Caitlin Brotz, the owner of Olivu 426 in Sheboygan, gets a little queasy just thinking about the Christmas holidays.
“I just know how much work it’s going to be, but this is why we’re in retail since the holidays are when you are able to generate more profits and grow your business,” says Brotz, who started her boutique that creates and sells natural personal care products in 2006.
She says online and in-store sales pick up on Black Friday. “We actually start preparing for the holidays in late September and it slowly gets busy into November and then Black Friday comes and it’s like someone turned on a light switch and boom – the orders come in,” she says.
Olivu 426 isn’t alone when it comes to the holiday season. Big and small retailers rely on the period from Thanksgiving through the end of the year for the majority of their sales. In its annual consumer spending forecast for the holiday season, Deloitte predicts people will spend 4 to 4.5 percent more than the 2013 average of $704.
The economic benefit from the holidays extends beyond retailers. Pam Seidl, executive director of the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the Appleton area benefits from the one-two punch of Packers season and the holidays as travelers come to the area, spending money not just in stores, but also at restaurants, hotels and gas stations.
“We don’t see a fourth quarter drop in the number of visitors like many parts of Wisconsin do,” she says. “People are attracted to the area because of the Fox River Mall as well as the unique shopping experiences they can get in our downtowns.”
The mall attracts shoppers from the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin who begin coming in droves starting in late October through December. The mall estimates its annual volume at about $250 million, but if neighboring retail developments such as Barnes & Noble and Best Buy are also factored in, the total is likely closer to $500 million.
While shoppers make the mall a destination trip to visit big box retailers they might not find in their hometown, Seidl says the region’s downtowns and smaller specialty stores provide travelers with unexpected shopping options.
“The downtowns in the Fox Cities also have great holiday events so while a shopper from the UP may come and load up at the mall, she may also check out our downtowns to find a gift they can’t find anywhere else,” Seidl says.
That’s exactly what Matt Trotter had in mind when he opened The Wreath Factory & Otter Creek Landscape, which has stores in Plymouth and Menasha. He says the holidays provide his business an opportunity to show customers they are more than a destination store for holiday décor and fresh greenery.
“We always have bus tours to our Plymouth store in November and December. People stop by to look at our displays and learn about wreath making as part of trips to Kohler or Elkhart Lake and they are always surprised to see what we all have to offer,” he says. “They’ve learned we have all of this other non-Christmas stuff and about our landscaping business.”
In the Green Bay area, the top retail draws are not only Bay Park Square but also Cabela’s, the Packers Pro Shop and Cook’s Corner. Specialty shops including Seroogy’s Homemade Chocolates and School House, a retail store focused on educational items, also see a lot of traffic, says Brenda Krainik, director of marketing for the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Shopping districts like Green Bay’s Military Avenue and Broadway Street and De Pere’s downtown are also utilized heavily by tourists,” she says, adding that retail accounts for 20 percent of all tourism spending in Brown County, or about $112 million annually.
Specialty stores such as those at The Shops at Woodlake in Kohler also attract plenty of shoppers during the holidays. Shops manager Jill O’Connell says local residents as well as those on day trips from Milwaukee, the Fox Valley and Green Bay visit for a one-of-a-kind shopping experience.
“We have a unique combination of shops where people can really find unique gifts,” she says. “It’s a very personalized shopping experience. We have free gift wrapping and the whole environment is more relaxed.”
The center in Kohler also has special holiday-themed events that appeal to a variety of guests from families to women on a girlfriends’ weekend, including its popular Wisconsin Holiday Market at The American Club that features more than 100 vendors selling handcrafted and holiday themed items. This year, the event is Nov. 21-23.
“The market is huge for us, but we also have a lot of traditional activities throughout the holiday season that I think people really enjoy,” O’Connell says.