Behind the scenes at JC Penney: Getting ready for the Black Friday rush

Lori Pagano, left and Allie DeCleene stock clothes at JC Penney in the Dover Mall. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Annette Haynes would have it no other way.

The JC Penney floor manager welcomes today’s rush of eager holiday gift buyers.

For nine years now, she’s greeted arrivals the day before Black Friday.

On this Thanksgiving the fun begins at 2 p.m. when the Dover Mall store opens for business.

“I always ask to be on the first shift,” she said. “We have some loyal customers looking for the best deals and all of us are here to make that happen.”

Asked what she’s concerned about at such a busy time, Ms. Haynes smiled brightly before responding, “the customer, the customer, the customer, the customer and the customer.

“You stop everything else you’re doing if they need something and take care of them.”

Added floor manager Nikki Getrajdman, “we just like the spirit that comes with this time of the year. People come in with smiling faces and we’re aiming to give them a rewarding experience.”

The face to face contact is lucrative, experts say.

“The main asset of a physical store in a digital world is human staffing,” wrote Kelli Hollinger of nonprofit The Conversation in a column.

“Even if a shopper doesn’t want help, a smile acknowledging his or her presence encourages connection. Front-line employees can ask customers about their kids, in-laws or Thanksgiving meal planning.

“That can lead to an authentic personal connection through which employees can discover a shopper’s unique wants and respond with products on the shelves, or ordered and shipped for free to the customer’s home.

“An in-person encounter can become a seamless blend of the online and physical worlds.”

After a record number of retail bankruptcies, store closures and layoffs in 2017, including well-established brands such as Toys R Us, RadioShack, HhGregg, Payless Shoe Source, the stakes are high.

The upcoming holiday buying season could be extra bountiful for retailers in 2017.

Allie DeCleene stocks toys in the children’s department at JC Penney in the Dover Mall. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

According to the National Retail Federation, retail sales – minus car, gasoline and restaurant buys – in November and December are expected to reach $682 billion nationally, up 4 percent from last year.

In anticipation of the flurry of shoppers, the JC Penney store hired 34 seasonal employees to support the regular staff.

Store manager Ashley Thomas has already ordered catered food from Boston Market for the holiday workers and is offering incentives such as gift card giveaways during the busiest time of the year.

“It’s important to make it really, really fun to be working here (on Thanksgiving),” Ms. Thomas said. “There’s a lot of collateral incentives to be here.”

Inspired employees are essential to what Ms. Thomas describes as “the pinnacle of the fourth quarter.” The next 50-some days are crucial to the store’s overall success, she said.

“I think if you speak with any of our team members, they’re pretty jazzed,” Ms. Thomas said.

The company is always looking for potential managers and supervisors, and some of the temporary hires may be auditioning for a full-time offer.
College kids looking to make extra money often fit the bill.

“We’ve brought in some really good people that may have a future here,” said Vickie McClain, who manages the hiring process as an associate support department supervisor.

For awhile now, Ms. Thomas has focused on the science of making shopping easy through well spaced aisles, coordinated location of merchandise that can quickly be identifed as a set and more.

“The ease of shopping is really important,” Ms. Thomas said. “If she — and I use ‘she’ because most of our customers are women — feels comfortable she’ll stay longer and buy more.”

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