HIBBING — Calling the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" gives the week-ender a foreboding feeling - almost an eerie connotation that convinces one to stay in bed and yank up the sheets.
But that day has traditionally been anything but restful.
Black Friday is the label given to what is historically one of the busiest retail shopping days of the year.
Many consider it the "official" beginning to the holiday shopping season. Most retailers opt to open early and usually provide massive incentives and discounts on their products.
Charlie Dickey, manager of JC Penney’s, ranks it as one of the Hibbing store’s top five days of the year.
“We experience a significantly large volume that day — volume in terms of customer traffic in the store and the total of transactions rung on that day,” he said.
The Saturdays prior to Christmas and the last full day prior to Christmas are also on his top five list.
“Two days out is typically our biggest day of the year,” said Dickey. “That’s when the real bargain shoppers come out looking for last minute deals. At that point they may find something at a good price, but the having a good selection or supply is what they give up in return. You give up finding the right size to save a few dollars.”
Although Black Friday is typically the busiest shopping day of the year in terms of customer traffic, it is not typically the day with the highest sales volume. That is usually either Christmas Eve, the last Saturday before Christmas, or the day after Christmas.
At least four local stores – JC Penney’s, L&M Fleet Supply, Wal-Mart and Lowe’s – are already poised for the onslaught of Friday’s shoppers. Here’s what they had to say earlier this week.
Preparation at JC Penney’s starts in September, when the company does a direct broadcast of what is expected for the upcoming season. According to Dickey, it is then the company rolls out plans, including objections for performance, and provides a look at the season’s merchandise selection.
“Our job between then and now is to get the merchandise into the store, onto the floor and ready for selling,” said Dickey. “As has been the trend, this year also looks good for us for a couple of reasons — good selection of merchandise and the supply of items has been beefed up.”
JC Penney opens at 5 a.m., along with neighbor Wal-Mart. The two will be the first to open their doors to customers in Hibbing come Friday.
“Last year when we opened, Wal-Mart’s lot was half full,” said Dickey. “Customers got in, bought the one or two items they wanted, and then came over here to shop.”
The loss of national retailer Kmart back in March 2002, which used to anchor the other end of Irongate Mall, hasn’t affected sales, said Dickey.
Next door, Wal-Mart Store Manager Bruce Westenfield spent a significant amount of time Wednesday in the superstore’s greenhouse. That was where employees unloaded nearly four truck loads of blitz buys.
Shoppers will be directed there by greeters, who in addition to saying hello on Friday morning will be handing out store maps.
“We like to make it simple for customers,” said Westenfield.
Using the term “Black Friday,” Westenfield said Friday is the biggest day in sales for the store. It is then, he said, that larger ticket items are purchased.
Closer to Christmas, the store sees more customers and experiences another spike in sales, although this time it’s mainly smaller items like stocking stuffers.
Westenfield said he’s seeing the Christmas purchasing trend move away from toys and into electronics — from MP3 players to DVDs, and Play Stations to Plasma TVs.
About 300 employees will be on hand to assist customers on Friday.
“It’s just normal, every day business for us,” said Westenfield. “We’ll just have more staff here to help people so they can shop without stress.”
Westenfield said he hopes customers enjoy their shopping experience as well.
“We’re asking people to be careful,” he said. “We don’t want any tackling or trampling. We want everyone to be safe, and don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Across Highway 169, Hibbing’s newest retail addition is also prepped.
“The outlook for Friday is that we do anticipate a very strong shopping day,” said Lowe’s Store Manager Jerry Vires. “We have a complete process in place of getting the store ready for that morning.”
Vires went on the explain that the process involves having a dedicated team at the store spending a few days going through all of the advertised items and ensuring that they are put into areas easily accessible to customers, are adequately stocked and ready for purchase.
Nearly all 100 employees will be on hand Friday, and all registers through the store will be open. The store opens at it regular time, which is 7 a.m.
“What will typically happen is that shoppers go to the stores that have the early sales and then swing by here,” said Vires.
Topping the list of anticipated “hot items” this season are tools and gift cards.
“With our line of products, what has been traditionally extremely popular and strong in sales would be the tool department,” said Vires. “Beyond that, we also anticipate a strong season of gift card sales with us being a new retailer in town. I do believe it will be a novelty to give a gift card.”
Looking toward Friday, Vires said it may be akin to a grand opening event. The one held last month was about double the volume of customers than what was anticipated.
And while the customer flow has somewhat evened out since then, Vires said it’s a strong plateau that’s kept the store above estimated sales performance.
“There are no formal guarantees what sales performance a new store will do,” he said. “And while there’s still some estimation, we’re well above what we projected for this retail store in Hibbing.”
Heading north on the Highway 169, L&M Fleet Supply looks forward to receiving customers at little later Friday morning.
According to Store Manager Joel Peterson, the Hibbing location will open at its normal time of 8 a.m. — despite that fact that nearly 100 people are typically waiting to get in on that particular morning.
“That’s just the company’s philosophy,” said Peterson when asked about the time. “We don’t feel there’s a need for it.”
The company does, however, reward those first in the door. L&M will also be offering coupons, holding drawings and handing out candy to the kids.
“Friday is busy for us in terms of traffic flow,” said Peterson. “It’s historically been a big day for us, but not as busy as the week before Christmas and the day before deer hunting opener.”
Peterson also noted how the weather plays a factor in customer patterns. And despite the lack of snow, he said he’s already seen more Christmas shopping being done this year than prior years.
The popular buys, Peterson predicted, will follow the company advertisements. While Christmas gifts are purchased at a decent rate, he said ice fishing necessities will likely be the most sought after items.
“Hunting season is over,” he said. “So ice fishing is the next big thing.”
While hunting for game may be coming to a close, the shop-aholics will be out in full force come Black Friday hunting for those holiday bargains.
“It’s a fun day,” said Dickey. “It’s a lot of work, but we’ll be ready and prepared. We’ve done this before. It should be a smooth day.”