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Retailers 'cautious, but positive' about sales

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

Local retailers are preparing for the transition to after-Christmas sales.

Some expect little change from the newly-concluded holiday shopping season, while others anticipate a decrease in sales receipts.

Michael Hall, a manager for J.C. Penney in the SouthPoint Mall in McDonough, said he expects sales to remain steady. "We're well-positioned. We have a lot of merchandise left," Hall said.

The specific reasons, he said, are because the store will offer post-holiday clearance sales. Hall said the gift cards shoppers purchased during the Christmas season will help stabilize sales and keep customers coming in the door. "That always makes a difference in shopping on the day after Christmas."

Generally, he added, gift cards from stores are always popular, and sales this season have shown increases from previous months.

Compared to the same period last year, Hall predicted the clearance markdowns after the holidays will be deeper. One reason is because of the slow economy, but Hall said another reason for those deeper discounts is the need to move remaining merchandise off the racks and shelves to make room for spring merchandise.

Annette O'Banion, owner of Scarlett's Retreat Day Spa in McDonough, is experiencing a 35 percent drop in sales for December. Still, she said that those figures are not as bad as they could be. "At one point, we were really worried. It was 50 percent," said O'Banion, who calculates the sales receipts daily.

Normally, the spa sees customers bringing in gift cards to redeem in January, but despite the appeal of the cards, O'Banion predicts fewer customers next month. "January, compared to the other months, is a little slower," she said.

February is expected to be more profitable, because of Valentines Day. "Our outlook is positive for 2009 ... cautious, but positive," said O'Banion.

Some of the services Scarlett's Retreat offers include, massages, pedicures, manicures and facials. The spa focuses on treatment of the total body and skin. However, many consider spa services a luxury, and not necessarily a part of a core health plan.

In the past 10 years, O'Banion explained, the spa industry, in general, has seen growth of between 25 percent to 35 percent each year. But despite that growth, this year's economy has forced customers to cut back on some services they consider nonessential.

In an effort to continue drawing in customers, Scarlett's Retreat has not raised prices in two years. The business also gives one-hour massages, she continued, compared to other spas that give only 50-minute massages.

Linda Moffenbier, an employee with Secret Garden in McDonough, also predicted slower sales in January. One of the ways to counteract that, she said, will be the store's after-Christmas sale, which runs from Dec. 26 until the selected merchandise sells out.

The store sells home decor and gift-shop items, and Moffenbier said, it also carries the Vera Bradley brand of quilted purses. As a strategy to attract more shoppers, the store will send out invitations to certain, select customers after the holidays, with the announcement that those purses are available. "We always have a Vera Bradley Premier."