Merchants happy with Christmas season
Layoffs at the mill here didn’t have a huge impact on local merchants this Christmas season, but the jury is still out on what 2013 will bring.
Although Resolute Forest Products announced just a month before Christmas that its kraft mill and #5 paper machine here were being idled indefinitely, resulting in 239 employees being laid off, people continued to shop in Fort Frances.
“We think January and February will be the months when most of the local stores will be more affected by the layoffs,” he predicted.
Green said the Christmas season went well.
“There was still a fair amount of people,” he noted. “I know downtown was busy, especially the few days before Christmas, and that’s bound to happen no matter what.
“With the conditions that there were, it was successful.”
To combat the potential dip in sales, Green said they ran a different sale than they normally do—something a little more discount-oriented during the month of December.
“It was the Stocking Stuffer Sale,” he explained. “Basically, you pulled a stocking off of our Christmas tree and you got a discount of anywhere from seven to 50 percent off.”
Sales of larger items were down, Green conceded.
“We saw quite a few entertainment stands, chairs and recliners, and occasional tables and dining sets sold,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Green’s has plans to keep business steady into the new year.
“We have our big January clearance sale,” Green noted.
The store will be closed Dec. 30-Jan. 2 in preparation for the sale, which begins Jan. 3 at 10 a.m.
Over at Northwoods Gallery & Gifts on Scott Street, only a slight dip in sales was noticed leading up to Christmas.
“November-December, we noticed a difference [in sales],” said owner Connie Cuthbertson.
“But overall, we were busy and it was great to see a lot of people supporting the store and helping us through the season,” she enthused.
“We understand it’s a reality and if you are unsure of what your future is as far as a job goes, you’re not going to be spending as much.”
“With Christmas, people still have to buy gifts,” reasoned sales clerk Neila Booth.
“Maybe not as many as they bought in the past but we were still really steady,” she noted.
“We were busy right up until closing time on Christmas Eve.”
Booth added the merchandise sold varied greatly.
“We had such a mixture this year,” she remarked. “I think it’s because our store carries so many different items . . . and we have such a variety of giftware.
“For us, our Woodwick candles are always one of our number-one sellers.
“We were pleased with the sales,” Booth added.
“With the mill, of course, things are going to be affected, but maybe it kept more people in town shopping,” she reasoned.
“We had a weekly event where we featured a different product each week in the month of December,” noted Cuthbertson.
“It went really well.”
The store also has begun using Facebook as a marketing tactic.
“We’ve been on Facebook for a while, but we just started actively working with it and we had some really great results from that,” said Cuthbertson.
“So that will be a direction we will focus on in the future, for sure.”
Looking into the new year, Booth said it’s hard to predict what will happen.
“Everybody’s optimistic and hoping that things will be all right,” she said.
“We’ve got all of our Christmas items on sale for half-price, and we always have sales on for the month of January as we change over to the new year,” noted Cuthbertson.
So while sales were down, traffic remained steady.
“I’ve talked to many other business, too, and it seems to be a general trend,” said Cuthbertson.
“There were pockets of pluses, but that’s the nature of the game.”
The local Canadian Tire, for instance, was one businesses that reported an increase in sales.
“Our Christmas sales the past two weeks have been over last year, so we’ve been stronger than 2011 in the last two weeks,” said Associate dealer Rick Smith.
“Once the announcement for the mill came out, we certainly noticed a decrease in our traffic at the store,” he recalled.
“But leading up to Christmas over the last three weeks, we’ve noticed a tremendous bump in our sales and our traffic count in our store.”
Smith felt it was the initial impact of the mill layoffs that slowed sales for a few weeks.
“Once people got over that feeling of despair that’s associated with these announcements, they realized that there are some great deals at Canadian Tire and our staff was here to serve them,” Smith remarked.
“[The community] responded very well,” he added. “Over the past few weeks, we’ve had some tremendous growth.”
Smith noted that hunting, camping, automotive, tools, and marine areas of the store were the busiest over the holiday season.
“We’ve got a great team here at our store and we all rallied together to give customers the best experience,” he said.
While smaller business may be using sales to boost business, Smith said they’re taking a different approach.
“Our focus is on making sure we’ve got an ‘in-stock’ position,” he explained. “If it’s in the flyer, then we’ve got it at our store.”
Smith also said he’s optimistic that we’re in for a good year in 2013.
“I think I’m more optimistic than I ever have been over the past couple of weeks,” he noted.