Justine Griffin / Herald-Tribune – Editor’s Note: Retail reporter Justine Griffin is shadowing two local store owners this season. She will chronicle what it is like to prepare for the holiday season in Sarasota’s two distinct shopping markets.
Just when Jackie Zumba thought life couldn’t be busier, the holiday season rolls around.
It’s been a little less than two months since Zumba, the 27-year-old owner of Jackie Z Style Co., opened a boutique inside the Mall at University Town Center, and business is just ramping up.
“Everything is really picking up. We’re 10 times busier than we’ve ever been,” said Zumba, whose transition from a shop on Main Street in downtown Sarasota to the luxury mall filled with chain stores got off to a rocky start.
She said she expects her two boutiques, one in Sarasota and another in downtown St. Petersburg, to be even busier the closer it gets to Christmas.
“We’ve had so many new customers come in who are interested in the specialty services we offer, which you don’t get anywhere else,” said Zumba, who offers free alterations through an in-house tailor on every purchase.
The personal shopping experience is something she is playing up this holiday season. The store also is offering free gift wrapping on all purchases.
For shoppers who are too busy to browse the aisles in person, Zumba also is taking personal orders by email and phone and putting together personalized gift packages for customers.
“We have customers who will call the store and give us their budget, what type of style and size they’re looking for and we’ll put it all together for them,” she said.
Jackie Z Style Co.’s staff snaps photos of different designs, match them with accessories, gift wrap it and then ship it that day.
Zumba said more than 100 people have made trips to the Mall at University Town Center specifically for her store during the last week. Most are buying, too — from holiday cocktail dresses, to cashmere poncho sweaters, to smaller items like candles and jewelry.
Even on Thanksgiving — when Zumba begrudgingly opened her store, along with a handful of other retailers at the mall — she saw a steady stream of traffic and sales.
“We’re really feeling like the community is embracing us,” Zumba said. “People want to see us succeed, and that’s such a great feeling.”
Sales flat overall
Hundreds of thousands of businesses like Zumba’s across the nation are counting on a holiday bump.
But despite most analysts’ predictions of significant growth in sales this holiday season, chain stores have reported disappointing Black Friday and Cyber Monday crowds and sales.
“I’m not sure we can evaluate the strength of the season by Black Friday anymore,” said Jeff Green, a Phoenix-based retail analyst. “Retailers are kicking off the deep discounts much earlier in the month than in years past, so Black Friday crowds are slow. This is just the new normal now.”
The International Council of Shopping Centers, or ICSC, reported that sales were up 4.9 percent for November on a year-over-year basis.
“More people are shopping earlier because retailers are rolling out the discounts before Black Friday,” Green said.
ICSC is predicting December sales will rise 4 percent to 4.5 percent from November. Overall, that would lead to a modest 3.4 percent increase in sales when compared with December 2013.
“Sales showed a steady industry-wide performance for the month, with apparel showing a strong uptick compared to October,” ICSC spokesman Jesse Tron said.
Sales were down on Black Friday, data from the National Retail Federation shows. The trade group reported that chain-store sales overall dropped 11 percent on Black Friday this year compared with 2013. Cyber Monday was expected to draw 126.9 million shoppers online, down 3.7 percent compared with last year.
These figures do not bode well for a strong holiday shopping season, Green said.
“Shoppers are still value-focused. They go in for the doorbuster deal and leave, which doesn’t make for a profitable season,” Green said. “I think the season will still be up from last year, but lighter than the 3 to 5 percent that everyone is predicting.”