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Published: 11/21/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Area stores honor holiday, shun Thanksgiving frenzy

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Randy Whitehead, manager at the Andersons General Store in Maumee, straightens a display. The chain plans to offer discounts on total purchases. Randy Whitehead, manager at the Andersons General Store in Maumee, straightens a display. The chain plans to offer discounts on total purchases.
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Ann Albright uses nostalgia and memories.

Joe Chew peddles local warranties and service.

And Stephanie Harmon’s secret weapon? Her septuagenarian mother.

When it comes to battling big-box national retailers, Toledo-area store owners like Ms. Albright, Mr. Chew, and Ms. Harmon say there is no Santa Claus to fill their Christmas wishes.

The reality is they can never hope to match the buying, advertising, and e-commerce clout wielded by the Walmarts, Targets, and Best Buys of the retail world, so they won't bother trying.

They also aren't interested in gimmicks that harm their loyal employees and consumers, so they won’t be opening today.

But local retailers say that doesn't mean that they can’t compete with mass retailers.

Starting with Black Friday and continuing on through Christmas, the area’s locally owned stores will employ a variety of clever, tailored strategies that will allow them to become Davids in a world of retail Goliaths who come armed with huge budgets, national ad campaigns, and warehouses full of merchandise.

“We belong to a buying group. So our buying power is just as strong as the Walmarts and Targets,” said Jim Gryzwinski, general manager of the Appliance Center in Maumee, which will stick with its traditional Friday morning opening.

“We might buy 100 of one model and that way we get special discounts. Our appliance buyer will buy items by the truckload and that cuts costs,” he continued. “It’s the old idea that it’s cheaper if you buy a pound of nails rather than a couple of nails, and that makes us very competitive and sometimes less on price than the chain stores.”

Jeff Podgorski tags televisions at Appliance Center in Maumee in preparation for Black Friday. The store will be closed today. Jeff Podgorski tags televisions at Appliance Center in Maumee in preparation for Black Friday. The store will be closed today.
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Every year, the Appliance Center plans ways to up its game come Black Friday — the traditional shopping frenzy on the day after Thanksgiving.

Inventory goes up nearly 20 percent, prices drop considerably, and the store goes full tilt on moving product, sometimes with razor-thin sales margins. Or sometimes with no sales margin.

“Now is the period when the suppliers give [us] the best buys, so the consumers — beginning this weekend and right through December — are really getting buys better than they’ll get the rest of the year,” Mr. Gryzwinski said.

“This weekend retailers are basically selling things below cost. They will go up a little later, but not much,” he added.

Electronics and appliances are a quantity business, Mr. Gryzwinski said, which is why consumers will benefit from shopping now. The more product the Appliance Center sells, the more profit it makes, so the sales force is extra motivated, he said.

Because of its unique merchandise blend, The Andersons faces many competitors — home improvement stores, grocery stores, bath and kitchen stores, garden and craft stores, and general merchandisers.

Its strategy for the holiday season is to excel in its odd collection of niches and encourage customers to mix and match. Sell a cart full of food, tools, Christmas decorations, and kitchen items.

It’s unconventional, but effective, said John Hoover, The Andersons’ director of marketing and business development.

In that spirit, the company moved away from discounts on specific items this season and instead will offer discounts, such as 20 percent off, on an entire purchase.

“That’s the first time we’ve done that,” Mr. Hoover said. “We want customers to make the decision on what they want, rather than discount specific targeted items.”

The Maumee-based retailer competes with national chains on price, but prefers to offer specials on perishables, such as food and wine, to get customers in the store to see its 150,000 items.

“What we’re doing is focusing hard on categories that are solid but also provide value to the customers,” Mr. Hoover said. “It’s a nice one-stop shopping destination and we feel we’ve got that old-fashioned traditional customer service experience that our customers want."

At Swan Creek Candle Co., owner Ann Albright will again aim to use nostalgia and cherished memories to generate holiday sales.

Her company doesn’t do much for Black Friday, figuring few customers would stop there during the frenzied shopping day. It will open at its normal time.

But when consumers do get to Swan Creek Candle stores — located in historic buildings — the decorations and scents (such as frosted spruce and cinnamon spice) are deliberately chosen to evoke traditional holiday memories.

“Because our stores are all in historic locations and each one is unique, you get that old-fashioned feeling with the brick walls. There are people that want that experience and think, ‘That's how it used to be.’ It gets nostalgic,” Ms. Albright said.

Swan Creek will rarely do sales or markdowns during the holiday season. “We really feel we give value for the money and we stay away from sales. If we do have a sale, we never announce it,” Ms. Albright added.

“It is very unconventional. But then we price the things we know people will want accordingly, and people know that it has value.”

Stephanie Harmon, co-owner of the Bumble Olive Oil Co. at Westfield Franklin Park, knows she has unconventional products and tough competitors in gourmet stores and supermarkets.

So for the holidays she uses a grassroots marketing campaign and “grab and go” packaged products at various price points.

She’ll open at 12:01 a.m. Friday, but only because most of the mall will be open then and her store greatly depends on foot traffic.

“Everyone is trying to capture these holiday dollars. So we’ve been offering gift packs, holiday items, grab-and-go items for weeks,” Ms. Harmon said. “People only have a very limited time to be in our store, so we have things that are accessible once they come in.”

For the last three weeks, Ms. Harmon and her friends and family — including her mother — have spent hours making and arranging gift packs.

“I don’t have the luxury of being a huge corporate store where everything is done for me and prepackaged,” she said.

“You don’t have to be Williams-Sonoma. ... As long as you do it right and well, people will buy from you.”

For Mr. Chew, owner of the area’s Computer Discount stores, Black Friday will be mostly just another day, with his stores opening at their usual 10 a.m. start. They won’t be open on Thanksgiving.

That’s because Mr. Chew’s holiday strategy is to sell value and service, two things not easily explained in a promotion or “doorbuster” specials.

“People looking for the lowest price they can find will always buy online or at the big-box stores. But people looking for more services, they end up dealing with us,” Mr. Chew said.

Computer Discount will have sales from now through Christmas, but where it beats its national competitors is with bundling and support.

“You can buy an apple cheaper online than walking into Kroger, but what kind of fruit are you getting?” Mr. Chew asked. “That's the same thing with us. Take laptops — we give you free anti-virus, free data transfer, free optimization, free training, a free case, a warranty, and a loaner if your computer goes down. Plus local tech support.

“These are all what I consider value that you won’t get from a big box store. That’s also one way we’re able to compete directly with big box stores,” he said.

Service is also a key holiday sales strategy for Keri Suhy, owner of Vivian Kate apparel shop in Levis Commons.

She keeps a computer database of sales so that she knows what her customers have bought, their sizes, and the styles and brands they prefer.

It has allowed her to become a sort of retail concierge who can predict customer’s wants.

“We will run a sale on Black Friday through Sunday. ... But it doesn’t scratch the surface of what we do. Our strategy is really based on service and that’s how we excel,” she said. “We understand our customers and that’s why we do so well.”

Ms. Suhy said another key to her holiday strategy is that Vivian Kate carries product lines not found in many other area stores.

“You can’t go to Macy’s or Dillard’s and find the lines that we carry. You can get them at Nordstrom’s online, but then you won’t get the service.”

When it comes to his seasonal strategy, Phil Kajca, owner of the local J. Foster Jeweler and Pandora stores, says he has Walmart, Target, Costco, and other big-box retailers over a barrel.

The cost of gems and gold is the same for him as it is for the far larger organizations. Buying power wielded by Walmart for many goods does not carry weight when purchasing gems or precious metals.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Walmart or J. Foster’s buying gold. It’s still $1,700 an ounce,” Mr. Kajca said.

J. Foster’s strategy is to target customers through selective advertising during the holidays. Depending on the market Mr. Kajca aims to reach, he said he’ll use combinations of print and electronic media.

Then, when buying jewelry, he will carry large selections of rings, necklaces, and other items. He will not have the same items in differing sizes, however.

“We’ll have 700 styles of engagement rings — 700 different rings,” he said. “But the chains, they’ll have what they believe are the 12 best-selling rings nationally. But they’ll carry them in three different sizes, much like the shoe business.

“So our strategy will be to have a lot of product to sell. It’s all about lots of sales and high volume,” he said. “Christmas is one-third of our year. So at this time we’re more competitive with our sales.”

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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