For years, Hickory Farms has set up a temporary kiosk in one of the mall’s walkways during November and December, selling its seasonal wares as holiday shoppers file by.
Along with the smoked meats and peanut brittle come jobs — seasonal jobs that can provide a shot in the arm for local families looking for holiday spending money. Those jobs can also help dull the sting of the region’s high unemployment rate.
The jobless rate in the Purchase region was 8.8 percent in August, according to the most recent numbers available from the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.
McCracken County’s jobless rate in the same month was 8.3 percent, a bit under the statewide mark of 9.1 percent.
The outlook for seasonal jobs this year indicates similar hiring as last year, a sign that retailers are slightly optimistic about consumer spending.
Other factors in the sluggish economy, however, temper hopes that seasonal jobs in the region will be readily available or that they’ll contribute to a blockbuster shopping season nationwide.
Job offerings remain steady while demand rises
When the Hickory Farms kiosk opens again in Paducah on Nov. 9, it will employ 10 people through year’s end, according to Lisa Gardner, the company’s manager of brand marketing.
Those 10 are part of 72 such seasonal jobs the company will offer throughout the state spread out over six other locations, Gardner said.
Those jobs help make up what analysts predict to be between 480,000 to 500,000 seasonal retail jobs in the U.S. this holiday season.
That’s roughly the same number of seasonal employees hired last year, according to the National Retail Federation. The Washington-based industry researcher reported more than 490,000 seasonal jobs created through Christmas 2010.
National retailers Best Buy and Kohl’s released numbers consistent with the idea that retailers will remain consistent with holiday help.
Kohl’s announced it will hire 40,000 additional workers, roughly 35 extra people per store, the same as last year. A “Now Hiring” sign went up in the first week of October at the local Kohl’s store at 5191 Hinkleville Road.
Best Buy will hire 15,000 in-store associates across the nation and explained in a release why the company isn’t hiring more seasonal workers.
“This year we are focused on making sure that our most experienced, knowledgeable employees are there for our customers while also responding to our employees’ requests for additional hours for more income. Because of that, our labor hours are flat over last year.”
Gardner said Hickory Farms uses a nationwide recruitment and hiring service, Headway Workforce Solutions, to fill its seasonal positions. Job postings and applications data at Headway shows while similar jobs are open this season, more demand makes landing those jobs a more competitive endeavor this year.
Headway’s job postings are up 11 percent over last year, according to Leif Kolflat, vice president of marketing.
“Also, we see that applications from job seekers have increased more than 26 percent over last year’s period,” Kolflat wrote in an email.
The lack of seasonal job orders this time of year at the Paducah Career Center is an indication of how easily companies can fill those positions, according to David Sorrells, manager of the center.
From Oct. 1, 2010, through Dec. 15, 2010, only three job orders submitted to the career center were listed as seasonal. In the same time period, 28 part-time jobs at retailers were listed, Sorrells said. Sorrells said there were obviously more positions available in the area, but they were filled without going through the career center.
In late September, 22 retailers in Kentucky Oaks held a job fair that drew a crowd, said Joe Bell, spokesman for the Ohio-based Cafaro Co., the mall’s owner.
At the mall’s customer service kiosk sits a three-ring binder in which mall retailers advertise positions. Nine retailers advertised positions in the folder in early October.
Bell said the mall has planned for a successful holiday shopping season, which this year will coincide with completion of the largest renovation in the 28-year-old mall’s history.
A&K Construction of Paducah has worked since the summer on the $10 million renovation project that has installed 10 new skylights in the one-story, 350,000-square-foot building.
New signs, tile flooring and updated lighting features are set to be unveiled during a grand re-opening on Nov. 19, Bell said.
The real driver behind seasonal job hires each year are retailers’ expectations for consumer spending and economic performance. Coming off of a resurgent 2010, industry researchers are emphasizing tempered optimism for this year.
Slow and steady expected through Christmas
Last year’s retail hiring increased a better-than-expected 27 percent from the 495,800 seasonal workers added in the final three months of 2009, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm.
The firm released a statement saying it believed retailers this holiday season are likely to remain unchanged or to decline from last year’s levels.
Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the NRF, helped create the firm’s projections for holiday spending by consumers this year.
In a conference call with media in early October, Kleinhenz said he expects holiday retail sales to increase 2.8 percent to $465.6 billion. That’s lower than last year’s 5.2 percent increase but is higher than the 10-year average holiday sales increase of 2.6 percent.
When explaining the modest expectations for upcoming shopping, he pointed to sluggish performance across every major aspect of the national economy. “We saw consumer spending a bit anemic (in September). Personal income is off, consumer confidence, the housing market continues to struggle, and these are all important factors in terms of the economy,” Kleinhenz said.
“Several factors have led to weakness in demand. Certainly the lack of consumer confidence, concern over geopolitical issues in the world, the fact that we have not been able to get more employment in this economy, those are all factors influencing the consumer at this time.”
But reasons for optimism lie in the retail industry being better acclimated to the economy than it was heading into the holidays in 2008 and 2009, said Matthew Shay, NRF’s president and CEO.
Holiday sales fell 4.4 percent in 2008 and 0.4 percent in 2009.
“While businesses remain concerned over the viability of the economic recovery, there is no doubt that the retail industry is in a better position this year to handle consumer uncertainty than it was in 2008 and 2009,” Shay said.
“The theme really for the holiday season, and for this forecast, is consistent with what is going on overall across the economy and that is slow and steady wins the race.”
The Christmas creep — the term for Christmas merchandise appearing on store shelves earlier each year — has been evident this year as a way for stores to allow customers to spread out the cost of buying gifts and decorations, Shay said.
He said retailers anticipate customers to be more disciplined in terms of the way they spend money, and there will be less people walking into a mall without an idea of where they want to end up.
How well retailers fare will likely depend on how good of a perceived deal they can provide.
By the numbersThe Kentucky Retail Federation details the economic impact of the retail industry in the 1st Congressional District of Kentucky, comprised of western Kentucky:
9,602 — Retail establishments
64,305 — Direct retail employment
87,214 — Total retail employment impact, includes jobs created by retail jobs
$1.4 million — Direct retail labor income
$2.3 million — Direct retail gross domestic product
$2.4 million — Total labor income impact
$3.9 million — Total impact on gross domestic product
Closer looks at holiday shopping, according to the National Retail Federation.
• For some companies, the holiday season can account for 25 to 40 percent of annual sales.
• Over the past 15 years, the share of annual sales during the holiday season has continued to decline. Some of that shift could be due to many Americans beginning their holiday shopping in October or redeeming gift cards in January or later. Regardless, holiday sales consistently represent nearly one-fifth of annual retail sales.
• Since 1995, holiday sales have failed to increase over the previous year only twice: 2008 and 2009.
• Since 2000, five years saw less holiday workers hired than the previous year.
• About 40 percent of consumers begin holiday shopping before Halloween. About 13 percent beging shopping before September.
• In 2007, holiday spending per person in the U.S. was above $740. That mark dipped below $700 in 2009.
Average consumer spending for the holiday season in 2010 was a total of $718.98. The average breakdown:
• $410.75 — Gifts for family
• $90.09 — Candy and food
• $74.57 — Gifts for friends
• $43.32 — Decorations
• $36.34 — Other gifts
• $27.24 — Cards and postage
• $19.06 — Co-workers’ gifts
• $17.60 — Flowers
*Source, National Retail Federation, Oct. report.