Triangle merchants prepare for Black Friday sales

adunn@newsobserver.comNovember 23, 2013 

For 28 straight Black Fridays, Brian Zachrich has been up before dawn selling J.C. Penney wares to holiday shoppers on what has become the nation’s single biggest shopping day of the year.

But this Black Friday will be a little different.

The store manager of the J.C. Penney at North Hills in Raleigh, Zachrich will arrive at the store at 6 on Thanksgiving evening, greet his team of 160 at 7 and open the doors to shoppers at 8. He won’t lock the doors until 9 the following evening – a 25-hour retail marathon.

Opening on Thanksgiving Day is a first for J.C. Penney, which has been struggling to overcome mistakes blamed on its ousted CEO Ron Johnson. This year, under different leadership, J.C. Penney seeks to reclaim customers and boost revenues with extended hours that include Thanksgiving Day and lots of sales. This year’s Black Friday ad is 72 pages, 49 of them filled with “doorbuster” deals to get folks in stores.

Last week, in the calm before the shopping storm, the soft-spoken Zachrich said he’s ready. Gallons of coffee, pounds of snack foods and catered lunches and dinners are on order for his employees; racks of new merchandise are being wheeled onto the sales floor; seasonal staff has been added; employee pep rallies are ongoing. Staff contests, including one for the ugliest Christmas sweater, are planned. Zachrich has even gone as far as donning a Santa suit and recording a video telling the story of “The Night Before Black Friday” to his crew.

The past four weeks have been dedicated to the upcoming weekend, every detail outlined in a 100-page company Black Friday playbook.

Nothing is left to chance. The stakes are too high. “When retail is in your blood, it’s really about the merchandise and getting it out there and presenting it to the customer,” Zachrich said.

Across the Triangle and across the country, similar preparations are underway for Black Friday, so-named decades ago as the day shopkeepers’ financial statements went from red to black.

1: Despite all the hype surrounding Thanksgiving Day shopping, Black Friday 2013 is expected to be the No. 1 shopping day of the year, according to ShopperTrak, the Chicago-based shopping research firm. It will be the 10th straight year Black Friday has posted both the largest number of shoppers and the largest sales figures. Thanksgiving Day won’t even come close, ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin said. Last year’s Thanksgiving sales registered $800 million, he said. “It might not make the top 50 or even 100.”

$11.2 billion: That’s the total sales tallied on Black Friday 2012 by ShopperTrak. Add 2.4 percent to that number for this year’s projected total, said Bill Martin of ShopperTrak. The National Retail Federation is taking a more optimistic view, predicting a 3.9 percent increase in holiday sales overall.

140 million: Number of Americans expected to venture out to stores on Black Friday weekend. Thirty-three million admitted to shopping plans on Thanksgiving Day, according to a retail federation survey. Ninety-seven million will brave the crowds on Black Friday proper with the remainder spread between Saturday and Sunday. While those numbers are impressive enough, they would be down from last year, when a combined 147 million folks shopped that weekend.

6: Thanks to a later-than-usual Thanksgiving this year, the traditional holiday sales season is six days shorter and includes one fewer weekend. This could mean more drastic discounts in the lead-up to Christmas.

0: That’s the number of extra police officers that the Raleigh Police Department plans to have on duty for Black Friday. Spokesman Jim Sughrue said despite the crowds around major shopping areas, traffic on Black Friday is typically lighter than most Fridays because school is out and most people don’t have to work. However, many shopping centers will hire off-duty officers to patrol parking lots and stores for heightened security and safety.

9 a.m. Thanksgiving Day: Earliest store opening at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh. The early-bird award goes to Old Navy, Crabtree’s marketing director Christy Alphin said. Most of the traditional department stores will open at 8 p.m. at Crabtree and across the country.

11 p.m. to 1 a.m.: Those are the hours during which Crabtree Valley Mall is expected to be at its busiest. With department stores opening early and most smaller mall stores opening at or around midnight, Alphin said the mall should be humming in the wee hours – much like “the busiest Saturday times two.” And what does that look and feel like? “Hustle and bustle,” Alphin said. “People are pulling bags. We all laugh about the fact that people come in teams. They all have the same shirts on – the Smith family shopping team. Sisters and sisters-in-law. There’s a lot of coffee and a lot of snacking. Kind of wall-to-wall people.”

55,000: Number of seasonal workers hired by Walmart, the retailer typically credited (or blamed) with turning Thanksgiving into a shopping day. That’s on top of 35,000 workers moved from temporary to part-time work and another 35,000 moved from part-time to full-time. Among the employee perks for working on Thanksgiving: turkey dinner and all the sides, a 25 percent discounted shopping trip and extra pay.

700: Number of lemons the folks at Chick-fil-A at Triangle Town Center in North Raleigh plan to squeeze making lemonade for thirsty Black Friday shoppers. That compares with the 100 lemons used on a regular day, owner and operator David Langston said. “It’s just a wave of people,” said Langston, who will open at midnight with a staff of 12. “During peak hours, it’s just incredible.”

1.3 million: Number of televisions sold by Walmart last year on Black Friday. Add to that 1.8 million towels, 1.3million dolls and 250,000 bicycles.

More than 3,000: Number of snow globes that will be handed out to J.C. Penney shoppers at North Hills starting at 4 a.m. Black Friday. The iconic globes are back this year after disappearing from the Black Friday tradition last year. Zachrich, the manager, predicts that they’ll be gone within an hour.

4 pounds, 8.8ounces: Weight in pounds of the Black Friday ads contained in Thursday’s edition of The News & Observer. Though many eager shoppers browse the online ads early, nearly half (49 percent) said they’ll prep for Black Friday the old-fashioned way by poring over the newspaper circulars from the Thanksgiving Day newspaper, the retail federation survey found.

1: The number of Santas on duty at Crabtree Valley Mall. “The official answer is there is only one Santa,” marketing director Alphin said.

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