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Retailers gear up for holiday season


Heading into their second Christmas season as the owners of Chocolate Storybook, Meg and Steve Shearer are already seeing their business up over last year.

The popular West Des Moines chocolate shop generates up to 70 percent of its sales during the holiday season. This year, the Shearers are hiring four seasonal employees to augment their staff of 14 part-timers.     “I do think the economy is turning around,” said Meg Shearer, whose business will ship out hundreds of gift boxes each week through the holiday season.

Retailers won’t have to be in the confectionery business to have a sweet holiday season this year. The National Retail Federation projects that holiday sales will increase 5.7 percent this year over last year to $217.4 billion, which would be the largest increase since 1999.

Additonally, local temporary staffing agencies are handling more placements heading into this holiday season than last year, an indication of improving economic conditions.   

Because many retailers generate between 25 and 40 percent of their annual sales during the holiday season, “there’s still time for retailers to show positive gains in 2003,” Tracy Mullin, the NRF’s president and chief executive, said in a news release. “Retailers can expect a much better holiday season than last year.”  

For Chocolate Storybook, an increase in large corporate orders is sweetening the bottom line. A company might order 600 chocolate-caramel-dipped apples at one time, for instance. Selling the same volume from the front of the shop might take a couple of weeks, Meg Shearer said.

Internet orders from its Web site is also contributing to sales, she said. Last Easter about 20 percent of the shop’s revenues were from online orders that shipped across the country, a figure that could be repeated this Christmas, she said.

According to the retail federation’s 2003 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, consumers plan to spend an average $672 this holiday season, up from $649 in 2002.   Increased retail spending means retailers will need to hire more temporary sales staff, said Steve Risius, owner of USA Staffing Inc. of Des Moines. The company also places temporary bartenders, banquet servers and catering staff for holiday parties.      “We’re seeing probably a 50 percent increase over the past two years,” said Risius, who estimates his company’s three branch offices will place between 150 and 200 people in the retail and hospitality sectors this holiday season.

Manpower Inc. of Des Moines, which handles a broader cross section of temporary workers, is “a little busier” than it was this time last year, said Mike Lynch, manager of the company’s Central Iowa region.

“It’s not a real significant increase, like all of a sudden the dam burst and everything’s good again,” he said. “But we’ve seen steady growth over last year.” Manpower typically handles about 60 percent administrative-clerical positions and about 35 percent light industrial and warehouse jobs, with a small number of technical-professional positions.

In late October, Kelly Services Inc. held a job fair for Electronic Data Systems Corp. to fill 150 seasonal positions for the company’s order fulfillment center in Des Moines.

Staffing at the 405,000-square-foot complex on Army Post Road swells to about 1,000 people each fall to accommodate seasonal order taking and product shipping. The company currently provides the outsourcing service for 21 client companies, shipping products ranging from cosmetics to bird feeders from the Des Moines facility.

“Some of our clients are seeing some pretty dramatic increases they didn’t have in their forecasts, which is good for us,” said Skip Trevathan, vice president of operations for demand management and distribution for EDS.

“Some clients are up and others are down,” he said, “but as an aggregate the business for the clients is pretty flat. If I have one client that’s up and one that’s down, I just rotate staff where the work is.”


Best Buy Co. Inc., a big-box electronics and appliances retailer, said it has already hired as many as 50 workers at its University Avenue store in West Des Moines as it gears up for what some economists have predicted will be the busiest shopping season since 1999.

Rick Nelson, merchandize manager of the University Avenue store, said the company had conducted two job fairs in West Des Moines and that it would hold a third this week. Nelson said he hoped to add a total of 75 temporary workers to his store’s 150-employee roster through January.

He said it was likely that Best Buy’s two other Central Iowa locations, on Southeast 14th Street and in Ames, have added comparable numbers of workers.

Best Buy’s employee discount policy stipulates that a worker must have 30 days of tenure before qualifying. During the holiday season, Nelson said, the company waives that policy and allows workers to qualify immediately for the discount.


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