Happy holidays? Retailers hope season really will be jolly

Real Deals
Shauna Cozzens sets up a holiday display at Real Deals in Home Decor in downtown Grand Junction. Cozzens expects increased sales during her second holiday season as owner of the franchise operation, capping off a year of growth. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Shauna Cozzens starts decorating for the holidays early, setting up elaborate displays that include not only Christmas trees and ornaments, but also elves and snowmen as well as reindeer and wreaths. A nearby sign offers hope to those who haven’t necessarily been good for goodness sake: Naughty is the new nice.

Cozzens plans to reconstruct her displays over and over again during the coming month, but couldn’t be happier about that prospect. If she’s replacing holiday decorations, it means customers at her Grand Junction store are buying them.

And Cozzens fully expects sales to increase during her second holiday season as owner of Real Deals in Home Decor. “I think we’re going to have a good holiday season.”

An improving economy has freed up a little more spending money, Cozzens says, figuring the trend should translate into more business.

Count Cozzens among those with a more upbeat outlook for the holidays. But even as national forecasts remain cloudy, local predictions remain mixed.

Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, believes a sluggish labor market and uncertainty over health care legislation could hamper a more robust shopping season.

“My overall sense is that I think we’re going to be flat.”

What’s far more certain is that Grand Valley retailers once again will gear up for a shopping season that accounts for a significant portion of their overall sales for the year, whether that’s opening their doors to bargain hunters on Thanksgiving or planning a series of events designed to put customers in the holiday mood.

“It’s a big deal,” Cozzens confirms.

Holiday shoppers eager to bag Black Friday bargains will get a head start at the Mesa Mall in Grand Junction, where stores will open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving. The mall will remain open through 10 p.m. the following day.

The mall will offer extended hours through the holidays in part to accommodate the shorter span between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, says Chelsi Reimer, director of marketing and business development. “We’re inviting shoppers to come early and stay late to provide flexibility for busy holiday schedules. These holiday hours offer better access to great bargains and door-buster deals. And, as customer service is a huge priority, our retailers are hiring more people to cover these additional hours.”

In addition to its more than 100 stores and restaurants, Mesa Mall will offer a variety of other incentives to lure shoppers. The first 50 shoppers to visit guest services at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving will receive what are billed as “survival bags” filled with goodies valued at more than $20. 

On Black Friday, the Mesa Mall Facebook page will offer clues as to the location of a team handing out prizes from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Santa also will be on hand, of course, for photos with children — not to mention pets during two pet photo nights set for 7 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 1 and 8.

While Black Friday constitutes a busy holiday shopping day at the mall, the busiest is usually the Saturday before Christmas — Dec. 21 this year — Reimer says.

In downtown Grand Junction, free visits with Santa and horse-drawn carriage rides will be offered every Saturday and Sunday from Nov. 30 through Dec. 22.

The 30th annual Parade of Lights down Main Street is set for 5 p.m. Dec. 7. The Spirit of Christmas Walk scheduled for 5:30 to 9 p.m. Dec. 13 will feature more than 300 entertainers.

Aaron Hoffman, marketing and communications director for the Grand Junction Downtown Partnership, said the events as well as holiday lighting and window displays all are part of an annual effort to attract shoppers to a business district with nearly 120 stores and restaurants. “We want to make it a place where people want to spend time.”

In between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the kickoff for online holiday sales, there’s Small Business Saturday. American Express founded the initiative to help small businesses compete with large retailers for holiday dollars and offers customers who use American Express credit cards a $10 credit for any purchase of $10 or more at a participating small business.

Hoffman says the Downtown Partnership will help promote Small Business Saturday and signs will identify participating merchants.

Schwenke says the chamber promotes shopping at local businesses year-round through a campaign offering free blue rubber wrist bands inscribed with the words “buy local” and “support the Grand Valley.” Participating businesses offer discounts and special offers to customers wearing the bands.

However the holidays play out, November and December sales remain significant not only for individual businesses, but also a business community that serves as a retail shopping hub for Western Colorado. “It’s important for this area, no doubt about it,” Schwenke says.

According to the National Retail Federation, November and December sales can account for as much as 20 percent to 40 percent of annual sales.

Sales tax collections in Grand Junction for November and December 2012, a key measure of retail sales during the holidays, totalled $8.65 million. That was about 17 percent of the $49.7 million in sales tax collected last year.

At Real Deals in Home Decor, Cozzens estimates November and December sales constitute 25 percent of her overall sales for the year.

But Cozzens remains optimistic the holidays really will be the most wonderful time of year for her operation.

And if she has to keep reconstructing the elaborate holiday displays set up in her store because customers keep buying the decorations, so much the better.