Stores hope for busy and safe Black Friday

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Mike Hall has worked a lot of Black Fridays, but he doesn’t really consider the day to be that dark.

“The worst part is thinking about it coming, but once it gets here, it’s fun,” said Hall, store manager for Wal-Mart in Portales. “You get to do a lot of business, you get to meet a lot of people.”

According to the numbers, it’s more people and business on Black Friday — the first Christmas-shopping day following Thanksgiving — than any other day.

ShopperTrak, a research firm that tracks sales and traffic at more than 50,000 stores, says Black Friday has been the top sales day every year but one since it started monitoring holiday data in 2002. The only exception was in 2004, when the Saturday before Christmas stole the crown.

Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, expects Black Friday will maintain that status again this year.

Businesses start as early as 4 a.m. with early-morning deals on clothes and electronics. Whether it’s a $78 Blu-Ray DVD player at Wal-Mart, a $59 geographic positioning system car navigator at Sears or $10 sweaters at JCPenney, merchants hope the once-a-year deals can draw a crowd.

The biggest concern, Hall said, is how to maintain that crowd, because the worst nightmare for any store is to get attention for customers injured during a Black Friday sale.

“The biggest thing is staging the merchandise so we don’t cause bottle-ups in the crowds,” said Hall. “We’re always looking for the safest way to do it.”

His store plans to have about 50-60 employees, not counting cashiers, on Friday — compared to 15-20 on a normal Friday.

One solution is queue lines, areas where customers can line up for one hot item. Hall said the Wal-Mart Web site has maps of each store with queue lines for each hot item. Employees monitor the lines, and check for customers buying multiple items, to limit the lines to only the merchandise on hand.

The national chains aren’t the only stores who see big sales on the Friday. Sheila Savitz, owner of Consigning Women stores in Clovis and Portales, said the store moves a lot of Christmas merchandise along with discount clothing. But the hours and prices don’t really change much.

“We don’t do anything different from what we do Monday through Friday, because we always have a huge discount,” Savitz said. “Being in the consignment business, and being that the economy has taken such a nose dive, it’s nice to get a name-brand item and it only costs you $1.99.”