this article first appeared November 5 in the Spokane Journal of Business. Written by Kevin Blocker.
Extended holiday shopping season benefits some here
Despite the fact thousands of retail storefronts across the U.S. have struggled or gone away in recent years, some Spokane-based retailers say they could be on the verge of all-time holiday sales records in 2020.
As the pandemic’s surge continues to strengthen heading into late fall, so too does consumer demand for some products as the holidays near.
At the General Store, general manager Mark McKee says he’s fully prepared for both store locations to set holiday records this season. The General Store, located at 2424 N. Division, and The General Store Outpost, at 1330 N. Argonne in Spokane Valley, last year partnered with ACE Hardware to carry its brand of tools and hardware.
The day after the region’s Oct. 23 snowstorm, the Division store set a single-day sales record, McKee says. Though he declines to disclose an actual dollar amount, he says Oct. 24’s single-store revenues were 150% above the same date in 2019.
“This year, both stores are up 45% year to date,” says McKee.
Online sales in 2020 have driven a substantial part of growth at both locations. Meanwhile, the North Division flagship store has gotten a steady facelift throughout the year.
“We’ve made the store more shoppable,” McKee says. “And something new here for us is that we’re launching a toy department on Nov. 14.”
As for in-store shopping, McKee says checkout stands will be reconfigured in an effort to create an even more socially distanced experience.
The store recently began offering curbside delivery, and for those customers with medical mask exemptions, The General Store offers full face shields for customers to use, he says.
“We want to be able to maintain full safety for customers and employees,” he says.
Chris White, the store manager at Wheel Sport cycle shop at 9501 N. Newport Highway, in North Spokane, says the company’s four stores have seen a 35.7% increase in revenue this year over 2019.
And despite the fact this time of the year is considered off-season for riding bicycles, White says bikes have been a strong holiday gift traditionally.
Wheel Sport operates four stores across the region, and all share each other’s inventory. When asked if he was concerned about the company’s ability to fulfill holiday orders, White says, “Unfortunately, yes. Very few people anticipated this.”
He advises people to shop early for Christmas gifts; the store only recently received a pair of bikes he had ordered in April.
“If you’re going to wait to start shopping after Thanksgiving, then it’s going to be too late,” he asserts.
Mark Schneider, who owns and operates Rambleraven Gear Trader, an outdoor gear and clothing store at 3220 N. Division, says he’s feeling optimistic about a strong consumer holiday shopping season.
Schneider says Rambleraven is currently “fully stocked” with outdoor gear.
Schneider says Rambleraven has picked off traffic from the closing of Mountain Gear, which occurred at the beginning of the year.
“It’s hard to predict tomorrow, but one of the shining stars through the pandemic is the outdoor economic sector,” Schneider says. “There’s been a year-long, pent-up need for people to maintain their sanity.”
The Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation launched its nationwide consumer education campaign encouraging people to shop earlier and safer due to the pandemic.
“We know this has been a year unlike any other,” NRF President and CEO Matthew McShay told the Associated Press in a late October interview. “And we ought to expect that the holiday season will be just as different from normal holiday seasons as the rest of this year has been from normal years.”
Despite the pandemic, the federation projects consumer spending on gifts will be on par with 2019, decreasing by only about $9 per person, while spending on other holiday items, such as decorations, will be up slightly.
“Expected spending remains significantly higher than the five-year average for both those categories. The holiday season is top of mind, with 42% of people saying they plan to start their holiday shopping by the end of October and another 41% in November,” the retail federation says.
NRF estimates the average adult consumer will spend $650 on gifts this year, up from the four-year annual average of $624 from 2016 to 2019. Consumers are expected to spend $230 on nongift holiday items, such as decorations, compared with the $217 annual average from 2016 to 2019.
The only category the retail federation anticipates seeing a decrease in consumer spending is on “other nongift purchases,” down to $117 per consumer compared with the 2016 to 2019 average of $145.
“One in five holiday shoppers say that they typically travel for the holidays but will stay home instead this year,” according to the retail federation. “Over half of those who changed their holiday travel plans said they are likely to spend more on holiday items this year, specifically because they will not be traveling.”
The retail federation says online sales have skyrocketed in 2020, and 60% of its survey respondents say they plan to purchase holiday items online.
Other top holiday shopping destinations for consumers include department stores, mentioned by 45% of respondent, discount stores (43%), and grocery stores or supermarkets (42%), NRF says.
The survey was conducted Oct. 1-Oct. 9 and sampled 7,660 total consumers, according to the retail federation.
Consumer zest for spending is still strong even though as of mid-August, a Business Insider report said retailers were expected to close more than 7,500 stores in 2020 following a record-high closing of more than 9,300 store closings in 2019.
Socially distanced, socially conscious
Some nonprofits switch to longer fundraising cycles, spend less on overhead
Instead of canceling fundraising events, many Inland Northwest nonprofits have moved them into the digital realm.
Donor participation in charity events is lower, but some nonprofits say they’re receiving nearly as many donations as in prior years from a smaller pool of donors, and nonprofits are saving money by forgoing costly in-person events in favor of low-cost online affairs.
Heather Hamlin, executive director of Women Helping Women Fund, says her staff saw the writing on the wall by mid-March. The organization had planned its 28th annual luncheon for May, but Hamlin and her staff knew well before then that in-person events wouldn’t be possible for several months, at least.
“But the need in the community was bigger than ever,” Hamlin says. “We saw that was going to continue to grow, so we decided to move to a virtual event.”
Women Helping Women Fund decided to change to a longer, eight-week fundraising campaign in which table captains set goals for their groups, who raised money through networking. Keynote speaker Stephanie Land spoke to the organization through a Facebook Live event, which Hamlin says has garnered more than 13,000 views.
Hamlin says Women Helping Women Fund received about $170,000 in private donations in its eight-week campaign, as opposed to the $300,000 the annual luncheon typically generates. Hamlin says corporate donations go to underwriting the event, so Women Helping Women Fund receives every dollar donated by individual donors.
Lutheran Community Services Northwest’s fundraiser was a different story. The annual 8 Lakes Leg Aches bike ride fundraiser, which typically results in about $75,000 in donations, raised about $80,000 in this year’s “virtual ride.”
The 22nd annual biking event had been scheduled for June 22 but was rescheduled for July 18. Development manager Christie McKee says the organization had thought an in-person event might be possible. By July, it was clear that wouldn’t happen, and the organization decided to make 8 Lakes Leg Aches a virtual event.
Attendees were invited to complete one of three rides, with routes that were 30, 45, and 70 miles long, on the course of their choice, or even on a stationary bike, between July 11 and July 18. A finish-line event was held via Facebook Live on July 18.
McKee says ridership was down this year, to about 200 participants from nearly 600 riders in past years, but she says she was impressed by the support those 200 riders provided to the organization.
“We had one pledge rider who raised $9,900 who is 90 years old and rode 17 miles to celebrate his 90th birthday,” McKee says. “We had a few others who were able to raise $10,000 each, and several that did $3,000 or more.”
McKee says most riders are from outside of the Spokane area, which was part of the reason for encouraging participants to bike any course. But it also meant that overhead for the fundraiser was much lower.
“Usually, if we have David’s Pizza at the event and we have 600 riders, our bill’s going to be for 600 riders,” McKee says. “We have roughly 160 riders who are here in this area. The others are all out of town, so they’re not even going to go to David’s Pizza.”
McKee also ordered about half as many T-shirts as usual for the event, expecting that participation would be lower.
“We’ll actually net more this year, because our expenses are going to be lower,” McKee says.
Amy Knapton Vega, executive director at Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, said that when she was trying to decide how to pivot the organization’s annual June benefit luncheon, she was told by some that the organization shouldn’t expect to raise any money from events.
But Vega watched as other organizations held successful fundraising events, and she decided to forge ahead. She asked for help from longtime partner Hamilton Studios, which helped the organization put together a virtual benefit luncheon.
“They helped us navigate through what would work, how to tailor it, and they did a great job of doing their own set up, as far as social distancing,” Vega says.
The online event drew 300 viewers, in comparison to the roughly 1,000 people who usually attend the luncheon. But Vega says the exceeded its goal of $170,000, bringing in a total of $172,000.
Going virtual saved Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery thousands of dollars. Vega says the luncheon usually costs the organization about $40,000. This year, the crisis nursery spent less than $5,000 for its online event.
Don Hamilton, owner of Hamilton Studios, says he started adapting his video production and photography studio into a socially distanced, livestream-capable studio in March. A friend was scheduled to deliver a lecture to a college in Virginia in late March and decided to do so via Zoom. Hamilton thought his friend deserved better than a bland setting.
“It got me wondering — how could I use my cameras, lights, mics, and large studio to safely offer my friend a high-production-value presentation?” Hamilton says. “I started looking into the technology to adapt my motion picture production equipment to support a multicamera, livestreaming studio.”
Hamilton asked the Spokane Regional MarCom Association if he could handle the nonprofit organization’s annual Spark awards event to prove he could do a hybrid virtual event that combined livestreaming with pre-recorded segments.
“They were game, so we started by producing a glossy teaser announcing the event,” Hamilton says. “We then had a number of members of the MarCom board come in, one at a time, to pre-record announcements of the winners.”
Hamilton says the event was a success.
“The show moved seamlessly between pre-recorded packages and the live hosts reading a script from a large studio teleprompter,” he says.
Since then, Hamilton Studios has handled five livestreaming events, including the Vanessa Behan luncheon and YWCA Spokane’s “An Evening in Tuscany” fundraising event.
Social distancing at Hamilton Studio is easy, he says. His studio is located in the former auditorium of St. Joseph Catholic School, and he’s divided the basketball court in half.
“The idea is that whatever we do in there, we get one half-court for the crew and one half-court for the talent, so that nobody’s ever closer than 15 feet,” Hamilton says.
Hamilton says no more than seven people are in the studio at any one time. When a livestreaming event is taking place, just three crew members run the show: Hamilton and his wife, Lorna, sit together at the master controls, where Lorna manages the teleprompter, and Hamilton manages four live cameras in addition to pre-recorded videos. About 25 feet away from master controls, video editor Hannah Sander becomes the live program manager during livestreaming events.
Hamilton says he believes it will be at least another two years before nonprofits can return safely to holding in-person events. In that time, he expects demand for hybrid livestreaming events will increase exponentially.
“I’m already lining up more things,” Hamilton says.
Dana Morris Lee, chief philanthropy officer at YWCA Spokane, says the organization’s livestreaming of its 14th annual Tuscany event surprised her in that it required so much more technical effort and volunteer participation beforehand, as compared to in-person events.
“We had to become virtual experts as quickly as possible,” Morris Lee says. “You need to have a location to do this, and you need somebody who understands the technical restrictions around sound and video, and how to switch between different components of the program.”
An Evening in Tuscany typically draws about 400 people, Morris Lee says. About 200 people watched the livestreamed event.
The fundraising portion of the event was stretched from one night to about six weeks. Morris Lee says the organization decided to do a longer fundraising campaign after watching and learning from other organizations’ events.
“Creating a longer-term fundraising campaign around the event was a critical piece, because you just aren’t going to get the same attendance online that you’re going to get in person,” Morris Lee says.
YWCA Spokane had hoped to raise $100,000. As of July 20, the fundraising campaign had received about $75,000. Now, Morris Lee says she hopes to reach $92,000 by Friday, July 31, when the campaign ends.
While an online event can provide a nonprofit with some funding, Vega says she still missed being in a roomful of people who have a long-standing relationship with the crisis nursery.
“It always feels like you’re going to a kind of reunion,” she says. “It’s always so fun to get to visit and catch up on things, and we just didn’t get that luxury this year. That was probably the hardest part of it.”
Date: March 24, 2020
Time: 9:00am-2:15pm (8:30am – Networking Breakfast)
Location: CenterPlace Regional Event Center
2426 North Discovery Place
Spokane Valley, WA. 99216
First appeared in The Coeur d’Alene Press, December 12, 2019 at 5:00 am | By MIKE PATRICK Staff Writer
COEUR d’ALENE — Same ‘ol-same ‘ol looks pretty sweet.
Speaking to a packed house of 215 business people and community leaders Wednesday, economist Dr. John Mitchell said there’s little reason to expect the nation’s unprecedented 126-month expansion to come to a screeching halt. What we saw in 2019 should look a lot like what we see in 2020, he said.
In his annual Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce breakfast address at the Best Western Plus Coeur d’Alene Inn, the veteran fiscal forecaster predicted economic growth might slow a bit but continue heading in the right direction.
“The things we traditionally worry about at the moment are not happening,” he said.
Sure, there’s some uncertainty with impeachment proceedings, Mitchell acknowledged. Angst ebbs and flows with international trade and tariff talk, too.
It’s always possible the market could see a big dip, or threats emerge to upend the tax system or the medical system. And of course, Mitchell had to raise the specter of a black swan event — some disaster that nobody sees until after it’s already happened — no matter how unlikely.
“I worry about… people’s willingness to take chances and invest,” he conceded. “That’s a threat.”
But having covered the big scary stuff, Mitchell’s forecast had a calming effect.
“The things that preceded many other recessions don’t seem to be there,” he said.
Nationally, Mitchell pointed to GDP slowing slightly next year but strong employment and low inflation propelling a steady course.
Close to home, Mitchell unwrapped a Christmas package of economic positivity.
He cited Idaho’s 2.1 percent population growth as No. 1 in the nation, tied with Nevada.
Idaho’s job growth for the year through October was a sturdy 2 percent, good for eighth in a nation where all 50 states showed job growth in 2019. Mitchell charted Kootenai County job growth for three years, from October 2016 through October 2019, and tallied 8.4 percent growth, with construction and leisure/hospitality leading the way.
The local housing picture is especially bright — if you’re looking at the value of your property rather than your tax bill, anyway. According to Mitchell’s research, the Coeur d’Alene metro area had the fourth highest housing appreciation rate in the country as of the year’s third quarter. Chico, Calif., rising from the ashes of the Paradise Fire, led the way with a 14.25 percent appreciation rate. Boise (11.81) was second, followed by Idaho Falls (11.33) and Coeur d’Alene (10.85). Demonstrating the growth power of the Northwest, Spokane was fifth in the nation (9.36).
Growth is also visible throughout Kootenai County, as building permits attest. Mitchell said residential building permits are up 11.5 percent year over year.
“The forces that have been driving the county would seem to be intact,” he said, pointing to confident employed consumers, an aging population in the higher cost areas, the many attributes of the region, and simply rising with the tide of continued national economic expansion.
He’s got some numbers to back that all up. Looking at 2010 through 2018, Mitchell showed a positive population change in Kootenai County. Making babies was responsible for 3,822 new faces, while net migration brought in 19,111 during that period, he said. That added up to a 16.6 percent increase, well ahead of Idaho’s strong 11.9 percent population growth.
Growth is evident not just in bodies but bank accounts. According to Mitchell’s research, Kootenai County residents’ personal income was up 7 percent last year. He noted that the big uptick isn’t all from hard-working employees getting raises or better-paying jobs, either: dividends, interest, rents and transfer payments are boosting the bankroll of retirees.
“Old people save a lot,” he said.
Worries over deficit spending haven’t slowed the overall economy, and the dreaded “R” word has somehow been held at bay. Mitchell called “recession headlines very common in 2019,” but said the warnings are often a reflection of political rather than economic interests.
“I always have in the back of my mind, ‘What’s the person’s agenda?’” he said. “The recession just keeps getting pushed further and further out.”
With some effort, the economist who has been making similar presentations for 47 years strained to see dark clouds, let alone black swans, on the 2020 horizon. However, all economic expansions end sometime.
“I don’t think it’s going to be in 2020,” Mitchell said, “but it’s out there somewhere.”