Retailers have high hopes for holidays

TUPELO – Sensing an opportunity last year, Mitchell Scruggs opened his store at 3 a.m. on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that marks the start of the Christmas shopping season.
“It was the first time for us to open that early, but we wanted to give people time to shop,” said Scruggs, who owns Scruggs Farm, Lawn amp& Garden.
So successful was the early opening that Scruggs is doing it again this year. And he promises even better deals, along with free prizes.
“We’re excited about the season,” he said. “People are shopping – they’re going to buy for Christmas.”
His optimism is shared by other Northeast Mississippi retailers, who think shoppers will open up their wallets and purses a little more this year.
Those hopes contrast with predictions from most retail analysts that sales will be either flat or lower compared to last year. Even the normally chipper National Retail Federation predicts a 1 percent drop in holiday sales this year.
But Northeast Mississippi has handled the recession better than other regions and is poised to do just fine during this shopping season, some retailers say.
“Shopping has been very brisk” leading up to next week, said Jeff Snyder, general manager of The Mall at Barnes Crossing. “We’ve had early shoppers during other years and, of course, they’re out on Black Friday looking for bargains. But traffic has been as good, if not better, than last year and people are buying, too.”
For the first time on Black Friday, the mall will open its main entrances at 6 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. That’s still two hours after some of its bigger anchor stores open, but Snyder said it’s an indication that mall merchants are expecting decent crowds.
Vicky Scott, manager of the Indianola Pecan House store in the mall, said she’s not seen a slump in buying this year.
The store, which in the past has opened a temporary store during the holidays, opened a permanent mall location in October. And business has been steady and strong, Scott said.
“I expect a very busy shopping season,” she said. “We’ve got people coming in buying pecans, of course, but also the tins, cheese straws, pies and dips … they’re buying a variety of things.”
Jerry Morgan, owner of Okolona Drug Co., a pharmacy and gift shop, also said customers are in a shopping mood.
“So far, traffic’s been good,” he said. “We’re hoping we’ll have a very successful season. Our open house was really good.”
He said people were buying mostly Christmas items and gift items, and sales have been “just as good” this year as last.
In Corinth, Cindy Thomas has had sales increase 10 percent this year. Thomas owns The Square Nest, a gift shop in downtown Corinth.
“So far, everything’s great,” she said. “So far, we feel very, very blessed and are extremely appreciative to our customers. That’s what it all goes back to – customers. If they don’t come, we don’t have a good day.”
Thomas thinks her sales are up for several reasons. In October, the store doubled its size and added men’s gifts. She thinks the increased floor space was a large factor in her sales doubling during its annual Christmas open house.
She also said the store’s price points have hit a sweet spot with customers. The average ticket last year was $25, with gifts for teenagers and adults priced around $12 to $15.
The store focuses on “smaller items that you can get somebody and not break the bank,” Thomas said.
“I think people are looking for bargains,” she said.
Snyder said the early bargains retailers have announced this year have helped spur consumer interest, bringing them into stores.
“You used to have the after-Thanksgiving then after-Christmas sales,” he said. “Now they’ve added the pre-Black Friday and pre-Christmas sales and several other deals are being pitched. It’s great for consumers, but not for retailers’ margins so much. But the key thing is getting people into the stores and shopping and buying.”
Scruggs is confident shoppers will be in line at 3 a.m. on Friday and has some incentives to keep them coming back.
First, he’s giving away $10 gift cards to the first 100 people in line. Then he’ll have what he says are “great doorbusters.”
“And then we’re giving away prizes every hour,” he said.
“It’s Jesus’ birthday; it’s a special time of the year and people are in a giving mood.

Dennis Seid and Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal