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Holiday Sales So Far: Upbeat Awaiting Black Friday

Posted by: John Tozzi on November 25, 2009

I checked in with the three small retailers we’re tracking throughout the holidays on the eve of Thanksgiving weekend. They sound cautiously upbeat.

Frank Simoncioni, CEO of New Orleans candy maker Aunt Sally’s Pralines, says that his retail business in October was up 20% over 2008, and November’s jump should be even bigger. He has seen Aunt Sally’s wholesale business more than double, thanks in part to an award the praline company won from the National Confectionery Sales Association and some good press that surrounded that. Simoncioni also noted that half of Aunt Sally’s web sales are to new customers, which he attributed to a revamped site optimized for search engines.

“We’re expecting a giant weekend, not because it’s Black Friday, because Black Friday doesn’t affect Aunt Sally’s that much. We’re more tourism driven,” Simoncioni says. “This weekend happens to be a big football weekend. We have Monday Night Football with the Saints who are undefeated.” Between the tourist traffic from the holiday and the football game, he expects a boost. On top of that, Aunt Sally’s will be on QVC for the first time at midnight on Dec. 3.

Meanwhile, at Overstock Art, the Kansas online retailer of replica paintings, November sales are up 40% so far compared to last year. And while Black Friday isn’t as big a deal for online retailers as it is for mall stores and other brick-and-mortars, Overstock’s CEO David Sasson sees it growing. In an email, Sasson says

In the last 3 years or so, it has started becoming a much more significant day for us. I think buyers are starting to say, I like the tradition of shopping on Black Friday, but I hate fighting the crowds. … For example last year we had an increase of 30% when comparing the sales during the Thanksgiving weekend (Thursday, Black Friday, Saturday and Sunday), to the previous four days.

Finally, some notes from Mathias Eichler of the Olympia, Wash., European home and kitchen goods store Einmaleins. He saw November sales up 63% so far compared to last year, when the holiday season did not really pick up until Black Friday. His customer count is almost double, though his average ticket (that is, the total spent by each customer) dropped by $8 to $40.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to hold those November numbers into December — basically I don’t have enough product in the store and don’t have enough money to buy more product right now,” Eichler said in an email. He discussed the challenge of anticipating demand and stocking accordingly a few weeks ago. Last year Einmaleins ran out of some items. The store’s limited credit from lenders and suppliers also makes inventory management more difficult.

But Eichler says his business, founded just over two years ago on the edge of the Great Recession, has persisted. “I suppose this is quite unique, but we opened the business already in a downturn and are growing now not just with the slow recovery, but also are utilizing social media tools better and are extending our reach, way, way beyond our storefront.”

This is a big weekend for all three of these businesses — as it is for small retailers online and off across the country. We’ll check back again next week and see how they fare.

Reader Comments

Domenick Celentano

November 26, 2009 09:43 AM

Hi John, whether or not they know it, these businesses are following changing trends in consumer purchase behavior. I consult in Retail Marketing and teach Retail Buying and Merchandising so I see these trends daily. I took a very quick look at each companies web site. The three trends are Affordable Indulgence, Affordability of Value and the Stay at Home Trend.

Consumers are seeking out Affordable Indulgences, a treat to take the place of what they are trading down or trading out from. Aunt Sally’s Pralines appears to be an affordable indulgence, they are different and the prices look very reasonable AND certainly make great gifts, whether to others or to yourself.

Affordability is superseding Value in consumer purchases, Overstock Art is capitalizing on the effect; it is apparent from the plus 50% discounts on their products.

I can’t comment on Einmaleins since there web site does not have products available for viewing on line. (at least when I viewed it)

Domenick Celentano
Kean University
College of Business & Public Administration

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