Retailers optimistic shoppers will spread holiday cheer

By DENNIS SEID / NEMS Daily Journal


TUPELO – The next six weeks are among the most critical for many retailers who depend on the Christmas selling season to provide a bottom-line boost.
While shoppers will spend the bulk of their money on gifts like electronics, toys and apparel, they’ll also buy decorations for their trees, homes and yards.
In fact, the National Retail Federation expects Americans will spend an average of $41.51 on decorations this year. The NRF projects U.S. consumers will spend an average of nearly $689 on all holiday-related shopping, a slight increase from last year.
And for some retailers like Mid-South Nursery on Coley Road, decoration-buying customers are all-important this time of the year.
“We just had our open house, and it was wonderful,” said co-owner Bettie Fellows. “People were really excited about it.”
The nursery in the fall becomes a winter wonderland, filled with holiday decorations that were ordered in January and began arriving in the summer.
Business has picked up – it’s ahead of last year – and customers seem poised to shop, said co-owner Byron Fellows.
“What are people buying? They’re buying across the aboard,” he said. “There’s not a category that we’re not doing well in.”
At Village Green on West Main Street, owner Jim Troxler said some customers are still a bit wary about the economy and are cutting back on some purchases. But when it comes to Christmas, there’s little holding back. The store also had a well-received open house.
“One thing I’ve always felt like is that people are going to have Christmas,” he said. “They may not take a vacation and not buy some other things, but Christmas is such a tradition, and they’re not going to miss it. They’re going to want to decorate and buy gifts. It’s just a matter of how much.”
According to the National Retail Federation, holiday spending is expected to increase 2.3 percent overall, to about $447.1 billion. That’s lower than the 2.5 percent average growth the past 10 years, but any increase in an uncertain economy is welcome.
The International Council of Shopping Centers’ October Shopping Center Executive Opinion Survey showed nearly 52 percent of the respondents were optimistic sales were likely to be higher. Another 3.4 percent expected a much higher performance. Altogether, 55.1 percent of respondents were optimistic sales would be higher or much higher, far better than the 36 percent a year ago and 2.9 percent in 2008.
In fact, the ICSC projects that 2010 holiday-season sales are likely to be the strongest since 2006.
Pam Danziger, an author and expert on the luxury market, said in her Christmas and seasonal decorations report for this year that more Americans will be buying new Christmas decorations for their outdoor areas and especially their Christmas trees.
“Overall the market for decorations grew 3.8 percent between 2008 and 2009, and we anticipate it will grow another 3 to 5 percent in 2010,” she said.
That’s fine with the owners at Mid-South, where specialty items like Christopher Radko ornaments and Mark Roberts Fairies continue to draw big interest.
At Hobby Lobby in Tupelo, manager Robin Curbow said last year’s Christmas-season sales were “phenomenal” and don’t seem to have trailed off this year.
“Nothing much to complain about here,” she said with a laugh. “And it seems like customers are buying bigger quantities earlier. I think it’s because they’re afraid they’ll miss out if they don’t get it now.”
The glass ornaments are all but gone and the plastic tree ornaments are selling at a brisk pace, she said. Ribbon and wreaths also are selling quickly as customers get into the holiday spirit.
“We started putting out the Christmas decorations in June,” Curbow said.
Troxler also opens a seasonal store in Jackson and said that while sales were slower in September, they picked up nicely in October and so far this month.
“I think people are still a bit cautious,” he said. “We don’t see quite as many people buying a new tree, but we are seeing people buy $100 or more in new decorations for their old tree. They’re still buying, but their buying pattern has shifted a bit.”
For Mid-South, the holiday selling season is condensed further. The window to sell, Byron Fellows said, closes in about a month at the store.
“Most of our customers will get what they want by Dec. 8, 9 or 10,” he said. “You’re pretty much through with decorating by then, and then it all really slows down.”
If customers eyed something earlier and didn’t buy it, there’s no guarantee it’s still available, Fellows added. And it’s not likely to be replenished.
Mid-South has received about 75 percent of the Christmas merchandise it ordered and isn’t expected to get much more.
“If it’s not here now, it’s probably too late for us to be able to process it and get it ready to be sold,” he said. “So if you see something you like, you might want to go ahead and get it.”

Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.