The question of whether there is enough merchandise availability to support TJX's continued growth has been asked of us since we opened our first stores 40 years ago. Today, with over 3,800 stores and growing, our answer remains the same – availability of quality product has never been an issue! Over our four decades in business, we have built a flexible, value-driven, "global sourcing machine." We have over 1,000 Associates in our buying organization, operate 15 buying offices in 11 countries, and source product from more than 100 countries. With our global buying presence, our expansive vendor universe, which numbers over 18,000 vendors, and over $33 billion in sales in 2016, we have great confidence in our ability to source quality product for our growing store base.
We believe we have some of the best vendor relationships in the retail industry, and we are constantly working to make our current relationships even stronger and forge new ones. In 2016, we continued to add new vendors and expand our global sourcing network, further enhancing our flexibility. Our buyers are in the marketplace throughout the year, and with "no walls" between departments in our stores, we can shift merchandise categories to take advantage of market opportunities and adjust to consumer tastes. We are able to buy in many different ways and believe that we are an extremely attractive and increasingly important outlet for vendors. We are typically willing to purchase less-than-full assortments of items, styles, and sizes, as well as quantities ranging from small to very large. We pay promptly, and we generally do not ask for typical retail concessions, such as advertising, promotional or return allowances. Whether the vendor marketplace is running with leaner inventories or excess inventories, TJX has always found more than ample opportunities. Leaner inventories generally have meant that the retail environment is less promotional, which can raise the pricing umbrella between TJX and traditional retailers. Excess inventory in the vendor marketplace typically has led to lower costs of goods for TJX. Either way, we win! Neither quantity nor quality of product has ever been an issue for us, and we are confident that it will not be in the future. Further, we believe that we will continue to be a sought-after business outlet for vendors throughout the world.