Boise’s downtown shopping scene offers a glimpse into greater retail business trends
Winter mornings at Boise, Idaho’s busy Flying M Coffeehouse are a high-energy mix of college students sipping cappuccinos, professionals scanning the news, and delighted shoppers meandering through the gift store. The store manager, Will Gillett, gets ready for what’s sure to be another busy season for their in-house gift shop.
A few blocks away is Keystone Station, a local menswear boutique tailored to the outdoorsy — yet tasteful — Idaho adventurer. Co-owner Kelsey Miller started the shop with her sister eight months after opening their women’s clothing store, Shift Boutique, when they first discovered Boise’s community-driven network of small businesses and loyal shoppers.
And in Boise’s beautiful BODO district is Naturally Salon, a boutique and hair salon dedicated to supporting beauty from the inside out. Along with an environmentally friendly, cruelty-free salon visit, patrons can shop items such as organic teas, candles, skin care products, and more. Owner Rissa J says December is their busiest month.
What do all of these businesses have in common? The holiday rush means busy days and big business.
To find out what the holiday season is like for retail shops similar to these, we surveyed 588 retail business owners and managers to find out how much additional time they put in during the holidays, how revenue is affected by the rush, and what they consider their biggest challenges.* Much of what we found echoed in our visits to Boise’s hip, local retailers.
1 in 4 retailers is working on Christmas Day
For retail business owners and managers, the holiday season doesn’t always mean time off. For many, it means putting in extra hours. Over 25 percent say they’re working on Christmas Day, and half say they’re working on Thanksgiving. Unsurprisingly, that number jumps to 82 percent when it comes to working on Black Friday.
“When everybody is doing their holiday shopping, we want to be available to them,” said Miller. “So that means extended hours, making sure we’re around when people want to shop — Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, you know, those are the big days — and continuing to stay open throughout the holidays.”
Nearly 3 in 4 retailers say they will work 16 hours or more over Thanksgiving weekend, and 1 in 5 says they’ll work 40 hours or more. We also found that it could become more common for retailers to stay open on Thanksgiving. Only 34.01 percent will close for the holiday.
While Miller and her family will spend Thanksgiving with family, she said her team will work hard the days and evenings leading up to November 22, so they can hit the ground running on Black Friday.
It’s the busiest time of the year, but retailers make time to party
Most retailers tend to think positively about shopping holidays. More than half say Black Friday, the weekend after Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas Eve are all good for business. Like Miller, Rissa J considers December a great month for business, but neither Keystone Station nor Naturally Salon will be open on Christmas Day.
“We’re definitely ready to party and celebrate the whole month of December,” said Rissa J. “We’ll be open through the 22nd.”
The enthusiasm comes as no surprise. Nearly half of retail owners and managers say their busiest time of year is between October and December. And a little over 22 percent said they make 50 percent or more of their annual profit during the holiday season. Half of the retailers surveyed make 30 percent or more of their annual profit during the holiday season.
However, retailers are always competing for holiday traffic. The No. 1 struggle for retail owners and managers during the holiday season is competition from other retail businesses.
At a quirky gift shop like the one inside Flying M, a retail component means competing with large shopping malls in the area, having to differentiate their unique products, and attracting shoppers who are looking for something different. Will Gillett said Flying M uses social media to draw people in for specific items. And one of the biggest risks they take is not displaying the typical retail vibe. “Here, it’s kind of what you can’t find anywhere else,” said Gillett. “We’ve always been open to taking risks.”
Staffing shortages and hiring seasonal employees still a concern
The second biggest holiday season struggle for retailers is staffing shortages. Over half of retailers (52.55 percent) hire between one and 10 seasonal employees, and 1 in 5 hires 11 or more. Still, more than a quarter of retailers surveyed say they don’t employ any seasonal workers.
Our friends at Flying M and Naturally Salon fall into the latter camp, while Keystone Station said they bring on two additional employees to help curate the experience for their holiday shoppers.
“I think it’s more about the customer experience,” said Miller on shopping at Keystone. “When we have a lot of people in the store … some people need special attention, or we need to go back and check on sizes, or we need to ring people up. We want to be able to provide a really great experience. We already have the hours. We want to bring on more people so we can provide those individual experiences.”
For Flying M, Gillett said it’s easier to rely on the close-knit group of employees who know the ropes than to hire and train someone for a few weeks. “We’re a tiny crew,” he said. “We’d rather all of us work more than have someone come in and be overwhelmed.”
Retailers face logistical challenges head-on
Our survey found three of the top five struggles retailers face during the holidays come down to logistics: predicting demand, supplying enough products, and managing inventory. While not many retailers (6.29 percent) see their inventory management as inefficient necessarily, just over half of them see room for improvement.
For Miller, taking on the challenge of managing supply and demand was inspired by experience. After last year’s holiday season, Miller realized many customers were shopping for gifts at their men’s store and have increased their gift options and offer gift wrapping.
“Right now, especially at our men’s store, we’re stuffed to the gills with things,” said Miller. “And that’s because we’re anticipating those big holiday purchases and hoping that it happens.”
Rissa J also approaches merchandise at Naturally Salon as a welcomed challenge.
“It’s a fun adventure, figuring out where trends are coming and going and keeping the hottest trends stocked, which I feel is one of the things we do here at Naturally,” she said.
Passion remains at the heart of local retail
Between the longer hours, product and inventory challenges, staffing needs, and deciding to stay open during the holidays, retail business have much in common, no matter where they’re located.
We want to give a special thank-you to Keystone Station, Flying M Coffeehouse, and Naturally Salon for taking the time to share their stories with us. If there’s one thing small retail business owners here in Boise share, it’s heart. They’ve managed to build a strong community in a competitive space and keep loyal customers.
“What’s nice about Boise is it’s very community-driven. We had a network of people that were ready to support us when we opened up, and it’s just continued to grow,” said Miller.
These businesses are built on a passion for their work as well.
“Anybody searching for a job, you’re searching for the right fit and the right culture,” said Rissa J. “Sometimes the best way to find that is to create it and build it from the ground up. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
And we hope downtown Boise continues to offer unique shopping experiences and a place to spread holiday cheer for years to come. Will Gillett agrees.
“It’s a generous season down here, for sure.”