Spokane-area retailers expect strong holiday season
Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year and for local retailers, it couldn’t land on a better day.
Last-minute shoppers have a full weekend to hit the malls and other retail outlets, and all day Monday, too.
If they’re ordering online, “it’s one more day for delivery for procrastinators,” said Murray Huppin, president and owner of Huppin’s TV Audio Camera More. “You can buy it Sunday and still get it Monday … unless you waited too long and all the hottest products are gone.”
The National Retail Federation is projecting a better-than-average year for Christmas shopping, with a 4.3 to 4.8 percent increase in sales over last year. Local retailers are similarly optimistic, saying the region’s strong job growth, low unemployment rates and appreciating home prices bode well for consumer confidence.
Spokane area residents will spread their money around this season, hitting the malls, patronizing small businesses and shopping online, according to a survey by Washington State University’s Carson College of Business. While they appreciate the convenience of online purchases and the ability to compare prices, they also like to see products in person, take advantage of in-store specials and try on clothing.
A majority of the local consumers surveyed said they want to spend their money with retailers who share their values and have a positive impact on the community. And many said they prefer to give practical gifts that the recipients could use every day.
Here’s the outlook from five local retailers.
‘Access to the deal’
At the Huppin’s 35,000-square-foot warehouse in Spokane Valley, the packages awaiting shipment are destined for California, Texas and Michigan. The company was founded in 1908 in downtown Spokane and its brick-and-mortar store at 8016 N. Division will be busy through the holidays selling televisions, TV sound bars, Bluetooth speakers and wireless headphones. Household goods, such as coffee makers and cookware, are popular at Christmas, too.
But the Huppin’s warehouse represents the majority of the company’s sales these days. The company has its own website and also is a third-party seller on Amazon and Walmart websites.
“The business is constantly evolving,” said Huppin, the fourth-generation owner. “Every retailer is trying their best to create access to the deal in the way the consumer wants to shop.”
Online or in-store, Huppin is anticipating a strong holiday season.
“Consumer confidence is high,” he said. “We’ve seen good business throughout this year.”
Looking for some levity
The holidays are a good time for book sales, said John Waite, the owner of Auntie’s Bookstore, 402 W. Main St. People are buying reading material for themselves and to give as gifts.
This year, he sees a trend toward lighter fare, with “funny, kitchy” titles selling well.
“The world is a complicated place, and books are good place to go away and escape,” Waite said.
One popular title this year is “ … And Then You Die of Dysentery: Lessons in Adulting from the Oregon Trail,” by Lauren Reeves.
The book’s dark humor is a throwback to the Oregon Trail computer game, first produced as an educational game in the 1970s “where everyone died,” Waite said.
He expects Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming,” to sell well at Auntie’s this holiday season and also predicts strong local interest in “Cooking Scrappy” by Joel Gamoran, host of the A&E TV cooking series. The book’s 100 recipes focus on “down-to-earth, sustainable” cooking, he said.
The trend toward patronizing locally owned retailers is encouraging to Waite. “A lot of people seemingly want to support small businesses,” he said. “That message is starting to come through.”
Spokane-based Millianna sells “fashion forward jewelry” featuring crystal beads. The holidays are important to the company’s sales.
“About 60 percent of our business is in the last quarter of the year,” said Arianna Brooke, the company’s co-founder.
The Spokane native worked on the East Coast in the fashion industry before co-founding Millianna with a friend in 2010. The company relocated to Spokane, where the jewelry is handmade. Many of the employees are women refugees, who are trained to weave and string the crystal beads into designs.
“They bring a fantastic work ethic and a pride in the quality of the work,” Brooke said.
The company sells its jewelry online at Millianna.com and through wholesalers, with prices ranging from $55 to $900, depending on the complexity of the piece. Although most of the company’s sales are on the East Coast, its jewelry also resonates with local hipsters, Brooke said.
Popular this year are pieces featuring “evil eye” motifs, Catholic imagery and ostrich feathers. Some of the jewelry comes with python skin accents.
“You can wear this with jeans and a T-shirt,” Brooke said. Or, it could highlight a dressier outfit. “It’s about not being so segregated from what you wear to work to what you wear to dinner,” she said.
The colder, the better
Weather has a big influences on holiday sales at Mountain Gear Inc.
“The colder and snowier it is, the happier I am,” said Paul Fish, owner of the outdoor retailer.
The holidays coincide with the start of the ski season and winter recreation. Warm coats, hats, boots, wool socks and Kahtoola brand microspikes are traditionally good sellers, Fish said. Cross-country skies, snowshoes and even kayaks and canoes are popular, too.
“People are trying to stay warm, people are trying to stay safe and people are wanting to have fun outside,” Fish said.
About 20 percent of Mountain Gear’s sales are generated between Thanksgiving and Jan. 1. Although the company offers online sales through its website, “our best prices are in the store” at 2002 N. Division St., Fish said.
Gifts with a story
Kim Harmson is the owner of Kizuri, 35 W. Main St., which sells handcrafted items from all over world.
She launched the retail outlet a decade ago during the recession, but said the stories behind the gifts have made Kizuri a mainstay for shoppers looking for something a little different, and who want their purchasing dollars to do good in the world.
“We carry an eclectic variety of things, many made by artisans in developing countries under the fair trade label,” Harmson said.
Handcrafted soap and beeswax candles are strong sellers at Christmas. Kizuri also added a line of colorful cloth napkins ($22 for four) and reusable shopping bags (about $13 each) from Guatemala. The products were made by a women’s business cooperative recently started by a Spokane couple.
Kizuri also stocks felt dryer balls made in Nepal, which offer a natural alternative to dryer sheets, and Ethiopian jewelry made from melted down bullet casings from the country’s civil war.
The women who make the jewelry are “repurposing something horrible into something successful,” Harmson said.