Strong holiday sales brighten 2012 plans

In retrospect, there was no reason for retailers to worry about whether it would be a good Christmas.

“It was really pretty spectacular,” said Darryl Peck, owner of the eight-store chain PeachMac. “It was off the charts. It was just nuts.”

For the local computer retailer — along with a metro Atlanta shoe store, bookstore and toy shop the AJC followed this holiday shopping season — December was better than they expected. And the days just before Christmas were nothing short of crazy — in the best possible way.

“Friday was our busiest day ever,” said Kristen Smith, chief financial officer of the five-store shoe chain Abbadabba’s. “Normally, we’re prepared for busy but sane, but this year [2011] was bordering on busy but insane. The sheer amount of people, it was organized chaos.”

The season ended so well, in fact, that Abbadabba’s and the others are each planning to expand their businesses with new stores or new ventures.

Abbadabba’s, which does not sell shoes online, intends to begin doing so in 2012, Smith said. The company is also looking to add new stores or relocate its Roswell location, and Smith said there are other possible expansion plans in the works.

“I’m excited and optimistic for 2012,” Smith said. “We’re definitely going to be growing Abbadabba’s.”

People put off shopping until the last minute, Smith and the other retailers said, but when they came out, they were ready to spend. Sales at Abbadabba’s during the seven days before Dec. 25 were up almost 12 percent over the same period in 2010, Smith said. Many shoppers were new customers.

December sales at FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock were stronger than 2010’s, co-owner Ellen Ward said. Even though year-over-year sales were down about 8 percent, Ward said robust December book sales in an age of e-readers helped allay her nagging doubts about how long her store could hold on.

Through the holiday season, she said, she learned that many people will still come to the bookstore to meet their favorite authors. They still want a sense of community as well as a book recommendation from someone who has read the title they are considering.

“It leaves us all with a really good feeling for next Christmas,” Ward said.

FoxTale will begin selling its Indigo Fox items — furniture and gifts for the home — online. Ward said Indigo Fox will have a larger audience on an e-commerce site than in the store.

But Ward and her fellow owners are thinking more broadly than the website. They’re also considering starting a literary travel club or a weeklong writers’ workshop. A strong December means they’re not worried about keeping the doors open for another year, and can afford to think big.

“We’re ambitious that way,” Ward said. “If we had a bad year, we’d be wringing our hands. It gives us confidence that there is still demand for our product.”

FoxTale sold out of books it had chosen to focus on in 2011, Ward said, like “The Night Circus” and “Praying for Strangers.” Shelves that housed the owners’ picks were cleaned out before the holidays. That makes her optimistic about 2012.

Picayune Toys owner Becky Goblish is also confident about 2012, after initially worrying that the Dunwoody toy store’s 10th Christmas might be its last.

Before Thanksgiving, sales were down 17 percent from what she had expected, and people seemed less willing to spend. But the season ended strong, with December sales up 7 percent over December 2010. Some large items such as toy work benches that had been slow to go were finally leaving the store.

“I’ve been able to breathe a little sigh of relief,” she said. “I feel better about it, I’m much more optimistic. I can sleep.”

Goblish is now considering expanding the store that she once contemplated closing. A new space in her shopping center with an additional 600 square feet — about the size of a three-car garage — would give Goblish room to add more books and baby lines. It would allow her to bring in more new items for tweens without getting rid of ones that are already selling well.

“I’m not ready to settle for OK,” she said. “It’s moving forward instead of staying stagnant.”

At the moment, Goblish said, she is leaning toward taking the new space. But she has to run the numbers, and make sure the potential increased income is also worth the increased overhead she will incur.

She has a couple of weeks to decide, and to figure out how to keep the doors open at the current store while stocking a new one.

Either way, Goblish said, it is likely time to change the product mix and add more items for older children who have aged with her store. “Now, I have to make decisions,” she said.

It’s still a little too soon for Peck to make decisions about what happens in 2012. PeachMac, an Apple computer specialist, may open several new stores in 2012, but Peck said he remains wary of what post-Christmas sales will look like. He wants to step back and evaluate before he commits to new expansion.

Peck did not share sales figures, but he said Christmas sales that beat already high expectations mean he may be more aggressive in his opening plans than he would be otherwise. He may open three new stores in the new year.

“It certainly gives us the incentive,” he said.

Coming into Christmas, Peck said, he thought the store might face more competition from other electronics retailers, and that iPad sales may have slowed down. Neither of those things turned out to be the case.

“The iPad sold way beyond our imagination,” he said. “The last few days were so insane.”

A new store in Columbus is pretty much a done deal, Peck said, but he will wait to see how the first quarter goes before deciding on more locations. Peck is interested in expanding PeachMac out of state, and that may begin this year — depending on continuing results.

As good as Christmas sales were, he said, it’s not the same as seeing strong sales in the slow months at the beginning of the year.

“I never considered it a barometer for the next year,” Peck said. “People spend at Christmas no matter what.”


Continuing coverage

AJC reporter Arielle Kass has been following developments at four metro Atlanta retailers throughout the holiday season. This is the last story in our series.