel that it is our role to be the driver of a shopping district."

Contact: W.C. Wells, The Guy in Charge, Tommy Bahama, 1809 Seventh Ave., Seattle, WA 98101; (206) 622-8688 ext. 164.

Everyone loves a bargain. It may be why Family Dollar Inc., a Charlotte, N.C.-based discount store chain, has been so successful at staying in business and steadily expanding since the company's founding in 1959.

The company started in Charlotte, N.C., with a store stocked with competitively priced, basic family goods. In the past 40 years, the merchandising concept has not changed much.

"The key to our success has been focusing on value-conscious customers, and we haven't vacillated on who that is since 1959," says Howard Levine, Family Dollar's CEO. "We've developed a merchandise plan that successfully meets the needs of that customer."

Family Dollar still services basic family needs with merchandise ranging from health and beauty products and housewares to apparel and toys. The retailer stocks about 3,200 items year-round and supplements those with seasonal merchandise and gift items to spice up the assortment throughout the year.

Typical Family Dollar customers are low- to middle-income shoppers, whose annual earnings range from as high as $40,000 to those receiving government assistance. "We call ourselves a neighborhood, convenience discount store, so it's key to be in the neighborhood of our customer base," says George Mahoney, executive vice president of Family Dollar.

With 3,457 stores total, the retailer is in the Northeast, Southeast and Southwest. Its most recent expansion was into Arizona.

Family Dollar is known for its aggressive approach to expansion. In the past 10 years, for example, it added 1,744 sites, with 366 opening in 1999 alone. Plans for 2000 include the addition of at least 400 more stores.

Bare bones would be an apt description for the store's space requirements. It seeks low-frills, clean, well-lit properties. The company looks for approximately 6,000 to 8,000 sq. ft., and occasionally it opens stores as large as 10,000 sq. ft. Most stores are situated in strip malls and urban storefronts, with a handful of stores in freestanding buildings. The company owns a small number of properties.

"We have a lot of flexibility in what properties we look at and where we open, the key being that we locate in areas that aren't too high-income," Levine says.

Family Dollar's distribution system also is in a growth mode. In addition to automated distribution centers in Matthews, N.C.; West Memphis, Ark.; Warren County, Va.; and Duncan, Okla., the company is opening a fifth one this summer in Moorhead, Ky. "We're making huge investments in technology and management training," Levine says. "We want to make sure we have good foundations in place to properly manage the growth."

Contact: Howard Levine, chief executive officer, or George Mahoney, executive vice president, Family Dollar Inc., P.O. Box 1017, Charlotte, NC 28201; (704)847-6961; www.familydollar.com.