Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Last-second shoppers boost business

Gift store proprietors say holiday season is key to whole year

Express Staff Writer

Christmas shoppers in Ketchum get ready for the big day. Photo by Mountain Express

Procrastinating on holiday shopping may do some good after all, as local businesses say they are seeing an infusion in cash from last-minute shoppers in the week before Christmas.

"It's chaos," said Michelle Ferris, owner of Ketchum Flower Company and Girl Friday gift shop in Ketchum. "Christmas Eve is my second-busiest day to Valentine's."

With the arrival of seasonal residents and visitors this week, it would seem that "slack," the slow shoulder season between summer fun and powder skiing, is finally over.

Though Ferris said this year has been slightly slower for her due to the economy, Country Cousin co-owner George King said he has been running ragged this week in an attempt to fulfill the needs of holiday shoppers.

"We can feel [the uptick in business] in the store, and the cash register proves it," he said. "These are obviously not your typical mid-ski-season shoppers. We're seeing a bigger mix of people."

Ferris said that she is more of a local's business, but she's seen more and more visitors coming in over the past week to purchase holiday items.

Janette Zimmerman, general manager of The Picket Fence in Ketchum, said she starts to see a larger mix of tourists and locals about this time, though like Ferris, she said business has been down from last year.

"This week has not been as busy as we had hoped," she said. "Normally, we are just crazy busy."

King said that while his gift store caters to skiers looking for Sun Valley souvenirs, he can tell the holiday shoppers apart from the ones who are stopping in to purchase a memory of their ski trip.

"They are in the holiday mood, and the purchases are different," he said.

The average purchase size tends to be larger as the holiday season approaches, and King said he hears different conversations surrounding the items to be bought.

"Now, at the counter, they are always saying, 'Do you think Daddy will like this?'" he said.

Good thing holidays bring larger purchases, King said, because the store relies on December shopping to remain in the black for the rest of the year.

"December and January tend to match July and August [sales]," he said. "We definitely depend on Christmas. I can't get you a number, but it's a very large percentage of our annual sales."

Barbara Brandt, employee at Lotus gift shop in Ketchum, said that she has seen an increase in gift-buyers, mostly people buying for family members.

However, she said that the store has a large number of gifts perfect for those last-second people on everyone's list—hostess gifts, Secret Santa gifts and "backup gifts" for those unexpected presents.

Candles are always a popular hostess gift, Zimmerman said, along with decoupage trays decorated with messages such as "Happy Holidays." Zimmerman said her store has seen incredible sales of high-end candles in holiday scents.

"They have really been our hottest sellers this year," she said.

"Certainly a candle always makes a good hostess gift," said King, but added that some kitchen-related items might also make a good last-minute present. He suggested decorative wine stoppers or wine bottle decorations could work, as well as Sun Valley-themed coasters.

Christmas tree ornaments are also a good idea, King said.

"Ornaments always make a great last-minute gift, if you're going to dinner and picking something up at the last minute," he said.

Brandt suggested a scarf or plate chargers for hostess gifts with a little extra panache, or serving trays recently purchased from Burma by store owner Gay Odmark. One special gift—perhaps for a Secret Santa exchange with a higher price limit—could be brightly-colored throws made from recycled sari silk, Brandt said.

Ferris said she would recommend trivia books, specialty Mad Libs booklets and other game-type items for Secret Santa exchanges, while King said most of the purchases he's seen have been novelty items such as card-based drinking games and shot glasses.

"It depends on what group of people you are working for and working with," he said. "I used to work for a high school, and I know how crazy things used to get with our exchanges."

As for back-up gifts, Zimmerman said her store's top seller has been "The Sun Valley Story," the latest book about the resort by Van Gordon Sauter that has universal appeal for those with an interest in the town. It's available at multiple stores in the valley.

Brandt suggests brightly colored photo frames or photo albums for that unexpected gift that requires reciprocation.

"Photo albums are so adorable, and ... picture frames are so lovely," she said. "Everyone likes picture frames."

For true procrastinators, some stores will be open all day on Christmas Eve.

"We're going to go so long as people are in front of the register," King said.

Katherine Wutz:

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