Retailers Mixed on Holiday Hiring

NEW YORK — The unpredictable economy has some retailers thinking twice about their holiday hiring strategies.

While department stores such as Macy’s and Kohl’s have announced plans to hire more seasonal staff and will add thousands of temporary workers during the next few months, independents are mixed about their plans.

Jeff Langer, CEO of Morgan’s Shoes in Madison, Wis., said he is not banking on a particularly strong holiday season and as a result does not intend to ramp up the ranks at his store.

“I’m planning on sales being close to flat. I don’t expect a lot of increase,” he said.

In St. Louis, Mark Waldman, president of Laurie’s Shoe Center, was more upbeat about predictions for the holidays, but also did not foresee the need for extra help on the selling floor — at least for now.

Conservatively forecasting a 3 percent to 5 percent sales gain over last year during the season, Waldman said he will wait until December before making a final decision on hiring.

“We’ll tend to maintain [the staff] we already have,” he said. “If anything, we’ll put part-timers in the stock room to expedite sales.”

Waldman added that most of his customers are buying less often, but are purchasing more high-quality items when they do come to the registers.

Toronto-based high-end retailer David’s Shoes plans to use its seasonal hires to support the sales team. The three-store chain will add more cashiers, gift-wrappers and stock people than last year, and the temporary staff will stay on board through January, according to company VP Richard Markowitz.

“We want to focus our salespeople to do what they do best, which is selling, and then have that staff in place to help them sell more,” he said.

At Saxon Shoes, in Richmond and Fredericksburg, Va., business is brisk, giving the retailer reason to add more staff. Targeting a 10 percent sales increase over last year, Saxon Shoes President Gary Weiner said he already added 10 new employees last month.

He noted that his family stores may hire another six to 10 part-timers to work evening and weekend hours in the coming weeks.

Still, overall, experts did not anticipate much of an increase in hiring this season, compared with last year.

A recent report from placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas predicted that job gains will be flat or lower than 2010, which recorded an increase of 27 percent during the months of October through December.

Last year’s gain of 627,600 jobs was better than expected, but still wasn’t as high as in the years prior to 2008, when hiring was more in the range of 700,000.

“For most retailers, there is not much incentive to add more workers than a year ago,” CEO John Challenger noted in the report, adding that many storeowners face higher costs due to rent, energy and wholesale prices. “It simply does not make sense to hire more workers that will eat into the already-shrinking profit margins.”

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