Holiday Sales So Far: Upbeat Awaiting Black Friday

I checked in with the three small retailers we’re tracking throughout the holidays on the eve of Thanksgiving weekend. They sound cautiously upbeat.

Frank Simoncioni, CEO of New Orleans candy maker Aunt Sally’s Pralines, says that his retail business in October was up 20% over 2008, and November’s jump should be even bigger. He has seen Aunt Sally’s wholesale business more than double, thanks in part to an award the praline company won from the National Confectionery Sales Association and some good press that surrounded that. Simoncioni also noted that half of Aunt Sally’s web sales are to new customers, which he attributed to a revamped site optimized for search engines.

“We’re expecting a giant weekend, not because it’s Black Friday, because Black Friday doesn’t affect Aunt Sally’s that much. We’re more tourism driven,” Simoncioni says. “This weekend happens to be a big football weekend. We have Monday Night Football with the Saints who are undefeated.” Between the tourist traffic from the holiday and the football game, he expects a boost. On top of that, Aunt Sally’s will be on QVC for the first time at midnight on Dec. 3.

Meanwhile, at Overstock Art, the Kansas online retailer of replica paintings, November sales are up 40% so far compared to last year. And while Black Friday isn’t as big a deal for online retailers as it is for mall stores and other brick-and-mortars, Overstock’s CEO David Sasson sees it growing. In an email, Sasson says

In the last 3 years or so, it has started becoming a much more significant day for us. I think buyers are starting to say, I like the tradition of shopping on Black Friday, but I hate fighting the crowds. … For example last year we had an increase of 30% when comparing the sales during the Thanksgiving weekend (Thursday, Black Friday, Saturday and Sunday), to the previous four days.

Finally, some notes from Mathias Eichler of the Olympia, Wash., European home and kitchen goods store Einmaleins. He saw November sales up 63% so far compared to last year, when the holiday season did not really pick up until Black Friday. His customer count is almost double, though his average ticket (that is, the total spent by each customer) dropped by $8 to $40.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to hold those November numbers into December — basically I don’t have enough product in the store and don’t have enough money to buy more product right now,” Eichler said in an email. He discussed the challenge of anticipating demand and stocking accordingly a few weeks ago. Last year Einmaleins ran out of some items. The store’s limited credit from lenders and suppliers also makes inventory management more difficult.

But Eichler says his business, founded just over two years ago on the edge of the Great Recession, has persisted. “I suppose this is quite unique, but we opened the business already in a downturn and are growing now not just with the slow recovery, but also are utilizing social media tools better and are extending our reach, way, way beyond our storefront.”

This is a big weekend for all three of these businesses — as it is for small retailers online and off across the country. We’ll check back again next week and see how they fare.

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