Make us your home page
Instagram

Back-to-school sales find customers wary

Navi Gregory, 5, reaches for folders from his mother, Stephanie Gregory, as his brother Cristian, 2, waits patiently in the front of the cart while shopping Tuesday at the Pinellas Park Wal-Mart.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Navi Gregory, 5, reaches for folders from his mother, Stephanie Gregory, as his brother Cristian, 2, waits patiently in the front of the cart while shopping Tuesday at the Pinellas Park Wal-Mart.

Florida isn't staging a sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping this year, but that hasn't stopped JCPenney and Beall's department stores from advertising their own "Florida tax relief" sales.

Retailers big and small are scrambling for something to trigger a sense of urgency after state politicians spent a decade training shoppers to wait until school supplies and apparel were tax-free at this time of year.

Bigger penny-pinchers than they have been in years, shoppers already are routinely asking clerks when this year's tax holiday kicks off, and several shoppers interviewed Tuesday were surprised to learn there won't be one.

"I need any help I can get stretching a dollar, so this was an especially bad time to take it away," said Cindy Runion, a 48-year-old mother of two laid off from a teaching assistant job in April.

Back-to-school is second only to Christmas for apparel retailers who trade in children's clothes. But this summer the economy is causing some big changes in a season that last year was one of the weakest in years.

"This year looks more challenging for retailers than last year even though there may be some signs the recession" is beginning to wind down, said Deborah Weinswig, retail analyst for Citi Investment Research. "People are shopping for needs, not wants."

The National Retail Federation forecasts back-to-school sales will shrink 13 percent to $17.4 billion, down from $20.1 billion. A Citi research survey found 79 percent of shoppers, up sharply from 45 percent in 2007, plan to spend less than $400.

Florida retailers are happy that legislators moved the start of the school year later into August. But so far retailers say tepid sales are just beginning to pick up after back-to-school promotions were launched last weekend.

"This weekend will be big, but the weekend after that will be even bigger," said Rob Goding, district manager for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Stores stocked up with less inventory this time, so they will feel less pressure to slash prices to dump unsold leftovers. Instead, many stores bulked up on items at what are supposed to be more compelling regular prices.

Beall's for instance, is carrying $5 T-shirts that went for $7.99 a year ago and $14.99 skinny jeans that were $20.

"We've gone further this year to not only have the right looks but be priced right," said Gwen Bennett, vice president of advertising for the Bradenton-based department store chain.

Thrift stores that specialize in reselling donated secondhand goods report their back-to-school business has become a big deal.

"We increased our inventory for children's clothes by 30 percent this time," said Preston Hicks, assistant manager of the Boley Centers Neighborhood store in St. Petersburg. "Business is good and extremely big on our dollar days, Sundays and Mondays."

Luz Negroni, a 37-year-old single mother of three with a nursing job, changed her back-to-school strategy when she heard there would be no tax holiday again this year. The state suspended it last year, too.

"I started looking earlier for sales and hitting the thrift shops and secondhand shops," she said, leaving Skechers in Tyrone Square Mall. "I saved about $1,500. Now I'm done."

It has been a season of change, too, for Therese Lea, a 45-year-old St. Petersburg mother of five who chose to be a stay-at-home mom after getting out of her house cleaning business.

Her family downsized by selling a home they had used as a piggy bank in better times in favor of a rented townhouse to pay down debts. Her two college-age kids are living at home.

"We're spending 10 percent less on back-to-school, but only partly because of the economy," she said.

Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected] or (727)-893-8252.

Back-to-school sales find customers wary 08/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 4:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Shares in Tampa's Health Insurance Innovations rebound from stronger earnings report

    Corporate

    TAMPA — After a sharp drop in its stock price in August and September, Health Insurance Innovations on Monday announced strong revenue and net income gains in preliminary numbers for its third quarter of the year. The company also announced a $50 million stock buyback over the next two years meant to bolster its …

    After losing more than half its market value between August and September, shares in Tampa's Health Insurance Innovations are rebounding."The new share repurchase program underscores our confidence in our business strategy, financial performance, and the long-term prospects of our company while also allowing us the financial flexibility to continue to invest in our business," company CEO Gavin Southwell announced Monday. [Courtesy of LinkedIn]
  2. Trigaux: Campaign aims to leverage tourism ads to recruit millennials, businesses

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay's unleashing one of its best weapons — a cadre of successful entrepreneurs and young business leaders — in a marketing campaign already under way but officially …

    Erin Meagher, founder of Tampa coconut oil products company Beneficial Blends, is part of a group of business savvy millennial entrepreneurs and managers who are helping to pitch the work-live-play merits of the Tampa Bay market in a new marketing campaign called Make It Tampa Bay. The campaign is backed by Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and aimed at recruiting more millennial talent to relocate and stay in the Tampa Bay area. [Courtesy Tampa Hillsborough EDC, Visit Tampa Bay]
  3. Florida gas prices drop 25 cents on average over past month

    Autos

    Gas prices are on a downward tear post-hurricane. Tampa Bay fell to $2.34 per gallon on Sunday, down 10 cents over the week, according to AAA, The Auto Club Group. Across the state, gas fell 7 cents over the same period to average $2.47 per gallon.

    Gas prices across the state fell 25 cents over 31 days. | [Times file photo]
  4. Entrepreneur expands interests with Twisted Crafts

    Business

    SOUTH TAMPA — Playgrounds of Tampa owner Mike Addabbo is expanding into the do-it-yourself industry with his new endeavor: Twisted Crafts.

     Jennifer and Michael Addabbo pose in their latest entrepreneurial enterprise: Twisted Crafts. Photo courtesy of Twisted Craft.
  5. Amazing Lash franchise expands to South Tampa

    Business

    SOUTH TAMPA — Jeff Tolrud opened the doors to his third Amazing Lash Studio franchise earlier this month, this time in South Tampa.

    When customers walk in, the studios have the same look and feel throughout the country, operator Jeff Tolrud said of Amazing Lash Studio. Tolrud opened his third in Hillsborough County earlier this month. Photo courtesy of Amazing Lash.