Registers ready to ring
It's the time of the year when stores hope that holiday cheer turns into a shopping mood for the nation's consumers.
Sales in just two months of the year - November and December - comprise a big part of retailers' yearly business.
"It makes or breaks the year," said Randy Matlock, store manager for J.C. Penney at The Mall at Yuba City. "We all live and die by what happens in the fourth quarter."
So far, the outlook for this year's holiday sales season is one of cautious optimism. The hope is that gas prices won't spike up again and drain more money from consumers' wallets. And there is also a feeling that growth in the Yuba-Sutter area could result in more business - if shoppers don't head down to Roseville.
"We just hope that they'll spend their money in the community," said Junell Johnson, store manager for Gottschalks in The Mall at Yuba City.
Tracy Schneller, owner of D Street Mercantile in Marysville, said she doesn't think this year will be a gangbuster season. But it could be a pretty good one.
"I'm really optimistic this will be a good year," Schneller said.
Now that the divisive election is over, Schneller said people should start to relax and shop more. Gas prices could be a problem though if they shoot up like they did in June and July. Schneller noticed a dip in sales as discretionary income was burned up in people's cars.
The International Council of Shopping Centers said that gas prices should not spoil the holiday season.
The council's economist, Michael Niemira, predicted that consumers will spend 3 to 4 percent more this holiday season than in 2003 despite higher gas and oil prices. That would be down from last year's holiday increase when sales grew 6 percent.
The council and UBS commissioned a phone survey of 1,108 adults who said they would spend $703 on average, more than the $636 last year. And 63 percent said rising gas prices will not affect their expenditures.
For Schneller, the most important preparation will be in the customer service the store provides. Schneller said it's important to listen to customers - and even help them carry packages out to their cars if there's enough staff so they won't have to repark.
Soon the gift and home decorating store will put out hot cider, play holiday music, and have three gift wrappers busy cutting, folding and taping. Schneller is also setting up a table for chess and checkers to keep husbands occupied while their spouses shop, an idea suggested by a customer.
At The Mall at Yuba City, department stores are hiring extra staff for the big season.
Gottschalks will increase its staff by 20 to 25 percent, said Johnson, about the same as last year.
The J.C. Penney store will bring on 15 to 17 extra staffers for the holidays, bringing employment to 90.
Matlock said it has been a good year so far. October was a strong month because of cold weather. If those trends continue it should be a good holiday season. He expects a sales gain over last year.
The J.C. Penney store will be ready to open at 5:30 a.m. Friday.
About one in 10 shoppers wait until the week after Thanksgiving to buy their first gifts, according to the council's survey.
Shoppers will also have a few extra days to spend in this year's 29-day shopping season. Christmas Day falls on a weekend, giving the season a little extra push, Johnson said.
While a blockbuster toy or product has yet to emerge this year, electronic gadgets are expected to be some of the bigger sellers this year. A Little Chopper Scooter, portable DVD players and atomic watches were mentioned as some of the potential hits among shoppers.
Appeal-Democrat reporter John Dickey can be reached at 749-4711. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.