Stores prepare for "Black Friday" shoppers

By DeeAnna Haney | Nov 20, 2012

When it comes to Thanksgiving, people across the nation have turned shopping into as much of a holiday tradition as turkey and stuffing.

Every year, thousands of people pour into stores on the day after Thanksgiving, a day dubbed “Black Friday,” in search of the best deals despite fighting crowds, staying up all night and enduring frigid temperatures.

By the time families have peeked through Black Friday advertisements and circled the best deals, however, retailers have spent weeks making preparations for the biggest shopping day of the year.

Jonathan Collins, general manager at Best Buy, has worked Black Friday for the past nine years, including his time at the stores in Mooresville and Charlotte.

Compared to bigger cities, he said Black Friday in Waynesville is much more calm.

“In Charlotte, people would run rabid, pushing people into displays and running over each other. It’s not quite like that here, though,” he said.

But even in Waynesville, a smooth running Black Friday doesn’t come without plenty of preparation.

By the end of September, Best Buy distributes its “holiday playbook,” which Collins described as a blueprint of what will happen on Black Friday.

About a week before Black Friday, every employee must participate in a “dry run,” where managers put them in situations similar to what they will encounter during the sale.

“You lay out the entire store exactly like it will be on Black Friday so every associate, from working the cash register to selling cell phones, will know what their job will be,” he said.

On average, Best Buy receives 25 percent more merchandise than usual, tasking employees with setting up extra displays and overstocking shelves.

This year, there is an overabundance of televisions and laptop computers, items that Collins expects will be the most popular. He also predicts any Skylanders video game product and the Xbox bundle will sell quickly.

Similarly, Belk employees have been planning their Black Friday strategy since their grand opening at their new location in the Walmart plaza.

“There’s a lot that goes into that one day, especially when it comes to crowd control,” said store manager Terry Rissland.

There will be at least four employees and a police officer to keep order in the line outside before the store opens at midnight, she said. Belkie Bear, the store mascot, will also be entertaining shoppers while in line.

From sweeping up trash to helping customers to their cars with their bags, every employee has a specific job on Black Friday, Rissland said.

“We’re trying to be real concerned about space and people being able to get through the aisles. We want to give people an open shopping experience, a luxury we didn’t have in the old building,” she said.

And for employees working 12-hour shifts that day, the store is providing breakfast, lunch and dinner.

This year marks the first year corporate Sears stores will be open on Thanksgiving Day, but local franchises, such as the one located in the Waynesville Plaza, were able to opt out.

Tom Long, owner of the local franchise, chose to keep the holiday work-free for his employees.

“Most folks in Waynesville still believe it’s important to be with your family on Thanksgiving, and we just wanted to reflect those values and traditions,” he said. “We decided it was more important for our employees to enjoy the day with their families.”

That doesn’t mean his store won’t be participating in Black Friday, though.

While corporate Sears’ stores are opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving and staying open all night, he will still be opening his doors at 4 a.m.

The company's Kmart stores will be open Thanksgiving day.

It’s no wonder store managers must plan every detail of Black Friday. According to the National Retail Federation, more than 226 million shoppers spent $52 billion on the day after Thanksgiving and the following weekend last year.

This year, the federation predicts shoppers will plan to spend slightly more than last year. Based on a consumer survey conducted by BIGinsight, more people than ever before will be shopping online this year. The survey also notes that clothing and gift cards will be the most purchased items.

Making it count

Last year, hundreds of people lined the building at Best Buy several hours before midnight. Many of those waiting brought along portable heaters, folding chairs, blankets and tents to combat the cold night air.

“You always have people camp out six or seven days before,” Collins said.

One woman last year set up a tent at the front door for two days and nights to guarantee her ticket for a $200 42-inch TV.

But it’s those customers that Collins said make the long hours and preparation worth it.

“I took her coffee every morning,” he said. “Truly, the biggest thing is making sure the customers are happy and everything goes smoothly.”

When it comes to making the most of the shopping experience on Black Friday, Collins said it’s best to remember that the big ticket items are “first come, first serve.”

The Waynesville store will always carry what’s advertised as the minimum amount of each product, he said. But until the sale starts at midnight, not even Collins knows exactly how many tickets he will be handing out.

Although hundreds of shoppers hoped to buy the sale TV last year, only about 12 tickets were given out in Waynesville, he said.

This year, the store is offering a a 40-inch Toshiba LCD/HDTV for $180 and a 4 GB Samsung laptop for $350.

Belk will be handing out free gift cards, ranging from $5 to $1,000, to the first 369 people in line, Rissland said. During the early bird sale from midnight until 1 p.m. on Black Friday, Belk will have over 330 items slashed in price.

“Everybody needs to come buy a pair of boots. We’re having a great sale on ladies’ boots,” she said.

One of the main draws at Sears, said Long, will be a Kenmore large capacity frontloading washer and dryer set on sale for $800 as opposed to the regular price of $1,700. To receive the sale price, customers must use their Sears’ credit card or can quickly and easily sign up for a new one.

Named business of the month by the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce in April, Best Buy strives to always center their job around customers, said Collins, and Black Friday is no exception.

"We make it our goal to get everyone into the Christmas spirit early and have a great shopping experience," he said. "Every register will be open and we will be working as quickly as we can."

And when it comes to making the day successful, both Collins and Rissland said patience is a virtue.

"Be patient and know that we've prepared well for them and done everything that we could do to make the shopping experience pleasant," Rissland said.