By Dee DePass
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
MINNEAPOLIS - As Black Friday creeps closer, the staff at Creative Kidstuff, a Minnesota-based toy store, will swell from 140 to 230 workers.
"We will hire more than we did last year," said Happi Olson, sales and marketing manager. "We are excited about the holidays. I do think it is going to be a strong year (given) what we have seen in the first half."
Other retailers aren't so sure. Volatile markets, a slowing economy, waning consumer confidence and stubbornly high unemployment rates are making holiday hiring predictions more difficult this year.
"Retailers are seeing several signs that consumer spending is dipping just as they are beginning to make decisions about how many workers to add for the upcoming holidays. This does not bode well for job seekers," said John Challenger, CEO of employment firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc. "It would be surprising if holiday hiring exceeded last year's level."
U.S. retail employment grew by 627,600 jobs from October through December 2010. That was a welcome leap from the paltry 231,000 jobs added during the dismal holiday season in 2008, which proved to be the worst retail year since 1982.
No one expects a rewind to 1982. But there is no industry consensus on prospects for this year. The Minnesota Retailers Association, for example, is predicting that holiday hiring gains will simply match last year's. Meanwhile, the International Council of Shopping Centers expects seasonal hiring could grow another 2 percent beyond last year, said Michael Niemira, the association's chief economist.
Dave Brennan, who co-directs the Institute for Retailing Excellence and teaches marketing at the University of St. Thomas, said he won't be surprised to see retailers play it conservative when hiring seasonal workers this year.
"I think there is just too much uncertainty," Brennan said. "There is uncertainty in terms of unemployment, uncertainty as far as the stock market, and the biggest uncertainty is if Congress pushes through big budget cuts," he said. "But we won't know that until at least November. And I think that is going to put a wet blanket on retailers."
The U.S. Commerce Department recently reported lackluster retail sales for August and revised July results downward. Separately, the ICSC forecast 2.2 percent sales growth for its members for November and December - less than half the 5 percent gain seen for the 2010 period.
Olson at Creative Kidstuff and other retailers try to remain positive.