Black Friday drama: The boots go first, then eventually even fridges are in demand

Hundreds of shoppers swarmed the doors of JC Penney when the department store opened mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving, November 22, 2017.
Hundreds of shoppers swarmed the doors of JC Penney when the department store opened mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving, November 22, 2017.

JC Penney is determined not to be lumped in with the retail apocalypse.

Hundreds of shoppers gathered outside the building in a line that stretched around the parking lot. By the 2 p.m. opening on Thanksgiving, the sun was shining and they were ready to start knocking off items from their shopping lists.

Before that, the goal in the time leading up to the Super Bowl of Shopping is to rev up the workers.

It started with a three-day “associate” event where workers can take advantage of in-store savings on top of their employee discounts and VIP coupons.

Before the doors opened on Thanksgiving afternoon, the team gathered for a pep rally and photo shoot.

And then there was one of the biggest contributions to employees working through the holiday (besides the extra pay):

“We feed them!” declared Lisa Wojtech, assistant manager at the Tacoma Mall store.

The store offered food for its workers starting Thanksgiving before the store opened and on through the weekend. Early Friday, out comes the cereal, Pop-Tarts, bagels and cream cheese, subs and chips.

It’s all part of the 32 hours the store will be open from Thanksgiving through Black Friday.

Then the store will feed its workers “every Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas because the mall, and the parking lot, is so crazy,” assistant manager Teri Smith said.

According to general manager Syed Rizvi, Penney’s has been aggressive on several fronts, such as marketing and making sure customers have a seamless experience whether online or in store.

There are workers dedicated solely to gathering orders for online. The store also has a dedicated “” center for in-store pickup of online orders.

There’s a reason for this earlier push, and it’s not just customer demand.

The retailer’s comparable sales rose in the third quarter 1.7 percent, which beat analysts’ expectations. But the chain also reported a net loss of $128 million, nearly doubling from $67 million, a year earlier, according to The New York Times.

Penney’s also saw its share of store closures this year.

For its remaining stores, the company has added appliances, TVs and toys. Product lines have been updated with the Tracee Ellis Ross clothing collection and the Ayesha Curry home collection.

Luggage in shades that will never be confused with someone else’s on an airport carousel are there, along with Instant Pots, Seattle Seahawks gear and Epicurious cookware.

“You can’t run a traditional business with a traditional structure in an environment that’s dynamically changing,’’ CEO Marvin Ellison said in an investors call earlier this month. “We’re going to continue to challenge ourselves to be a modern company.’’

The Tacoma Penney’s hired 96 workers for Black Friday and the holiday season. Rizvi offered a pre-Black Friday challenge in sizing up their efforts.

“Go walk the other stores,” he said. “Ours will look a lot better just because of the holiday help we were given getting everyone engaged.”

It did look organized, all the toys and boots stacked neatly and the floors polished to a shine. But it was Monday. After Thanksgiving’s initial rush of sales, things likely will look a bit rumpled.

Last year, Rizvi said, “we sold 1,400 pairs of junior boots in a day and a half” at the Tacoma Mall store on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

That’s just junior boots.

Boots tend to be the first sellouts, going in the first three hours, then Sephora cosmetics, then home goods.

“Every register is blazing,” Wojtech said.

Which brings us to our final question. Do people really buy appliances on Black Friday?

“You’d be surprised!” Rizvi says. “Some people wait all year for that Black Friday price on a fridge.”

Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell