“Not only for this store, but for anybody in retail these last two months are important,” said Mike Barger, general manager of Kmart on Hicks Drive.
The National Retail Federation has predicted that retail sales during the final two months of the year will increase 4.1 percent over the same time frame last year. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that a 4.1 percent hike would be a smaller increase than each of the past two years. Holiday sales went up close to 5 percent in 2010 and 2011.
Barger could not estimate off the top of his head what kind of a percentage of annual sales is generated at Kmart during the last two months of the year.
Even larger ticket items, such as jewelry, count heavily on the holiday shopper. Vann Knight, Knight’s Jewelers in Mount Berry Square mall said big tickets items have slowed down. “We’ve had to change our approach, work a little harder to get to the same place,” Knight said.
“When we go to buy stock for the seasons we’ve had to reassess how we buy just to reflect the price range people seem to be in.”
He couldn’t put a figure on the percentage of sales happen at his family’s store in the mall.
“December in retail is definitely the make or break time of year, without it, it would be tough,” Knight said.
The figures vary from one source to another. However, many retail industry experts project that the last two months of the year account for as much as 40 percent of annual sales.
Paula Conaway, owner of Paula’s Boutique at 210 Broad St., said the number is pretty much on target. “I know that sounds like a lot but that’s truly the case. Now like Lee’s (furniture) next door, that’s probably not the case, but for a gift store, the Christmas season is about 40 percent of your whole year,” Conaway said.
The outcome of the whole year really hinges on the fourth quarter,” Barger said.
Barger said Kmart in Rome also brings in additional staff for the holidays to handle the expected crush of shopper. He said when the final hiring is complete he expects to bring in more than 20 seasonal workers.
“We’ve already started the process, we’ve already hired quite a few and we’re still looking,” Barger said.
Conaway said she would bring in another five seasonal employees at her boutique on Broad Street and would be opening on Mondays, beginning this Monday, through the end of the years.
Holiday shopping is also considered a strong barometer of the attitude of the average John or Jane Doe toward the recovery of the economy.
There seems to be some positive feelings about the recovery of the real estate market across Northwest Georgia and consumers in the Rome area have been pleased to witness a continuing decline in gasoline prices that is expected to continue right through the holidays.
Conaway said the election year is typically slow, leading up to the election, but that once that is history, come Wednesday morning, she’s hoping to see a significant increase in activity.
Frankie Ford, the longtime manager at Maurices apparel store at the mall, pointed out another important factor for retailers during the last two months of the year.
“It’s also about making a great first impression on shoppers that might never have shopped with us before,” Ford said.
She also takes advantage of the increased traffic by performing some community service activities. “You can bring in three items of non-perishable food or cans and get 20 percent of one regular proceed item,” Ford said.
The local unemployment rate dipped below double figures when the September numbers were released earlier this month.
Hiring is under way at the Lowe’s Regional Distribution Center and there is a general feeling that maybe, just maybe, things are beginning to turn around.
The $64 million dollar question is will that translate into an uptick at the cash registers around town during the course of the next eight weeks?
ShopperTrak, which keeps up with activity in more than 25,000 stores across the country, projects a 3.3-percent increase in retails sales for the last two months of the year. The retail watchdog is forecasting a nice increase in apparel and accessories, but declines in electronics and appliances.
ShopperTrak is also reporting that 92 percent of all major purchases will take place in standard brick and mortar stores as opposed to on-line.
The Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce devotes considerable resources to its Shop Rome campaign during the holiday season. Chamber President Al Hodge said the last two months of the year are critically important.
“That’s a part of why we have a special effort to encourage folks to Shop Rome at this time,” Hodge said.