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Holiday hiring may take a holiday
by Sarah Cooper
Oct 22, 2009 | 1011 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Debra Reid -
Costume designer Shelly George is working a seasonal job at the Spirit Hallloween store in Sparks. The store closes on Nov. 1.
Tribune/Debra Reid - Costume designer Shelly George is working a seasonal job at the Spirit Hallloween store in Sparks. The store closes on Nov. 1.
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Retailers at the Legends at Sparks Marina were tight-lipped Thursday on the topic of hired holiday help. As the Christmas “sale” signs lay in wait in the back rooms, retail forecasts in the midst of economic depression were optimistic, but realistic.

Managers across the center, who see the ins and outs of local business, said that they were forbidden from speaking to the media because of corporate rules. However, many were pessimistic about the retail destination’s first holiday season.

“We didn’t do as well as we would have liked,” said one Gymboree employee who declined to give her name. “Then we have our existing staff, who want more hours.”

The store, which sells stylish high-quality children’s clothing and accessories, is not hiring more than two seasonal employees this year, when during a normal retail season it may hire seven, according to the employee.

The story was the same at other stores.

According to the Retail Association of Nevada, just 19 percent of major national retailers responding to a survey by Aon Consulting said they will hire more workers this season. Forty-four percent plan to hire fewer and 37 percent intend to hire the same number.

“We do not think that hiring is going to be where it was last year or the year before,” said Bryan Wachter, deputy director of the retail association.

Instead of accepting new employees, Wachter expected local companies to tackle the holiday shopping onslaught with more creative tactics.

“Maybe they will return employees who got their hours cut back to full time,” Wachter said as one possibility.

According to the Aon survey, online retailers adjusted to the economy in a variety of ways. Nine in 10 retailers focused on preserving margins, while 88 percent of retailers amplified promotions or increased “value” messaging. Slightly more than half of retailers (53 percent) lowered prices as a result of the economy.

The decreased hiring of holiday help may be a result of corporate caution after last year’s tumble in sales, rather than a lack of money to pay seasonal employees this year.

“Employers are going to be just as cautious as consumers,” Wachter said.

The National Retail Federation is forecasting that sales will decline by 1 percent this year. Last year, retail sales dropped 3.4 percent.

“For them to come out and say that is big, this is the first time they have been that pessimistic,” Wachter said.

The federation released its 2009 holiday forecast on Oct. 6, projecting holiday retail industry sales to decline this year to $437.6 billion.

“While this number falls significantly below the 10-year average of 3.39 percent holiday season growth, the decline is not expected to be as dramatic as last year’s 3.4 percent drop in holiday retail sales nor as severe as the 3.0 percent decline in annual retail industry sales expected for all of 2009,” the federation said in a release.

Wachter’s hope for local retail industry was that sales would at least maintain the status quo.

“We will be happy if we can meet the sales we did last year,” he said.

Holiday sales in 2008 declined 3.4 percent to $441.97 billion, the first year NRF has seen a decline since it began tracking retail industry sales in 1992. On average, holiday sales have increased 3.39 percent per year for the last 10 years. Last year, national retailers slashed their hiring, bringing on roughly 380,000 seasonal employees — half the number they hired the year before and the fewest since 1989, according to Associated Press reports.

“The expectation of another challenging holiday season does not come as news to retailers, who have been experiencing a pullback in consumer spending for over a year,” said NRF president and CEO Tracy Mullin. “To compensate, retailers’ focus on the holiday season has been razor-sharp with companies cutting back as much as possible on operating costs in order to pass along aggressive savings and promotions to customers.”

However, the holiday season is still a traditional shot in the arm for many retailers as well as local economies.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, retailers boosted their employment numbers by 1.49 percent for the 2008 holiday season.

In short, retailers are still hiring.

For many retailers, the holiday season can represent anywhere between 25 to 40 percent of annual sales. In 2008, holiday sales represented 18.5 percent of total retail industry sales, according to the federation.
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