Student shoppers shape business strategy for retailers

Local business, like those lining Kirkwood Avenue or surrounding the downtown square, stand to rake in a little extra cash in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

The National Retail Federation, one of the largest retail trade groups in the U.S., expects a 4.1 percent rise in sales during the months of November through December, according to an October forecast report.

For some local businesses, the holiday season is about more than just a bump in sales. It’s about earning a bulk of their yearly profits.

Talisha Coppock is the executive director of Downtown Bloomington Inc., a nonprofit membership organization that aims to revitalize the downtown area.

“The holiday season is crucial for some local businesses,” Coppock said. “Especially in Bloomington, it’s even more important because of the IU schedule. People start leaving town around mid-December. Those weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are really, really important.”

By Hand Gallery in Fountain Square Mall, 101 W. Kirkwood Ave., sells handmade crafts made almost exclusively in Indiana.

Manager Sharon Bussert said about one-third to one-half of the co-operative’s total yearly sales are made during the last two months of the year.

“December is by far our biggest month,” Bussert said.

Usually, just one manager operates the gallery, but during the last two weeks of the shopping season, the co-operative’s 11 owners come in to sell their handiwork.

Bussert said the gallery doesn’t pay for a lot of extra holiday advertising. Rather, its name and Bloomington’s local business culture entices customers.

“First of all, their money is going to support their own community instead of buying things from overseas,” Bussert said. “They’ll also find things that are more unique, as many of these things were made one of a kind.”

At The Game Preserve in College Mall, 2894 E. Third St., holiday traffic is driving up sales, but not to the extent store manager Wendi Ketchen would like.

Competition from big box retailers swipe away some of the shop’s business, though Ketchen said store patrons often visit their shop after not finding what they need at larger stores.

“Our biggest sales come closer to Christmas,” Ketchen said. “That’s when we’re busiest, the last few Saturdays before the big day.”

She estimated the business earns an additional $500 during the holiday season.Top sellers are puppets, as well as higher priced specialty games that buyers can more easily justify buying during the holiday season.

John Bailey, managing partner of Malibu Grill, 106 N. Walnut St., said the restaurant sees more festive customers during the season. He said in terms of sales, not much changes.

“A lot of the students are gone, but you get a lot of the holiday traffic,” Bailey said. “Before Christmas and New Year’s, people are festive. After, they’re done. They’ve had enough food and parties and gifts.”

The holiday season means low sales for some businesses. Superior Shoes manager Amber Conner said now is a slow time her’s.

“It gets a lot slower during the holiday season because it’s hard to buy shoes for other people,” Conner said. “It’s usually bigger for us in the spring and summer.”

Gift cards and shoe care packages are its main way of tapping into the holiday market, which worked on days like Small Business Saturday, a day to promote local small businesses on the day after the infamous Black Friday. Coppock offered last-minute shoppers a tip.

“We really try to say ‘at least think local first,’” she said. “And then, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, then go elsewhere.”

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