Local businesses prepare for Black Friday rush

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Just because Wayne Marcel has seen live action before does not mean he has taken preparations easy this year.

Marcel, general manager of the Best Buy in Houma, said employees at the store have been preparing for Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and busiest shopping day of the year. Marcel said he and his team have been working extra to be ready for the influx of inventory and customers on Friday.

This Black Friday will mark Marcel’s third with Best Buy. He previously worked at a Lowe’s, so he is familiar with the rush on the day celebrating the craze of consumerism. He has hired extra staff to work the holiday season, with most having started in the last month and set to stay with Best Buy until at least after Christmas.

According to Marcel, the store typically gets about twice as much inventory as normal for Black Friday. To get ready, the staff has been doing “dry runs” on Saturday mornings, where they will spend an hour simulating lines going through the store to different departments to evaluate how well people move around while shopping. Marcel said he is leaning on his experience from the past couple of years, although small changes to the store’s layout require a few updates to Best Buy’s plans.

“Because we know what worked best last year, each time it gets a little bit less (demanding). Two years ago it was my first Black Friday here, and it took me a little while to get everything out, but now, we just have to tweak a few things based on things that changed position,” Marcel said.

Best Buy will open up at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving before closing at 1 a.m. The store will then re-open again at 8 a.m., when dozens of shoppers will be lined up and ready to knock out large portions of their Christmas lists. For Marcel and his staff, the biggest challenge is striking the balance between having enough product out on the floor while retaining easy and efficient customer flow.

To improve that flow, Best Buy lays down color-coded arrows on its floor so shoppers can easily follow the path to whatever department they are looking for. Marcel said Best Buy has begun some of its Black Friday pricing the week before, allowing some shoppers to knock out their visits ahead of time. The company also hands out tickets for door buster deals to customers in line before doors open on Friday, thereby ensuring those with tickets are guaranteed a certain deal. According to Marcel, the tickets let customers know beforehand whether they are or aren’t slated to get a product, thereby limiting the chance for marketplace melees quickly shared on the web each year.

“I think that avoids (conflicts), because there’s some items on those door buster deals that no matter how many you have they’re going to sell out right away because they’re such a good deal, so if you just stack it out and let people fight over it, it wouldn’t be good,” Marcel said.

Best Buy is just one of many of the big-box retailers on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard prepping for their revenue Super Bowl. Across the boulevard at Target, the store is also getting ready for a huge spike in traffic.

Greg F., store manager at the Target in Houma, said the store will be open from 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving all the way through 11 p.m. on Black Friday. According to Greg, shoppers will start lining up at the store around midday on Thanksgiving. Once doors open, Target will let only a certain number of shoppers in at a time to control the flow and avoid any chaos. Greg said the store will get about four times the normal amount of guests in the first three and a half hours of its Thanksgiving shopping. He said Target has a secret in store for the first 70 to 100 customers, which he said they should be very excited about.

For both Marcel and Greg, televisions will once again be the main attractions during Black Friday, with customers searching for big discounts on big screens. Greg also saw motorized hoverboards, Keurig coffee makers and Ninja blenders as goods sure to fly off the racks on Friday. According to Greg, the key to Target competing with all the other stores for foot traffic is similar to Best Buy: an emphasis on organization and customer service.

“People are taking time away from their families to spend time with us, so we want to make sure they have a great experience while they’re here,” Greg said.

Elsewhere on MLK, other businesses get the runoff from Black Friday hysteria. For those shoppers pulling all-nighters or running from store to store, a refueling has to take place at some point. That’s where restaurants like IHOP come in. The 24-hour eatery will be open for the duration of the shopping frenzy, but things won’t be any different, according to General Manager Ana Escobar. She said her restaurant will just have regular staffing for a busy day, which will not be a problem for her on Black Friday. According to Escobar, employees can choose between Thanksgiving and Black Friday to be off, and only one requested Friday.

Escobar said IHOP starts getting busy around 7 p.m. on Thursday, and the hectic flow of hungry shoppers doesn’t slow down until about 2 p.m. on Friday. While there are no special preparations for the day, Escobar said she and her staff take Friday as a challenge to get zero complaints from customers during the rush.

In downtown Houma, local clothing stores are geared up for both Black Friday and Small Business Saturday the following day. At JuJu’s Boutique, all hands will be on deck for extended hours and large numbers in search of their special deals. Shellie Malbrough, area manager of JuJu’s, said the store will have $5 and $10 racks of clothing, shoes and accessories, starting with their door busters at 6 a.m., four hours before the store’s normal opening time. Those sales will end at 10 a.m. and another set of sales will take over from 2 p.m. until the store’s close at 6 p.m.

According to Malbrough, relatives both older and younger, as well as past employees, will be helping the team at JuJu’s. Malbrough expects choker necklaces and Piko tops to be big sellers this year, while the boutique’s many other deals will keep shoppers coming in. For a store where employees often help customers pick out entire outfits, the high shopper volume can present a challenge at the small location, according to Malbrough.

“Everybody works, but you still feel like you don’t have enough people to cover the whole store to help everybody individually like we’re normally used to doing. We have one register, so sometimes the line might get a little backed up or so,” Malbrough said.

However, the workers at JuJu’s still plan on giving 100 percent satisfaction to their customers, according to Malbrough. While she will be at either JuJu’s Houma or Thibodaux location at 5:30 a.m. on Friday, ready to work the long haul, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love working Black Friday, that’s just my favorite day to work, because it’s so busy and I love it. It’s just nonstop and it’s exciting,” Malbrough said. •

Black Friday shopping