Jingle bells and the cheerful “cha-ching” of the cash register are usually happy harbingers of the fall and winter holidays.
This year, many retailers and restaurateurs may hear awkward silence as worried consumers clamp down on their wallets.
Heading toward a holiday season in a time of economic turmoil, we’ve asked some Redmond business owners how they are holding up and how they hope to attract customers.
Will they offer deep discounts or two-for-one deals to bring more people in? Will they change their hours or lay off employees to make ends meet?
In Part 1 of this two-part series, we’re featuring some businesses that have opened within the past year. In the second part of this series, we’ll present feedback from businesses that have been in Redmond for decades.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The name of Kelly Harte’s sandwich shop in downtown Redmond, The Daily Bread, reminds us that “everyone’s gotta eat.”
But in a troubled economy, the stark reality is that many people are packing PBJs from home instead of eating out at lunchtime.
Since The Daily Bread opened last March, “business had been growing from month to month,” said Harte.
In the past month, however, “it just stopped,” she said.
The shop features a comfortable lounge area with a big-screen TV and surround sound system.
“We turn on sports because we’re sick of that stuff, all the news about the bad economy,” said Harte.
She and her partner Rich Hamlon are there from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. They used to stay open until 6 p.m. but it wasn’t worth it to serve just one or two extra customers.
In the beginning, they had 40-60 walk-in customers each day, which steadily rose to 100 or more through the summer. Now they are back to 50 or less.
“For a while, we did a lot of catering — boxed lunches for meetings. I was starting to think that was the way to go,” said Harte. “Now we’re catering maybe four meetings a week instead of 10 or 15. Both individuals and companies are cutting back on their orders.”
Hamlon agreed, “We see people who only come in when they have coupons. A ‘buy one, get one free’ coupon was targeted to new customers but now it’s the regulars who are using them. Our Sandwich Club (punch card) also gives people a deal. We reward people for coming in.”
They haven’t cut the prices of their food, although “it’s really tough to compete with ‘five-dollar foot-longs’ at Subway,” said Harte. “We’re still using Boar’s Head meats and all fresh, premium ingredients. If I started using cheaper ingredients, I’d be just another Subway.”
On the contrary, The Daily Bread’s motto is “We’re Not Your Average Sandwich Shop!”
“We still have a lot of people who don’t know we’re here,” Hamlon noted. “We’ve done flyers up and down the street and dropped off flyers at Microsoft, although they’ve got so many company cafeterias, they’ve got a captive audience. It’s a Catch-22. We know we need to advertise, but if we spend money on that, we don’t have enough to pay our vendors.”
Harte said they are “trying to weather the storm,” maybe adding earlier morning hours but then “you need more employees, the espresso machines are expensive and the products are expensive. And when Starbucks closed six hundred-some of their stores, that was scary.”
For information about The Daily Bread, call (425) 882-0500 or visit web.mac.com/the daily bread.
DO UNTO OTHERS
Amy Gray opened Majesty Boutique in the Redmond Ridge Marketplace last December. She sells unique housewares and gift items. Because her shop has been open less than a year and is not in a heavily traveled area, she said it’s hard to gauge whether business should be better or worse than it is, “on top of our less than stellar economic times.”
“From talking to fellow shop keepers in my genre of business,” not just in Redmond but in Seattle and her hometown of Issaquah, “I’m hearing that business has been a little slow,” she said. Such networking is valuable, she explained, because “not everyone carries the same things.”
She’s figured out that being an exclusive purveyor of certain products or brands is the only way she’s going to keep her competitive edge. Plus, she’s now marketing nifty items more as gifts than as things with which to treat yourself.
“I’ve definitely seen more gift-giving, people doing more for others, than doing for themselves,” Gray added. “When bad things come, you have to go outside the box, to avenues where you might not have outreached. You just have to work harder.”
She recently launched an Ecommerce Web site and made her first online sale to a customer from Germany.
“I wouldn’t have rushed into that, but now we have to,” Gray said.
Still, she is optimistic. “We’re really fortunate to be in this environment with Microsoft, Nintendo and Amazon. It’s not as bad here as in other parts of the country,” she noted. “And in hard times, it’s so important to support your local community. If everyone stops spending, it just hurts everybody.”
As the holidays get closer, she plans to team up with the wine shop next door and offer “Women and Wine” girls’ night out events, as well as beer-tastings to get men in and show them what’s on their favorite women’s wish lists.
“And people are doing less traveling, nesting more, just like after 9/ll, which is beneficial to my industry, selling home decor,” Gray commented.
She said she does especially well with items such as flameless, battery-operated candles, ceramic place setting tiles that are erasable and reusable and Sid Dickens memory blocks which are released in limited quantities and not sold on the Web or anywhere else in this area. They are very popular for weddings, anniversaries, graduations and other milestone occasion gifts.
For information about Majesty, call (425) 868-7400 or visit www.majestyshop.com.
DON’T STOP BELIEVING
Michael Byers opened The Comic Stop at Redmond Town Center last March; other locations are in Lynnwood and Everett. Originally on the upper level near Second Story Repertory, his shop’s now on the lower level across from the Starbucks in the Center Court Plaza.
“This is the spot we originally wanted — there’s lots of walk-through, more visibility. The only downside is less sunlight,” he said.
Another big step for Byers is that he’s actually been able to hire an assistant so he’s not manning the shop all alone. Before, he was working 11 hours a day, seven days a week.
He serves a dedicated niche market, selling comic books and graphic novels, collectibles such as cards and action figures and movie posters. Although you might think otherwise, “the last thing to ever get hit by recession is entertainment — whether it’s movies or books or comics,” Byers stated.
In shaky economic times, being able to choose your mode of entertainment restores some sense of independence.
“When you go to get gas, it’s kind of a set price — you have to pay that price to get where you want to go,” he reasoned. “Here, people who come in and used to buy five comics, maybe buy three instead. They still walk out happy. They feel like they have some control over what they spend. The last things you give up are those that make you feel good.”
He added that this holiday season “may be less than what we wanted,” but he’s not panicked.
Byers has no special plans for holiday promotions. He’ll stay open during regular mall hours and doesn’t make a big deal out of “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving, when many people get serious about Christmas shopping). “That’s not a big day for us. People are looking for TVs for pennies that day,” he explained.
His mailing list of steady customers, to which he sends weekly updates on new releases, works just as well as anything to keep people coming in.
Like many others who live or work in Redmond, Byers said the timing of the elections, combined with the stock market perils, is undoubtedly adding to our collective anxiety level.
“People are pinning their hopes on a turnaround,” he said.
For information about The Comic Stop, call (425) 881-0291 or visit www.comicstoponline.com.