Figuring the early bird gets the worm, Sears, HHGregg and several bay area Lowe's will open by 6 a.m. Friday to woo hordes drawn to cash in on Florida's appliance rebates.
The Lowe's in St. Petersburg opens even earlier at 5:30 a.m., and the chain is tacking on an extra 10 percent discount to the 20 percent rebates offered on six types of Energy Star appliances.
"We're just hoping rebate money lasts the weekend," explained store sales manager Brendan Carter.
That's doubtful, say state officials who unveiled their Web site, www.rebates.com/florida, which spells out the rules and process consumers face to land a rebate.
"I think all the money will be gone the first day," said Brenda Buchan, program coordinator at Gov. Charlie Crist's energy office.
In Texas this week all $23 million in rebate money was snapped up by 2:30 p.m. the first day despite an apparent hacker commandeering much of the Web site's capacity and a phone room hit with 1,000 calls a minute.
"Otherwise the money would have been all gone two hours sooner," Buchan said.
Florida has $17.6 million in rebate money to dole out as 20 percent discounts to buyers of six types of Energy Star rated appliances. The estimated 68,000 who qualify also can get $75 per appliance for properly junking the energy pigs being replaced.
Daybreak openings are among several strategies appliance retailers plan to snare their share of sales. Several promise added sale prices making total savings up to 40 percent. A few will write up advance orders, but not execute them until Friday. All are bulking up to handle crowds.
"Nobody here is taking Friday off," said Dan Turner, vice president of the southeast for HHGregg. "Florida will be a big rush because these rebates are much better than what we've handled in many states like Georgia and South Carolina."
Florida will make shoppers jump through some hoops to qualify for a mail-in rebate. Because demand will outstrip supply, buyers should apply for a "priority number" to be sure their application for a rebate gets to the head of the processing line. You can only apply online at www.rebates.com/florida once that section of the site is activated at 11 a.m. Friday. The state says you must buy the appliance to apply for a priority number.
For the computer-wary, stores like HHGregg and Sears, which have high speed Internet access linked to cash register systems, offer to handle the paperwork and online applications.
"We see helping people navigate this process as a business opportunity," said Doug Moore, president of home appliances for Sears Holdings Corp. which sells a third of all major appliances covered by the rebates.
The rebates are first come, first served until the money runs out. And the state says shoppers must buy before applying for a priority number. So to limit their being asked to buy a pig in a poke, the Web site carries a running tally of the amount of rebate cash left. The tally is updated every 30 minutes including updates on Twitter.
Staff Writer Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727)893-8252.