Slower Black Fri­day still pro­vides stores a big boost

Depart­ment store man­ager has worked two decades’ worth of re­tail­ing’s big day

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Lorraine Mirabella

At 6 a.m. on Black Fri­day, JCPen­ney gen­eral man­ager Tom Row­cliffe was 17 hours into his marathon shift, with nine more to go — and show­ing no signs of fad­ing.

He weaved briskly through the East­point Mall store as it geared up again af­ter a quiet night. Part cheer­leader, part coach, he greeted each cus­tomer he en­coun­tered with “You do­ing OK?” and each em­ployee with “Hello, my friend,” or “Ap­pre­ci­ate you com­ing in.”

The York, Pa., man, work­ing his 22nd Black Fri­day, stopped to trou­bleshoot a com­puter glitch at a reg­is­ter, an­swer the ra­dio clipped to his belt, check out a shop­per’s pur­chase and talk to a cus­tomer by phone. He skipped the el­e­va­tor and bounded down­stairs to his of­fice, a short Tom Row­cliffe, store man­ager of JCPen­ney at East­point Mall, talks with Adri­enne Coleman of Bal­ti­more about the $500 dis­count coupon she won on Black Fri­day.

“It’s still a huge week­end for us — the busiest sell­ing week­end of the year.”

stop to pick up coupons be­fore tak­ing the stairs back up to the sell­ing floor.

Even in per­pet­ual mo­tion, the goa­teed and be­spec­ta­cled 49-year-old ap­peared un­ruf­fled.

“We’ve done all the plan­ning. We’ve done all the work,” Row­cliffe said. Still, “you don’t stay in one spot long.”

Black Fri­day might now be a shadow of its for­mer self, as stores start hol­i­day pro­mo­tions ear­lier in the sea­son, and more peo­ple shop online. Still, re­tail­ers such as JCPen­ney call in ex­tra staff and launch some of their big­gest pro­mo­tions of the year.

“It’s still a huge week­end for us — the busiest sell­ing week­end of the year,” Row- cliffe said.

The term “Black Fri­day,” of­ten thought to re­fer to the day re­tail­ers show a profit, “go into the black,” was orig­i­nally used by Philadel­phia police to de­scribe the strug­gle of deal­ing with crowds of shop­pers on the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing.

Amer­i­can chain stores still see Black Fri­day as an op­por­tu­nity to at­tract some of the 137.4 mil­lion peo­ple who the National Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion es­ti­mates will shop over Thanks­giv­ing week­end in stores and online. The re­tail trade group ex­pects hol­i­day sea­son sales of $655.8 bil­lion, a 3.6 per­cent in­crease over last year’s re­ceipts.

Sales will be “ro­bust,” said Richard E. Jaffe, a re­tail an­a­lyst with Bal­ti­more-based Stifel, Ni­co­laus & Co., in a re­port Fri­day. He pointed to broader ac­cep­tance of fash­ion trends, pent-up de­mand af­ter a con­tentious pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and a stronger econ­omy.

Three-quar­ters of Amer­i­cans still see shop­ping in stores as one of the best ways to get in the hol­i­day spirit, re­search by Citi Re­tail Ser­vices shows. The group said more than nine in 10 peo­ple will buy at least one gift in a store, and more than half of hol­i­day gifts will be pur­chased in per­son rather than online.

Some of the sur­vey re­spon­dents — 42 per­cent — said that vis­it­ing a store as a fam­ily is more com­mon than singing hol­i­day songs or carols.

“We see re­tail­ers across the coun­try em­brac­ing this tra­di­tion and in­vest­ing in ex­cep­tional in-store ex­pe­ri­ences,” said Leslie McNa­mara, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of busi­ness and mar­ket de­vel­op­ment at Citi Re­tail Ser­vices. “Amer­i­can shop­pers clearly see hol­i­day shop­ping as a unique and special ac­tiv­ity.”

That was part of the draw Fri­day for Denise Ford­ham. The Rosedale woman, who works for the Bal­ti­more Police Depart­ment an­swer­ing 911 and 311 calls, said she shops each Black Fri­day for the deals, and be­cause “this is what puts you in the [hol­i­day] mood.”

It’s part of Row­cliffe’s job to help set that mood, mak­ing sure those whowalk through the doors not only find what they want and dis­cover more to buy, but also feel good about the ex­pe­ri­ence.

On Fri­day, he split his time greet­ing cus­tomers, “putting out fires” and over­see­ing the re­plen­ish­ment of mer­chan­dise from the stock­room, as items such as $7.99 small ap­pli­ances and $19.99 boots sold out fast.

“We greet, greet, greet. That’s what JCPen­ney was founded on — the golden rule,” he said.

He moved past women’s shoes, out­fit­ted in a red “Get Your Pen­ney’s Worth” T-shirt.

“My wife asks if I’m run­ning for mayor,” he said.

Per­son­ally con­grat­u­lat­ing the win­ners of the coupon give­away were among the day’s high­lights, he said. The give­away, a mix of $10, $100 and $500 dis­counts, be­gan at 6 a.m. and lasted un­til coupons ran out a cou­ple of hours later.

He started his shift at 1 p.m. on Thanks­giv­ing in preparation for the store’s 3 p.m. open­ing. He chose to work straight through

Tom Row­cliffe, store man­ager of JCPen­ney at the East­point Mall

the night un­til 3 p.m. Fri­day.

Sherri Floys­tad had been out shop­ping since 3 p.m. Thurs­day. She vis­ited JCPen­ney with her 19-year-old daugh­ter for the in-store Sephora cos­met­ics shop.

The Dun­dalk woman was sur­prised to open a coupon re­veal­ing a $100 dis­count. “I’m so happy,” she said. Adri­enne Coleman ap­peared stunned af­ter Row­cliffe handed her one of the last re­main­ing coupons — worth $500. She’d been wind­ing down her Black Fri­day shop­ping — she said she pre­ferred to buy most gifts online — and just hap­pened to stop in at JCPen­ney.

For Row­cliffe, work­ing hol­i­days such as Thanks­giv­ing is part of the job. He cel­e­brated an early Thanks­giv­ing last Sun­day with his wife and chil­dren, a16-year-old son and 14-year-old daugh­ter.

“It’s re­tail, and we know that it’s the way it is,” he said. He puts va­ca­tion on hold be­tween La­bor Day and Christ­mas.

Over 22 years, the Buf­falo na­tive has worked at nine JCPen­ney stores in six states. He started with a summer job in May 1994 pick­ing up trash and hang­ers for the chain af­ter he grad­u­ated from State Univer­sity of New York at Oswego.

He en­tered the man­ager trainee pro­gram. As he moved from store to store, he headed each of the de­part­ments, among them home goods, women’s ac­ces­sories and women’s jew­elry. He worked as a store as­sis­tant man­ager, then as a gen­eral man­ager for three stores.

He started at the East­point Mall store in Oc­to­ber. He over­sees 150 work­ers.

He’s worked ev­ery Black Fri­day since 1994. “In the past, we were only open for a sin­gle day, so it was a lot big­ger crowd that came in,” he said. “Nowit’s more spread out, but it’s ac­tu­ally bet­ter now be­cause we can man­age the lines bet­ter. It’s been a ben­e­fit, and our cus­tomers have been very re­cep­tive.”

The shop­ping land­scape has shifted, with online re­tail­ers such as Ama­zon and dis­coun­ters such as Wal-Mart and Tar­get cut­ting into tra­di­tional depart­ment stores’ cus­tomer base.

But Row­cliffe sees a bright fu­ture for the depart­ment store chan­nel.

“You’re al­ways go­ing to need bricks-and­mor­tar stores,” he said. “Peo­ple still want to come in and touch and feel the mer­chan­dise, and they also want the per­sonal touch. The key is to have the right as­sort­ment at the right price and also be pro­mo­tional.”

He has watched the chain ex­pand its as­sort­ment online, add ap­pli­ances in stores and of­fer more ser­vices. “We’ve adapted,” he said, “and we’ve gone to where the busi­ness is.”


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