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Black Friday dawns on retailers long before shoppers

Black Friday dawns on retailers long before shoppers

Local stores spent months preparing for busiest day of year

November 23rd, 2017 by Philip Joens in Local News

The JCPenney store in Jefferson City's Capital Mall is decorated and stocked Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, as associates ready for Black Friday sales. In the aisles are stacks of sale electronics, toys and kitchen items, among other things that will be easy to grab for after-Thanksgiving shoppers.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

On Tuesday afternoon, the shelves were stocked. Aisles were plush with toys and TVs for little girls and little boys. The decorations were hung neatly with care.

In just a day or two, customers would flood, grabbing goodies for their loved ones and others who did good.

Stores around Jefferson City spent months preparing for Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Managers said they try to manage every minute detail about the day ahead of time, but it's ultimately unpredictable.

Kevin Stoltz, general manager of JCPenney's Jefferson City store, said his team began preparing for Black Friday on Oct. 1. Every aspect of the day is planned, from operational pieces to e-commerce to merchandising to staffing to the layout of stanchions used to control lines, he said.

The JCPenney store in Jefferson City's Capital Mall is decorated and stocked Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, as associates ready for Black Friday sales. In the aisles are stacks of electronics, toys and kitchen items, among other things that will be easy to grab for after-Thanksgiving shoppers.

The JCPenney store in Jefferson City's Capital Mall...

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

"We all have meetings the first week of October, and then we talk about strategies for all aspects of the business," Stoltz said. "From that point until right now, it's all about planning."

Ryan Olson, general manager of Menards' Jefferson City store, said the company's corporate office never stops preparing for Black Friday. Locally, his store started preparing about two months ago.

"Nothing comes last minute. We get it all ahead of time, just in case," he said.

For at least a decade, the day and its deals have been spread out over a longer period of November and December. Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season, but days like Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday follow. In recent years stores also have begun aggressive pre-Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day sales.

Some of the most coveted items of the holiday season will be at Best Buy. In past years a line in front of the store snaked in front of and around an adjoining fitness center. On Tuesday the electronics retailer had dozens of TVs, stereos and other gadgets piled into aisles for eager customers to buy.

Best Buy was set to be open from 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day to 1 a.m. Friday, re-opening at 8 a.m. Friday.

Josh Hubbard, a sales supervisor at Jefferson City's Best Buy store, said customers come to the store on Black Friday because they want to interact with sales associates and see physical items before they buy them.

"The biggest thing that goes into it is our customer experience they get by coming into the store," Hubbard said. "You can't really get that online."

JCPenney was set to open at 2 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and remain open for the next 32 hours until 10 p.m. Friday.

Despite internet sales and the spreading of deals across days surrounding Black Friday, Stoltz, Olson and Hubbard said the day remains critical for retailers.

"The event as itself, which is Thursday now, and Friday, is the biggest event of the whole year," Stoltz said. "It really sets the stage for the entire holiday process."

Stoltz said traffic throughout the store's pre-Black Friday sales was great. Sitting in his office at JCPenney's Capital Mall location Tuesday, Stoltz felt excited about his first Black Friday in Jefferson City.

The shifting of consumers' buying habits online shows stores must adapt, he said. JCPenney is doing that by selling appliances online and focusing on how its digital and physical businesses complement each other.

JCPenney opened its Sephora cosmetics store-within-a-store at its Jefferson City location in October. Stoltz said Sephora locations, which the company is now putting into some of its smallest markets, allow someone to get a haircut in its salon and try on makeup from a beauty consultant in the same store. Already, he said, the addition has given the store a boost, and he expected it to be a hit on Black Friday.

"You can't get a haircut online," Stoltz said.

Black Friday also provides a buffer for stores that might otherwise see lagging sales this time of year. Much of Menards' holiday sales revenue comes from Christmas decorations and merchandise, Olson said, providing a buffer from a seasonal drop-off in sales of patio furniture and outdoor goods.

Overall, the National Retail Federation expects retail sales to increase between 3.6-4 percent to between $678.8 billion and $682 billion. John Overfelt, president of the Jefferson City-based Missouri Retail Association, said rising consumer confidence and a strong stock market should bolster consumer spending on Black Friday.

Best Buy, JCPenney and Menards will all be fully staffed, the store managers said.

In all, the day feels crazy, Stoltz said, and crazy stuff often happens. He plans to work about 10 hours on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

JCPenney crammed aisles full of everything imaginable, from slow cookers to remote control cars to racks of flannel shirts. Menards and JCPenney start getting shipments of holiday merchandise in mid-October. Stoltz said the store is bloated with significantly more merchandise than during other times of the year.

To decrease the length of lines, JCPenney, like other stores, planned to have electronic-only payment registers set up next to regular cash registers.

Like Olson, Stoltz said he enjoys working the day. "You either love this or you don't," he said.

Olson said he likes the challenge of helping as many people as he can.

"It's my favorite time of year," Olson said. "I like going home at the end of the day knowing everything I got accomplished, everybody I helped."

Stoltz acknowledged many customers stay away from stores on Black Friday to avoid crowds. Many patrons come out for the sheer spectacle and experience of the day.

"It's a lot more than just getting a deal," Hubbard said. "It's about the family bonding, camping out."

To make the day less stressful and more fun for employees, Stoltz, Olson and Hubbard said stores provide food for employees. JCPenny set up a Christmas tree and hung Christmas lights and other decorations in the break room Sunday. The more fun it is, the better the day goes for employees and the store, Stoltz said.

"I want this to feel like Christmas and not work," Stoltz said.