The official holiday this week is Thursday, but for many passionate bargain hunters the family gathering over a sumptuous repast is just the opening act. The big event for them is the day after - Black Friday.
The day after Thanksgiving is regarded by many as the unofficial launch date of the holiday shopping season. For many retailers, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the financial make-or-break time for the year. Good sales during these weeks can be the difference between ending the year with a profit - in the black - or the less attractive red-ink alternative.
It has become a marketing tradition for stores to open unusually early on Black Friday and feature for a limited time, on a first-come, first-served basis products at bargain prices so attractive that customers are lined up long before the doors open. The goal, of course, is to move the merchants' revenues rapidly into the positive column. That may well be why that sales day came to be called "Black Friday" though business historians do not all concur on the origin of the term.
Most observers agree, however, that for retailers getting the holiday shopping season off to a fast start on Black Friday and the weekend that follows is extremely important. Just how big this weekend truly can be is illustrated by sales numbers from 2010. According to a National Retail Federation survey, the Black Friday weekend that year resulted in spending of roughly $45 billion. NRF is forecasting a 2.8 percent increase in holiday retail spending this year. Strong sales numbers on the Black Friday weekend will be an early indication of whether that upbeat projection is on the mark.
Black Friday in FD
Locally, the enthusiasm for Black Friday and the holiday shopping marathon to follow is high.
"It is big," said Larry Jessen, manager of Crossroads Mall, "Everybody counts on the holiday season."
He said Crossroads will open its doors at 4 a.m. Friday and remain open until 9 p.m. that day, noting that shopping hours at the mall will be extended on other days as the season progresses.
JC Penney, Sears and Younkers - the anchor department stores at Crossroads - all have planned major sales for Black Friday and will open early - very early.
At Younkers, the doors will open at the stroke of midnight as Thanksgiving ends and the store will be serving customers until 10 p.m. Friday. Manager Michelle Dorage said the store is chock full of merchandise for great gifts and has been decorated extensively to facilitate a festive mood for shoppers.
JC?Penney will also open at 4 a.m. Friday. Anticipating huge crowds, James Plyley, store manager, said he plans to have "all hands on deck" to make certain customers receive excellent service.
"We believe in customer service," Plyley said, noting that his team's priority is taking good care of anyone who chooses to shop there. "We want them to be highly satisfied."
He said he is bullish about the 2011 holiday shopping season, noting that this time of year is a favorite for him because so many people who pass through the store are infused with contagious holiday spirit.
At Sears, Black Friday also will begin at 4 a.m. Acting Manager Lindsay Hoeppner said her staff anticipates long lines outside prior to that time and will be helping make the wait more pleasant with complimentary hot chocolate and candy canes.
Hoeppner said many of her employees get really excited about working Black Friday and enjoy the festive atmosphere of this special day. She also said people in retail understand the contribution of the holiday buying to a store having a successful year.
Not far from Crossroads Mall, the team at Target also plans to make this year's Black Friday memorable. Store Team Leader Tyler Schneider said shoppers can begin their search for bargains at midnight and continue to explore Target's ample selections until 11 p.m. that day. He said store employees will be providing people in line in advance of the doors opening with granola nutritional bars as well as store maps to help them quickly find the sale items they fancy.
Kohl's is Fort Dodge's newest department store. Manager Brian Tadlock said on Black Friday his establishment will be ready to serve shoppers from midnight to midnight. The hours will also be extended throughout the season - 6 a.m. to midnight daily.
Tadlock said he and everyone at Kohl's is committed to making the shopping experience fun for customers.
"We work really hard to try to meet our customers' demands during the holidays," he said.
Finding bargains is at the heart of the adventure for shoppers, but for many people the holidays are also a good time to find employment.
Virtually all the large local retailers contacted by The Messenger indicated that staff complements are being expanded temporarily. This is done annually so the anticipated increase in customers will not lead to a shortfall in service.
While most of the seasonal hires are short-term, a common theme among managers was that those seasonal hires who show excellent work skills could well become prime candidates for regular positions as they became available.
Penney's Plyley said that over the years that had proved the way to "get some of our best people."
Karen Miller, an executive vice president for Manpower, has extensive knowledge of employment patterns in central Iowa. She said it is her estimate that large retailers typically boost sales forces by 15 to 20 percent for the holidays. She said most of these workers don't remain with that employer, but that perhaps as many as one in four do.
Contact Terrence Dwyer at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org