Local retailers expect strong holiday season

Maui businesses say this year people started shopping

Local retailers are projecting a “strong holiday season,” with most contacted in the days before Black Friday saying overall sales for the year are already up compared to last. 

They also say that even before Thanksgiving people are forking out their dollars for the holidays, which is a good sign that retailers will have a merry Christmas. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, remains a day of heavily advertised sales, but it is not so clear-cut a beginning of the Christmas shopping season as it used to be.

“I think it’s going to be a lot better than last year,” said Ashley Takitani, marketing director of Maui Thing, about this year’s holiday spending.

Takitani said that at the Wailuku store, which sells unique-to-Maui logo wear, they held their annual special sale a couple of weeks ago. A long snake of shoppers waited to pay for their items in the store, unlike last year when lines weren’t as long.

“We already had our friends and family sale for the holiday. It went really well,” she said, although she didn’t have sales figures on hand. “It’s a good sign for the rest of the holiday season.”

At her Lahaina Hale Zen store and Makawao Designing Wahine Emporium store, Lisa Payne was pushing to get out her holiday wares early.

“I feel like people are starting to shop early this year,” she said, estimating that right after Halloween people were holiday shopping at her stores, which sell a mix of home items, clothing and bath and body products, all with a Pacific twist. “It seems to move up earlier every year.”

“I think it’s actually going to be a strong holiday season,” Payne said last week, adding that her overall sales numbers are already up 20 percent compared to 2009.

Maui residents already appear to be out in full force scooping up what they can for Christmas, as hundreds if not thousands of shoppers filled War Memorial Gymnasium on Sunday for the annual Ben Franklin Craft Fair and many more were swarming Costco last week. Previously untouched rolls of Christmas wrapping paper appeared to be moving off the floors there. And at the Ross store in Kahului, shoppers, especially women, were busy picking out holiday home items to decorate with.

The National Retail Federation expects a 2.3 percent increase in spending to $447.1 billion in holiday sales this year. That would fall short of the 10-year historic average of 2.5 percent, according to the retail trade group.

Analysts say the increase in marketing before Thanksgiving as well as other tactics to make shopping easier are trolling for customers in a season when shoppers are expected to spend only a little more than last year, because unemployment is still close to 10 percent and consumer confidence still is not strong.

National retailers such as Sears have been advertising holiday specials and pre-Black Friday specials for weeks now to get early customers.

The term Black Friday, which has many definitions, can refer to the time retailers go from being in the red (making losses) to in the black (turning profits).

Despite a down economy for at least a couple of years in Hawaii, MauiGrown Coffee in Lahaina has seen annual profits increase “well over 25 percent per year,” said Jeff Ferguson, co-manager of the farm and retailer, which grows the Ka’anapali Estate Coffee on the slopes of the West Maui mountains near Lahaina.

Perhaps the increase is because the young company is growing and now has a presence in the consumer world and has established a customer base, which translates into repeat buying, he said.

But the business, which sells coffee, holiday baskets and logo wear, has not been immune to the Christmas shopper’s caution.

Ferguson said that last year customers seemed to analyze their purchases more.

“This year they seem to be happy buying coffee,” he said.

He added that customers might not be buying the most expensive types of coffee, so the company is offering some at “attractive prices” to get the consumers buying.

He is also seeing customers springing for logo wear, something they weren’t buying as much of last year.

Ferguson said that he, too, saw holiday shoppers begin to plunk down their cash or credit cards as early as the end of October, but he cautioned many at the time, telling them to hold off so they could get a “fresher” coffee batch if they waited.

* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.