‘A great day’

Published 8:28 pm Saturday, November 27, 2010

Two big retailers give a peek behind the scenes of Black Friday

By Heather McGinley

Special to the News-Herald

For Gene Shum, more than two months of planning came down just a couple of things on Friday morning — happy customers and positive sales numbers.

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Kohl’s began the getting ready for Black Friday in September, when managers hired 15 to 20 percent additional staff for the holiday season, according to Shum, who is the manager of the chain’s College Drive location.

Kohl’s employees began training for the holidays in September to ensure that employees “focus on customer service no matter what,” Shum said.

That training was put to the test beginning at 3 a.m. Friday, when Shum opened Kohl’s doors for 350 eager Black Friday customers. Shum had no way of keeping track, but he estimates that the number of Kohl’s shoppers on Friday was in the thousands, with 1,500 customers taking advantage of the store’s Early Bird discounts.

When Shum arrived to the store at 1:45 a.m. Friday, he said, “There were already 75 customers lined up outside of the store. Customers began lining up between 11 and midnight.”

To keep everything running smoothly, Shum made sure that the store was staffed with 115 associates working on Black Friday. He opened additional registers, added cashiers, and placed associates “at almost every key area to direct traffic and answer questions.”

In October, Kohl’s begins to receive additional freight to increase merchandise on hand, while bulk stacks of boxed product stacked no more than four feet high, are placed in the center of aisles to make advertised products more accessible to customers.

Shum said that he is proud of “the way my team executed all of the game plan put in place. It was a proud moment to know that I had to do nothing but open the door.”

Across town, a competing merchant prepared in a similar fashion for what is considered to be one of the most important days of the year for a retailer.

Lisa Outland, manager of the Belk on North Main Street, began hiring in mid-October. This year, Belk hired 15-20 additional associates for the holiday season.

Belk begins setting the floor “at least two weeks in advance,” Outland said, so that the items advertised in the circular or store flyers are easily accessible to customers.

Belk opened its doors at 4 a.m. on Friday to eager customers. “Before we were there at 2:30, people were at the store, and they were ready to go,” she said.

Outland said she had no way of knowing how many people took advantage of the Black Friday sales or how many people at the store when she arrived. But there seemed little question the day was a success.

“We gave away 250 gift cards, and they were gone in 11 minutes,” she said. “From the time we opened to the time we closed, there was steady traffic. It was a great day!”

This is Outland’s first year as manager of the Suffolk Belk, but she said , “Other associates say it was busier this year than last year, and it stayed busier.”

Overall, she said, “It was a success because we prepared well, and we were ready for the people that came in. We were all excited to see what this season would bring, and we were ready. I am pleased that we did so well.”

Although he would not share figures, Shum of Kohl’s seemed to agree with his competitor’s assessment of the Black Friday sales.

“Associates came in happy today discussing yesterday’s events,” he said on Saturday. “It lets me know that staffing is where it needs to be. Even customers were giving the staff compliments on how it went.”