Retailers report good sales

Published 3:04 pm Friday, December 31, 2010

Suffolk businesses flourished this holiday season, and according to local retailers, people are still buying.

“Sales were better than anyone projected,” said Susan Milhoan, President and CEO of the Retail Alliance, an organization representing the interests of retailers across Hampton Roads. “The National Retail Federation projected a 2-percent increase. It was well above that.”

The total increase in sales was actually within the 5- to 12-percent range, Milhoan said.

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Milhoan and a sampling of local retailers credit the increase to what they hope to be an improving economy, reasonable prices, customer service and making use of new marketing strategies.

Those surveyed this week were in agreement that the atmosphere seemed to be lighter for local shoppers this year.

“The mood seemed to be lighter, better and brighter,” said Rhonda Bowles, co-owner of D.B. Bowles Jewelers. “Customers were more upbeat this year.”

Marcy Miller, owner of Uniquely Leo’s, credits some of this season’s success to the November election and to an improving economy and stock market. She said people are more confident about spending money when they feel secure in their leadership and in their finances.

Miller said she noticed an increase in her sales following the November elections. She also noticed a substantial increase in sales this year over sales the last two Christmas seasons.

“Customers were more in the spirit and wanted to spend money,” she said. “The last two years have been fairly bleak.”

Retailers also said it was important to put reasonable prices on their goods. Milhoan, too, said, area retailers seemed to understand the needs of their customers and provided them with prices that contributed to the increased profits and sales.

“Everything is coming back into alignment,” she said.

Customer service was another factor that increased sales this year. Suffolk retailers said that returning customers helped increase their sales.

“If we don’t have it, we’ll build it,” Bowles said. “We get people what they’d really like to have.”

Uniquely Leo’s and A. Dodson’s shopkeepers pride themselves on having items that are unique. They said their prices, combined with the novelty of their merchandise, helped them to achieve their sales goals this holiday season.

Making use of new marketing strategies also contributed to increased sales for some retailers.

“There are so many things that you can do to increase sales and wallet share,” Milhoan said.

A. Dodson’s made use of social networking and held events to increase sales this year.

According to Kim Glover, director of marketing for the North Suffolk store, using Facebook creates a conversation with customers in which the retailer can post information about sales and store flyers and the customers can post their interests and respond to store flyers. “We have been able to see a direct relation between content on Facebook and sales in the store,” said Glover.

A. Dodson’s also held a holiday open house and shopping events in which they invited groups from different companies to shop and donated 15% of the profits to a charity of the company’s choosing.

Overall, “It was a refreshingly positive season,” Milhoan said. “It was the best in the past three years.”