Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 27, 2013

Shoppers, retailers gear up for big deals

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Matt Smith goes where the ads and sales take him on Black Friday.

“I’ve got six kids, so I’ve got to get everything cheap when it’s on sale,” said Smith while he perused laptops at Best Buy on U.S. 31.

Smith, of Cadillac, usually starts his Black Friday shopping early in the morning, but he’s considering shopping on Thanksgiving Day because numerous big-box retailers in northern Michigan will open on the holiday to accommodate shoppers eager to cash in on sales.

“We look at it as a way to reward our loyal customers,” Best Buy General Manager Brian Sawa said of his store’s scheduled 6 p.m. opening Thursday.

Sawa said his Best Buy was already in “full Thanksgiving mode” Tuesday with several pre-Black Friday sales already in swing. The store has hired and trained additional employees since September, but the real work starts today when staffers move big-ticket sales items like large televisions and tablet devices onto the floor.

“Our customers make it an event,” Sawa said. “It’s friends and family. It’s groups that come in and they go from store to store. Every year we have a lot of fun with it.”

Smith said he’s happy more stores plan to open on Thanksgiving this year. It’s more convenient, he said, and Black Friday in general has become less of an ordeal in recent years than it was in the past.

“You still have some of the craziness, but not like it use to be,” Smith said.

Other shoppers were less enthusiastic about stores opening on Thanksgiving.

“That should be a day for family and friends to get together,” said Richard Keckler of South Boardman.

Michigan retailers forecast holiday sales will increase by 1.3 percent on average this year over the 2012 holiday season, according to the Michigan Retail Index. The index is a collaboration between the Michigan Retailers Association and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Tom Scott, senior vice president of the association, said actual sales could surpass those numbers, which are based on surveys conducted this fall while the federal government was shutdown, a debt ceiling battle loomed, and the Affordable Care Act website roll out was unraveling.

“All those things obviously created a certain amount of uncertainty,” Scott said. “If we had done it earlier or we’d done it later it might have been a little higher.”

Overall sales in Michigan are expected to reach $18 billion during the holiday period, Scott said.

Tom Stone, store leader of the J.C. Penney located at Grand Traverse Mall, said it’s hard to quantify how big of an impact the holiday season has on his store’s bottom line, but he said the holiday traffic starts building gradually then picks up as the weather turns cold.

Stone’s J.C. Penney -- like Best Buy -- began hiring new seasonal and regular employees in September. Stone said staff is getting ready for an 8 p.m. Thursday opening and the accompanying rush of shoppers that is “almost hard to describe.”

“When you go from 50 customers in the store to maybe 1,000, it’s an amazing thing,” he said.