Wichita retailers thrilled with 2010 holiday sales

01/09/2011 12:50 AM

01/09/2011 12:50 AM

Maybe it was a warm December. Maybe it was American Express' viral push to shop at home.

Maybe it was Hawker Beechcraft's decision to stay in Wichita. Maybe it was just bad-news fatigue.

Or maybe all of the above are the reasons why Wichita retailers are generally thrilled with the 2010 holiday shopping season.

In a year when flat sales would have been considered a moral victory and any sales increase a cause for celebration, several retailers say their sales are up double digits over 2009.

"The best month I've had in my four years here," said Kelsey Metzinger, who runs Bungalow 26 in the Delano neighborhood.

"So good I couldn't believe it. I ran our numbers and I had to look about six times. We were up more than 10 percent."

Most report sales up in the high single digits to 15 percent, a welcome gift when many had approached the Christmas season cautiously after a couple of down holidays.

It's in contrast to the national picture, when a snowy December left sales at Gap, Target and other major U.S. retailers short of the 3.5 percent increase forecast by Retail Metrics, a national analyst.

"It went very well, very well," said Greg Hephner of Hephner TV & Electronics. "We were significantly ahead of last year, about 15 percent."

"We were way up. Way up," said Linda Burton at Eccentricity, 2939 N. Rock Road. "Kept thinking the customers would be grouchy because of all the bad news we've heard, but they were really fun."

Good planning key

The good years came to the retailers who marketed aggressively and targeted specific customers.

"I adjusted my inventory and did some different things," Burton said. "I watched the number of high-ticket items in inventory because you knew people were going to be conservative."

Instead, Burton planned inventory around the notion that shoppers would demand value for their dollars.

"We went for more of the great ticket item," Burton said. "We had to be sensitive to pricing for our customer. I went for the awesome gift for $25 through a lot of sales and promotions."

Retailers also diversified product lines and targeted tight advertising dollars.

"I diversified my clientele by adding a jewelry boutique," Metzinger said. "Time was, I'd parcel out my money on various advertising things, but this year, I picked one and put all my money into that."

Others stuck to a simpler strategy: Shoppers wanted the best price for Christmas 2010.

"I don't think my business was up this year because the economy was that much better," said Ron Groves, owner of Groves Discount Wine & Liquor. "I just work very hard at keeping prices down.

"People still love a good bargain, so I drive those price points. People are more conscious of price these days, even though some say the economy's better. So I keep cutting them."

All are important strategies to retail success in a tough economy, said Cindy Claycomb, a marketing professor at Wichita State University.

But nothing beats a little good news to lift the greater consumer mood and pop open a few wallets.

Don't discount Hawker Beechcraft's Dec. 21 announcement that it will stay in Wichita, she said.

"Hawker's deciding to stay was a pretty big deal for Wichita," Claycomb said.

Hephner agreed.

"No question people's confidence was higher," Hephner said. "I haven't heard a lot of debate about it, but you have to think that with the Hawker Beechcraft extension with us, people got a little more confidence."

"I think Hawker did help," Metzinger said. "It was a really uplifting piece of news for a community that was looking for any good news. I think everyone's ready right now to latch on to any good news and it served as an added bonus for the season."

The effect of any bad economic news is dangerously immediate for retailers in the 24-7 news cycle, Claycomb said.

"Even if you're not directly affected by the bad news, it still affects everyone's mood as a consumer, a kind of consumer psychology," she said.

"We're not as insulated from the news as we used to be due to technology, so if your group on Facebook is down or your Twitter friends are down, it affects you."

But when a piece of news lightens the mood, it doesn't take long for it to hit the retail cash registers.

"I attribute a bunch of it to pent-up demand," Hephner said. "The people who came in were talking about wanting to do this for a while. Now just seemed like a good time."

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