Only teen retailer The Buckle Inc. could have a 1.4 percent gain in November comparable-store sales and have retail experts wondering if it was losing its mojo.

The Kearney, Neb.-based specialty store group has been ramping up profits throughout the recession and has only recently begun posting comp gains of a single-digit nature, like December’s 6.6 percent increase, its 40th consecutive month of plus signs.

How has a Middle American firm managed to stay in positive territory while it’s clearly positioning itself above the typical teen destination store? A fierce dedication to customer service, a management team that has risen through the ranks and worked within the company for about 20 years on average and a fleet of stores located in smaller cities throughout the U.S.

Buckle has 405 locations in 41 states and is slowly starting to expand to the Northeast. This year, it plans to open about 20 stores, including two each in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

“Buckle has remained one of the few retail apparel specialists unscathed during the economic downturn and continues to post year-over-year growth in earnings,” said Susquehanna Financial Group retail analyst Thomas Filandro, who noted that the company’s success in 2009 was “heavily weighted to women’s, with sales gains of approximately 25 percent driven largely by transaction growth.”

Filandro, who rates Buckle’s stock as “neutral,” warned that the retailer may be in for slower growth in 2010 and 2011, and that it will be up against “very difficult two- and three-year comp comparisons.”

Buckle has set itself up for a very hard act to follow. Full-year earnings per share this year are estimated to hit $2.66, but analysts on average aren’t expecting the company to match that figure in the retail year ahead: the consensus estimate is $2.63.

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