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Mississippi retailers luring holiday shoppers

Singing cash registers

Move over, Wal-Mart. From specialty stores to discount warehouses, there’s room for all retailers this holiday season as Mississippi shoppers spend early and often.

“Business is great,” said Bill Hudson, CEO of Hudson Salvage, LLC. “We find that our customers always respond to value. Expensive or inexpensive, high quality or low quality, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is value. People want bargains. They want ‘good stuff cheap.’ Offering name brand merchandise at prices less that any of our competitors is how the Hudson family has built our business.”

Discount or off-price retailers should continue to do well through the end of the year, said Hudson.

“I am not qualified to make predictions on other people’s businesses, but if I were buying stock right now in retail companies, I would only buy companies that are doing a good job in communicating perceived value to their customers,” he said.

Despite a marked increase in Internet holiday shopping, most consumers are buying gifts at the mall.

“Bonita Lakes Mall sales are up slightly versus last year, and trending up through the end of the year,” said mall manager Matt Holligan in Meridian. “Most of the retailers anticipate that cold weather will increase sales performance and expect a great holiday season. Local marketing efforts have shown a positive impact on mall sales as well.”

Jeff D. Snyder, general manager of The Mall at Barnes Crossing in Tuprlo, said retailers reported record back-to-school sales — a key indicator for holiday sales predictions.

“Santa arrived on November 14 and we have topped all traffic count records since then,” he said. “McRae’s and J.C. Penney have already had a couple of big sales events, and the results were impressive. Overall, mall sales have been better this year than in previous years.”

Jewelry stores are reporting strong activity — another good sign that consumer confidence is growing, said Snyder.

“Apparel has seen a surge,” he said. “An even stronger surge will follow as the cooler temps arrive.”

Retailers at Turtle Creek Mall in Hattiesburg have been very positive, said mall manager Bryan LeBlanc.

“Everybody has their lines in place and are ready to go,” he said, days before Black Friday. “The first couple of weeks in November, which over the past three years has been slower than we’d like, has been trending in the positive.”

Last year, people did more looking than buying, said LeBlanc.

“The economy is starting to creep back up and people are getting back into their old routines,” he said. “They are buying smaller ticket items, but more of them. They still want value-oriented items. Overall, I see a lot of necessity-type merchandise being sold.”

Electronics and apparel will continue to be top selling categories, said LeBlanc.

“National retailers can’t just count on the basics, though,” he said. “The Gap, for example, has livened up its marketing in the last few years. They’ve always prided themselves on the khaki, denim and white shirt look. However, for the holidays the past two seasons, they’ve done a real good job of adding a color punch with scarves, hats and accessories and vibrant displays.”

Sharee Lucius, assistant marketing director for Northpark Mall in Ridgeland, said ‘80s toys are making a comeback.

“There’s a very big push for items like Care Bears, G.I. Joes, Strawberry Shortcake and other ‘80s flashback toys,” she said. “Another must-have is the Elmo doll. He’s doing the Hokey Pokey, and is just as popular as the Tickle Me Elmo was.”

Adults are spending more money on unusual gifts, especially for men, with unique retailers like Brookstone, Restoration Hardware and The Camouflage Shop, said Lucius.

“We always know what women’s hot buttons are,” she said. “It’s almost always handbags, and this year, monogram bags are hot, as well as anything trimmed with fur or beads or sequins.”

Camouflage apparel will show up under many Christmas trees, said David Bell, manager of The Camouflage Shoppe in Ridgeland, who reported brisk sales for sportsman gifts.

“Our best selling items include Drake Waterfowl Systems hunting clothes, 100% waterproof Muck Boots and Carhartt rugged work clothes,” he said.

Holiday shoppers are out earlier than usual, said Lucius.

“The displays are very bright and alluring,” she said. “The windows are covered with eye-popping reds and golds. It’s very noisy and exciting, from colors to sound.”

Early sales figures look “real good,” she said.

“I don’t have specific numbers yet, but we all see early purchasing trends,” she said.

LeBlanc agreed. “Overall, we’re very optimistic for the 2003 season,” he said. “I think it’ll be a very good year and we’re in the right place to do that.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.


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