At small stores, they'll wait on you

Triangle business depend on leisurely shoppers

mquillin@newsobserver.comNovember 23, 2012 

— Working on Black Friday at the Great Outdoor Provision Co. in Cameron Village is a little like fishing or hunting, two sports for which assistant store manager Chris Garrett can outfit his customers with a range of clothing and gear.

It takes patience.

“We spend a lot of time talking to people, answering questions, building a relationship,” said Garrett, who had just invested 45 minutes with a woman who was looking for a canoe – or maybe a kayak, she wasn’t sure – for her husband for Christmas. “Most people, when they come in at this point in the season, they’re just dipping their toes in. They don’t know what they want yet. They’ll come in more than once before they decide.”

Cameron Village is not a stop on the tour of the pre-dawn bargain-hunters who sprint into big-box stores to snag discounted televisions or game consoles. In keeping with the shopping center’s “Restore the Sanity Campaign,” most stores here open only an hour early on Black Friday. While the atmosphere is festive, it’s not frantic.

It was Black Friday’s blue skies, not big deals, that brought the Rodman women out to Cameron Village the day after Thanksgiving.

“We’re really just browsing,” Kathleen Rodman said as she and her daughter-in-law, Anne, turned a corner in the shopping center looking for nothing in particular. “It’s a beautiful day to be out, and it’s nice that you can walk around outside.”

They had stopped earlier at a Target store, but even there, they said, they had missed the early-morning crush.

Arriving at Cameron Village midday, shoppers still could find parking spaces. Items offered at doorbuster prices were still available. The only line was at the K&W Cafeteria, waiting for guests to choose between baked spaghetti or chicken-and-dumplings, sweet tea or unsweetened.

A relaxed environment

Retailers can make 10 percent of their annual sales in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And this year, in an effort to grab their share of shoppers’ dollars, more stores pushed their sales into Thanksgiving Day, eating into family feasts and football time.

But at Garrett’s store, it starts slowly, like a leisurely hike, another pastime his customers enjoy. The whole store is the antithesis of frenzied. As they often do, people came in on Friday with their dogs in tow. Shoppers walked between the racks of fleece jackets, caressing the fluffy fabrics. They tried on hats, tested reclining camp chairs. Christmas seemed at least a month away.

Genevieve Holmes of Charlotte, spending the holiday with family in Raleigh, had gone out on Thursday night with her brother checking out a couple of stores offering late-night deals.

At 10 p.m., she said, “The line at Old Navy went around the building. It’s ridiculous that people will give up their holiday with their family and go stand in line for something that there’s only three of anyway.”

They drove back home, and Holmes went to Cameron Village Friday morning where she eventually made her way to the shoe department at Great Outdoor Provision Co. She was in no hurry. She started her shopping in October.

A knack for patience

Early afternoon, Garrett’s canoe-kayak shopper returned, this time with family, though not her husband, whose gift she wants to be a surprise.

“You came back,” said Garrett, who knew she would. After seven years with the company, he also knows pretty much everything there is to know about paddling gear, camping gadgets, and which are the best socks to wear with hiking boots. He also knows that while he needs extra staff on Black Friday, the busiest weekend for sales will be the weekend before Christmas, when the store will have extra people at the gift-wrap tables and five people in line at the registers all day long.

“You kind of have to know the nuts and bolts of everything,” he said.

After another 15 minutes, the canoe-kayak shopper left, again, without buying a boat. Garrett, who had answered all her questions and had never pushed her to make a decision, wished her a pleasant afternoon as she went out the door.

“She’ll be back,” he said.

He can wait.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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