Archive for Thursday, October 11, 2001

Retailers prepare for holidays ––— Economist: Shops, services should focus on comfort, family, togetherness

October 11, 2001


Now she's putting the new plan into action.

"I'm just trying to find ways to save money," said Smith, browsing the shelves Wednesday at Rod's Hallmark, 2329 Iowa. "This year will be just maybe one or two small gifts and some handmade cookies, pies and bread."

With the holiday shopping season fast approaching -- a season that can account for 40 percent of a retailer's annual revenues -- many businesses will have to rethink their marketing strategies to stay ahead, a Kansas State University economist says. And there's plenty of work to do.

David Darling, a community development economist for K-State Research & Extension, said that Douglas County retailers already were suffering more than their counterparts across the state.

Douglas County businesses generated $1.04 billion in sales for the 12 months ending in June, down 2.1 percent from a year earlier, he said. The statewide decline was 1.9 percent.

Now that consumers are becoming even more jittery -- after the Sept. 11 attacks, and as job cuts continue to ripple through the airline and other industries -- it is imperative that retailers look for opportunities in the gloom.

"This year we think people will spend a little bit extra on things that add to the comfort of the season, or anything that enhances an event -- decorations, specialty foods, maybe flowers," said Darling, noting that patriotic themes and services also would fare well. "Anything that makes people feel like they're actually enhancing their quality of life, which gives them comfort in a time of stress, should do well."

At the Hallmark store, manager Anne Fitzgerald said her store already was stocking up on plenty of candles, decorations and collectibles for the winter season. She's expecting the store's seasonal sales to be up 5 percent from a year ago.

"People are looking a little harder, they're looking a little more and they're spending more time going back and forth. They are truly browsing," she said. "But our buyers are not buying for a slow time. We are ready for this. It's important that we are able to help each other feel good."

At Weavers Department Store, 901 Mass., officials don't intend to adjust their plans anytime soon. They already had expected sales of specialty blankets, space heaters and coffee and espresso makers to be hot this holiday season.

That much hasn't changed, although Weavers already has cut its projections for spring as officials await more definitive word about consumer reactions.

"Every retailer -- nationwide and locally -- has felt the slowdown in the economy," said Joe Flannery, Weavers president. "People are just being more conservative, just because there's a lot of uncertainty going around. Business is going to continue. It's always difficult in a time of war, but there will still be people needing products, and we'll still provide them for them."

Darling, who tracks spending patterns in communities across the state, said he expected people to focus on togetherness. Families will look for ways to celebrate together; friends will have parties; service businesses, such as caterers, should be busy.

"We've had a sea change in America," Darling said. "September 11th is a punctuation in a timeline, and the retail environment will reflect that change. It's a great time to reconnect with friends and loved ones. This is a particularly good theme to work off of."

-- Business editor Mark Fagan can be reached at 832-7188.

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