Holiday weekend strong as shoppers look for promotions

This is the second in a series following four local retailers through the holiday selling season.

Thanksgiving weekend wasn't just strong for four metro Atlanta retailers -- it was spectacular.

The local retailers said it's too soon to know whether a "blockbuster" Black Friday and "excellent" Small Business Saturday will translate into continued high sales through Christmas.

But, they said, people were both shopping the deals and spending more during the long weekend that kicked off the holiday shopping season.

For two small retailers -- Picayune Toys in Dunwoody and FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock -- Saturday was a bigger day than Black Friday.

Becky Goblish, who owns Picayune, credited much of the increase to a push by American Express to get shoppers to local stores last Saturday. Those who had signed up at the company's website got a $25 credit for spending money at small businesses.

Goblish's average sale increased $7, to $42 that day.

"That was an absolutely outstanding program they did for us," she said. "Over half of our business was American Express on Saturday."

At FoxTale, co-owner Ellen Ward said Saturday sales were up 41 percent over the previous year. On average, people were spending $60 or more on books and other items compared with the usual $25. Many shoppers were using a daily deal coupon the store had offered, she said, or picking up items from a buy-two-get-one-free table.

"It was really big," Ward said.

Sale prices also drove business at shoe seller Abbadabba's and computer store PeachMac.

From January through October, clearance shoes accounted for about 7.5 percent of Abbadabba's total sales. But over the Black Friday weekend, a third of all shoes sold at the company's five stores were on clearance -- with an additional 20 percent off.

That hurt margins, which were down 12.5 percentage points over last year. But overall sales were up 38 percent, said Abbadabba's chief financial officer, Kristen Smith. And the hit to the margins was worth it to clear out old shoes and make room for some of the better sellers.

"Everybody's pretty happy with the results," she said, adding that overall higher sales countered the lower margins, and the weekend ended up a winner.

The same goes for PeachMac, whose eight stores beat Black Friday expectations by 25 percent.

"We were stunned," owner Darryl Peck said. "It was a big day."

The five PeachMac stores that also were open on Black Friday last year saw an average sales increase of 60 percent, Peck said. One store, in Peachtree City, nearly doubled its sales from last year's Black Friday.

All eight stores were sold out of Apple TV boxes by noon, and Peck said iMac computers and iPads were huge sellers. The average transaction was up 15 percent.

But the huge momentum from Black Friday did not carry through to the rest of the weekend at PeachMac.

"Saturday was soft. We were off quite a bit from last year," Peck said. "Friday was just so ginormous. Saturday, we were down dramatically. We were surprised."

If Friday had been slow, Peck said, he would have been concerned, but he expects this year to be a late Christmas and doesn't see the Saturday sales decrease as a reason to worry.

He said the Black Friday shopper is different from those who spread purchases out over the holiday season. Peck said he thought many people interested in his sometimes-pricey products would prefer to buy them closer to the holidays, so the purchases wouldn't show up on their credit card bills until after Christmas.

“We were down, more than we expected” on Saturday, Peck said, but “Friday made up for it 20 times over.”

FoxTale's Ward said Friday's sales were within $25 of last year's totals, but Saturday's huge increase has her optimistic that the five-year-old bookstore might make up the 7 percent dip in sales it has seen this year.

Saturday shoppers told her they were there to support the small business, she said, and specifically came to FoxTale because of the American Express promotion, whether they had a card or not. American Express sales made up about a sixth of FoxTale's total credit card transactions, slightly more than a normal shopping day.

Many of the books Ward expected to be hot sellers did well, she said. But the biggest seller was a surprise: the $14.95 RedNek Wine Glass, a mason jar with a lid and stem.

"Normally, we would sell a couple in a weekend," Ward said, but she estimated the store sold 25 of them over the holiday weekend. Best-selling books sold 10 or 12 copies over the weekend, she said.

Picayune's Goblish said she had to order more pogo sticks, craft items, puzzles, games and dolls, all of which went faster than expected. So did the store's University of Georgia paraphernalia.

Before the holiday season began, Goblish said her customers were less willing to buy big-ticket items, choosing smaller gifts instead. But over Thanksgiving weekend she sold two Ezy Rollers for $110 each, two $97 Calico Critters townhomes and Playmobil sets that cost $50 and more.

Several out-of-town shoppers were buying Christmas gifts early to leave at relatives' houses, she said, so they would not have to pay shipping to Atlanta. Many shoppers came in with long lists, and were willing to get similar items if it meant they did not have to continue their shopping elsewhere.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving was slow, but Goblish said she sold twice as much as she normally would on Monday.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," she said. "It looks like we'll meet our goals in November."

Abbadabba's Smith said she didn't want to make predictions based on Black Friday. The sales increase her stores saw could be a shift in when people decided to shop, she said, or it could indicate optimism among shoppers. Until the season progresses, there's no way to know.

Uggs and Toms were still top sellers among the nonsale shoes, she said, and the company may consider having a second markdown sale closer to Christmas to clear out more slow-selling items before the end of the year.

"I'm still keeping my predictions in check," Smith said. "I would rather be pleasantly surprised than be banking on it."