Tis The Season To Be Selling

November 21, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — With the holiday selling season officially starting on Friday, retailers across the state are looking for some very merry returns.

Retailers have projected holiday sales will grow by nearly 5 percent this year, according to a Michigan Retailers Association survey, and that forecast puts state storeowners in line with their national brethren, as a National Retail Federation survey predicted sales revenue would rise by 5.7 percent.

Why all the optimism? First, because retailers are naturally optimistic. They have to be, even with the layoffs and plant closings.

Second, because sales have grown recently. Two months ago Michigan merchants had their best September in three years.

“We’ve seen sales growth throughout much of this year, a trend that should continue through the holiday season,” said Larry Meyer, MRA chairman and CEO. “Two of the past three months have posted some of the best overall numbers in nearly two years.”

MRA Vice President of Communications Tom Scott told the Business Journal that the recent income tax cut and child tax credit refund, combined with the bonus that General Motors gave its employees, have also added fuel to the shopkeepers’ confidence.

Still, retailers were optimistic last year, too, although a little less so, when sales weren’t as good prior to the season where many earn a third of their annual revenue. A year ago, they projected sales would rise by 4 percent. But when the holiday was done, sales actually fell by more than 3 percent from 2001.

“It’s what we hope business is going to be like. I think all of us really believe that we want business to be as successful as it can be. We know retail is a difficult business across the board and we’re all doing our best to continue to be successful in our own way,” said Dan Hurwitz, president of Rogers Department Store and Daniel’s.

This holiday season will be a new experience, in a sense, for Hurwitz. Although Rogers is headed into its 48th year, this is the first Christmas for Daniel’s, his new designer apparel store in the Terrazzo retail center at 1100 East Paris Ave. SE.

“I think there are indicators that people are spending money again,” said Hurwitz.

“I think people are feeling good about themselves. There is some confidence in certain sectors of the business and there is a certain stability in the business, and there is not going to be a long-term decline in businesses,” he added.

“There still will be some individual hits. But long-term, the economy is on its way back to recovery,” he added.

Hurwitz felt that apparel is one of the more secure retail sectors this holiday season, as clothing always makes a good gift. He also said more holiday parties are on the books this year than in recent ones. And both — gifts and parties — can lead to higher apparel sales from and for the giver.

The National Retail Federation supports his claim. A federation survey shows that nearly 52 percent of Midwesterners want clothing or clothing accessories as gifts this year.

The holiday selling season brings lower prices and higher competition as all retailers are working the same crowd of shoppers. To reach them, some storeowners will blanket the media with ads. While others, such as Hurwitz, will take a different approach.

“I think you focus your marketing efforts. A lot of people do increase their marketing efforts. We may spend some more, but it’s spending more by focusing more, ” said Hurwitz.

“It’s not the blanket, saying we need to throw out the net and gather as much as we possibly can.”

As for holiday employment, 83 percent of MRA’s nearly 6,000 members were standing pat, not hiring or laying off. Nine percent, though, did report they would add sales staff.

“They will be doing their seasonal hiring, but most will be doing exactly what they did last year,” said Scott. “And usually hiring is the last thing to come back. Even if sales pick up, you still want to be cautious.”        

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