The Journal Gazette
Sunday, November 24, 2019 1:00 am

Local stores set holiday strategy

Small retailers plan for big days next weekend

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Black Friday presents an opportunity for small retailers to ring up some big sales, according to data analysis from computer software firm Womply.

Brad Plothow, vice president of brand and communications for the San Francisco-based company, said the day after Thanksgiving ranked ninth highest in sales for all last year, boosted by a 66% increase in consumer spending compared with the average day's sales.

Womply studied credit and debt card transactions at 52,000 small retail shops nationwide for its analysis. Cash transactions, which aren't included in the totals, represent an estimated 15% to 20% of stores' sales, Plothow said.

Despite the annual buying bonanza, 26% of small retailers were closed last year on Black Friday. A small retailer, for these purposes, is one that is not part of a franchise and has annual sales of less than $7.5 million.

Plothow encourages store owners who rely instead on Small Business Saturday to rethink their strategy.

“If you're a small retailer that isn't privy to this information, you might assume that's a day for Best Buy and the big-box stores to shine,” he said during a phone interview. “Don't concede Black Friday to the big-box stores.”

Tammy Castleberry, who owns The Urban Hippie, a downtown women's clothing and accessories store, said she cut back the store's hours on its first Black Friday but has since restored them.

“We found out very early that people wanted a place to come where they could avoid all the madness,” she said, describing the scene at some large, national retail chains.

“I guess the best way we compete with the big-box stores is we focus on the more intimate setting,” Castleberry said. “We try to focus more on unique styles. We bring in one-of-a-kind pieces.”

The Urban Hippie, 534 W. Berry St., will be open Black Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., its normal Friday hours.

Plothow advises retailers to go beyond normal business hours on the day after Thanksgiving.

Small, local stores that traditionally do business on Black Friday should consider opening a couple of hours early – 8 a.m. instead of 10 a.m., he said. After the early-morning rush at big-box stores, some shoppers visit smaller retailers before their adrenaline runs low.

“When shoppers are out, spending tends to spill over,” he added.

Taber Olinger, who owns Fancy & Staple, has had her retail store at 1111 Broadway decked out for the holidays since mid-November.

“I love Christmas, so any chance I get to smother something in Christmas, I do it,” she said.

Fancy & Staple will extend its typical Friday hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. into the evening on Black Friday as it hosts an art opening from 6 to 9 p.m.

“I'm surprised that stores close on that day,” Olinger said.

But opening early? She's not sure about that.

“That would maybe be a good idea,” she said, “but it's hard to compete with (big-box stores') door-buster deals.”

In Fort Wayne, small retailers' average daily revenue between Black Friday and Christmas eve was $1,129 last year.

That was 7% more than the daily sales average over the course of the full year, according to Womply.

Customers spent $88.50 each, on average, in local stores between Black Friday and Christmas eve, the firm said. The average daily number of customer sales was 13.

Nationwide, data show that sales in small retail stores increase the last full week before Christmas. Plothow said local retailers can capitalize on that trend by marketing their stores as a great source for last-minute gifts. That effort could include emails to the store's regular customers.

Sales increase the week leading up to Dec. 25 at Olinger's 4-year-old store. She expects this year's last-minute rush to be especially heavy because the calendar includes fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than usual.

Olinger tries to stay on shoppers' radar by nudging them with emails sent in the season's waning weeks.

“Social media is huge for me,” she said, adding that she posts photos on Instagram and Facebook.

Customers who like what they see visit the store in person.

Womply data show receipts rung up during that final week tend to be smaller than the previous weeks leading up to Christmas. Plothow said that probably reflects a combination of retailers discounting some merchandise and shoppers needing just a few odds and ends to complete their shopping.

Retailers can also attract shoppers by participating in Small Business Saturday, the day after Black Friday, Plothow said. Some consumers go out of their way to support local merchants.

Increasing their name recognition can only help those stores as it gets closer to Christmas, he said.

The Urban Hippie and Fancy & Staple are among dozens of local stores that will be part of the local Small Business Saturday, which includes free trolley rides Nov. 30.

Olinger hosts open houses, art openings, musicians and, one year, two miniature donkeys wearing Santa hats to make Fancy & Staple a destination for shoppers.

“I want people, when they come in, to have this awesome experience,” she said. “They like the music and like how it smells. That's what I specialize in – having unique products and displaying them creatively.”

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