The holiday season marks crunch time for many local retailers, who see their largest profits in the final two months of the year and could struggle the following year if revenues are not what was expected.
According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, from 2012-16, retail sales in Travis County increased by 11 percent in the fourth quarter compared to sales in the third quarter on average. Similarly, sales on average decrease by
19 percent in the first quarter after the holidays.
“That’s why they call it Black Friday; it brings a business out of the red for the first time all year,” said Catherine Franklin, co-owner of 12 Tables Jewelers in West Lake Hills.
While customers may expect to still find fall decor in the late part of October, Gene Attal, founder of LizzyLu gift shop in West Lake Hills, said he closes the for three days the week before Oct. 31 to set out a mix of winter scenery and custom gifts.
“We might keep one table of autumn and Thanksgiving products, but fall ends here a little bit early,” Attal said. “Christmas is so crucial for our business; it’s make or break this time of year. But people give gifts for the holidays and we’re a gift shop, so it’s a perfect match.”
Cutco Kitchen Store Manager Ben White said the Westlake storefront makes almost half of its annual profits in November and December, when consumers are thinking about cooking for their families or gifts.
Anticipating the holiday rush
For consumers holiday shopping frequently begins on Black Friday and ends Christmas Eve. For retailers, such as Alida Tallman and Eric Hoffmaster at Eco Estate Jewelry, preparation for the holiday rush begins earlier in the year.
“I think every small business has gone through some months of terror when business slows,” Hoffmaster said. “In this town a lot of people leave in June and July, so we decided to use those dead months to acquire inventory for the fourth quarter.”
He said building the store’s diamond inventory over multiple months allows it to have a strong supply for customers looking for diamond jewelry as a last-second holiday gift.
“Diamonds are a staple, but if we only have one pair of diamond earrings when people come looking, we won’t be able to help,” Hoffmaster said.
Advertising and using social media to connect to customers helps build word of mouth for the store, Tallman said.
“What we’ve been doing all year is getting ready, building up inventory, building our brand and good word of mouth so folks know to come check here when they holiday shop,” she said.
Christi Walsh, assistant manager at Beau Kisses in Four Points, said the store receives shipments of Christmas items in August, and merchandise is displayed right after Halloween.
Mary Weber, owner of Five Star Jewelry in Rollingwood, said reaching out to customers is something she works at every day, regardless of what time of year it is.
“If someone is waiting for business in November and December, they probably aren’t going to be in business come August next year,” she said. “You have to worry about building relationships every day, every month.”
Like many stores in the area, Nikki Mackenzie, a florist and the owner of Magpie Blossom Boutique in Lakeway, will keep her shop open longer hours between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“It’s the fourth quarter. We have to make our year here,” she said. “We’ve got more people in the store, so we’re working longer hours and we’ve staffed up a bit.”
Attracting local customers
To compete with online retailers over the holidays, Mackenzie said Magpie works to offer personal service, custom items consumers likely will not be able to find online and competitive pricing.
“You can come in and get the real feel, fragrance and experience of your gift, or you can sit in your pajamas and hope something looks good when it arrives,” she said. “I do all I can to offer unique items and personal service. If the internet eats us alive, that’s a reflection of the community. [Consumers] have to decide if they want to live in a place where it’s only big-box stores or brought to you by the deliveryman."
Weber said she, too, competes with prices customers find online and can usually sell products at the same or a lower price. Because the store sells custom pieces, customers can come in with a designer piece in mind, and the store can craft a piece in a similar style at a potentially reduced cost, she said.
Attal said one way he attracts local shoppers throughout the year is by offering products with local ties or that benefit local causes.
This winter LizzyLu partnered with designer Christopher Radko to create special, limited-edition Westlake-themed ornaments, with proceeds going to the Eanes Education Foundation, he said.
Products by local artists, such as Davenport Ranch resident Beatriz Ceron-Vivas, who creates greeting cards and artistic ceramic ice, are also featured at LizzyLu, Attal said.
12 Tables Jewelers also carries local pieces and hosts trunk shows featuring artists from the Westlake area throughout the year, Catherine Franklin said.
“We are really able to focus on being part of the community,” said Christopher Franklin, co-owner of 12 Tables Jewelers. “I want to be the neighborhood jewelry guy who will fix anything for you. Customers cannot receive that level of service and commitment to the community online or with a bigger company.”
White said Cutco hosts knife-sharpening and skill classes each month to bring customers in, even if they are not planning to purchase any products. Over the holidays those who attend throughout the year also bring friends for a larger turnout, he said.
Rob Maxwell contributed to this story.