Reno businesses, big and small, prep for boost from holiday shoppers
It’s a Thursday afternoon in early November, and Christine Kelly is drifting through the many rooms inside Sundance Books and Music near downtown Reno as the faint, musky odor of new and used novels fills the air.
“It’s our big season,” Kelly, the longtime owner of Sundance, says with a smile when asked about the looming holidays. “If the stars are aligned and things are as normal as they should be, usually in the fourth quarter we start picking up.”
Wall to wall, Sundance brims with books — from Malcolm Gladwell’s latest to Ernest Hemingway’s greatest. The music area is stocked with vinyl records and CDs — from Pink Floyd to Green Day. Inside nearly every room of the two-story store inside the historic Levy Mansion, people peruse book titles with a careful eye, some squinting with intent focus as they pluck pages from the shelves.
“Everything you see in this store, whether it be music or books or gifts, is hand-selected,” Kelly says. “Every item is chosen with intention for this space and for our audience.
“A challenge is always making sure that at the end of the day, the physical books — the things you’re bringing in — keep pace with what’s going out,” she continued. “And that you’re keeping your environment very interesting and engaging.”
AVENGING THE AGE OF AMAZON
There was a time when Kelly, who’s owned Sundance for 35 years, didn’t have to put much thought into the look and feel of her small business. Decades ago, when people wanted to buy books or music, they walked into her cozy store.
However, in the age of Amazon and other e-commerce retailers enabling consumers to fill their bookshelves (and kitchen shelves, for that matter) with a few keystrokes and clicks, small businesses have to find ways to stay competitive. That challenge is perhaps none greater than the holiday season.
Retail e-commerce spending during the 2019 holiday season is forecast to rise 13.2 percent — more than three times the rate of total retail spending growth — to the tune of $135.5 billion, according to market research company eMarketer. Cyber Monday (Dec. 2 this year) alone is expected to be the biggest online shopping day in history, with a total that could approach $10 billion, eMarketer predicts.
With Amazon-led online holiday shopping growing, how do brick-and-mortar stores draw eyes away from digital shopping screens and pull them through their doors this time of year?
For Kelly, Sundance’s unique, inviting space helps. Ditto the friendly staff of “dedicated book and music people” who Kelly says “come to know your tastes and interests.” Moreover, Sundance holds holiday-oriented author book signings and events this time of year.
“We compete because we provide a physical space that you can actually come look at shelves full of books and sections and displays,” she says. “And we have the space to hold events.”
‘TOUCH, TRY, BUY’
To that end, Jeannine Hall, marketing director at Meadowood Mall in Reno, sums up brick-and-mortar stores’ edge with three words.
“Touch, try, buy,” Hall said during a November phone interview. “There are still people who want to try their clothes on to make sure they fit. And then while they’re here, they want to grab a bite to eat, they maybe want to go play some video games.
“There is definitely a need for online shopping, but it can’t match the experience of actually coming into a center, trying on the clothing, making sure the fabric is what you think it is, the colors are what you think they are.”
Meadowood Mall, Hall said, also offers shoppers a festive experience, from photos with Santa — including dates designated for children with special needs — to singing Christmas choirs to gift-wrapping done by the Nevada Boy Scouts of America.
Further, the mall’s big box stores — such as Macy’s, JCPenney and Dick’s Sporting Goods — combine brick-and-mortar and e-commerce. This, Hall noted, gives consumers not only the ability to buy online, but also the convenience of bringing in items that need to be exchanged or returned.
Offering dual shopping options has been a boon for big box stores, especially during the holidays. For example, in 2017, nearly 35 percent of Macy’s sales came during the holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.
“I think it’s actually a really dynamic time for shopping centers right now,” Hall told the NNBV. “Because we have the ability to do both — infusing the brick-and-mortar with the online experience.”
When asked what kind of revenue influx Meadowood receives over the holidays, Hall was unable to share specific numbers due to the mall’s owner, Simon Property Group, being a publicly traded company.
She added: “But I can share that we’re really expecting it to just be an incredibly brisk, busy holiday season.”
‘IT’S AN EXCITING TIME’
So does the National Retail Foundation, which expects holiday sales during November and December to jump about 4 percent over 2018 to a total of up to $730 billion.
Another local small business, Jimmy Beans Wool, a Reno-based retailer of yarn and accessories for knitters with a physical and e-commerce presence, gets a bump as the year comes to a close, said co-owner Laura Zander.
Specifically, Zander noted that last year Jimmy Beans saw a 15 percent increase in sales during the holiday season as opposed to the “slow” season (April/May).
“It’s definitely the beginning of the busy season,” Zander said. “We see a lot of gift buying, we see a lot of gift certificate buying.
“It’s an exciting time. We plan all year for it.”
As a small business owner, Zander said Jimmy Beans can’t afford to “just sell everything 70 percent off one day a year or a weekend” like big box stores do on Black Friday.
“We can’t have a massive number of sales, but lose money on every sale, it just doesn’t work,” she said. “It’s very challenging to try to compete against somebody when you’re not playing the same game. If one of our competitors, let’s say, sold $20 million worth of product, but they lost $10 million … we can’t afford that. I don’t have $10 million to just lose.”
SHOPPING LOCALLY – AND SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY
This reflects one of the many reasons why shopping local during the holidays is so important, said Ann Silver, CEO of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce.
“Because we are a community that takes great pride in our local economy and beating back the recession and coming out strong, it’s that much more important that local businesses are where we spend our money,” Silver said. “The businesses in our local community provide all the goods and services we’ve all come to rely on and that, in fact, create the wonderful lifestyle we have here.”
With that in mind, Silver said the Reno-Sparks Chamber strongly promotes Small Business Saturday, the shopping holiday held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It falls on Nov. 30 this year.
According to the 2018 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey, 104 million shoppers spent a record high of $17.8 billion last year.
“We can’t beat back Amazon, and we’re not trying to, but I think people can connect with neighbors and friends and family by shopping locally,” Silver said. “These are our neighbors and friends who run these stores. They’re not large corporations. They are people who live in our community and are striving to make their business successful and place that’s inviting for residents and tourists.
“And we should pay credit to them and respect them by shopping local.”
Kelly, for one, says her Sundance Books and Music store sees a boost in sales on Small Business Saturday, adding: “Our community has been supportive and I know other businesses have this experience where they do see an uptick.”
“I point out many cases of where privately owned companies do just as bad a job as publicly owned companies,” says Reno resident and former teacher Robert (R.D.) Gardner.