From merchandising and advertising to real estate and technology, business reporters offer insight into the latest trends and people that define today’s top retailers.

Minnesota’s/Wisconsin's loss of snowblowers is New England’s gain

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: January 27, 2015 - 1:40 PM


As the historic snowstorm threatened the Northeast Monday, Mike Frattallone of Frattallone Hardware stores was hoping for a call from Bloomington-based Toro.

"I’d love it they asked me if I wanted to get rid of a couple hundred snowblowers," he said.

The law of supply and demand at work, snowblower manufacturers such as Toro and Ariens sometimes call up their dealers in areas of low or no snow to transfer to areas hit by heavy snowfall. Frattallone got the call a few years ago, although last year dealers around the country were shipping units to Minnesota instead of the other way around.

Toro said the transfers from retailers don’t happen every year, according to snow marketing manager Christine Cheng. This year the company has enough inventory of their own. "We’re moving more than 1,000 units to the East Coast so they can replenish," she said.

Frattallone didn’t get the call this year, but he said it happens with Toro with some regularity.

Some Ariens dealers in Wisconsin got the call last year. Regional sales manager Mark Swift said the Brillion, Wis.-based company pulled 200 snowblowers from Wisconsin retailers and shipped them to Canada.

But thrower manufacturing is changing. After last winter Ariens started manufacturing snow throwers year round to better keep up with demand, Smith said. "It’s not full-time but we build up in the summer so we have plenty of inventory for the preseason," he said.

"A good snow year is followed by strong preseason sales the following year," he said.

Toro doesn’t have a typical stop date to quit manufacturing throwers, Cheng said. "We don’t have production right now, but that could change based on customer needs," she said. It was very good preseason for snowblower sales in fall 2014, partly due to consumers remembering the snowy winter of 2013-14 and early snowfall nationwide. But sales tapered off in December and January with little new snow.

That’s likely to bring an overstock situation in the Twin Cities unless weather patterns change soon. And that will bring markdowns, although Frattallone said snowblower profit margins are very tiny. "Even $20 off is worth considering," he said.

Saks Off Fifth Mpls throws consumers a few curve balls at closing

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Department stores Updated: January 21, 2015 - 2:54 PM

Saks Off Fifth in downtown Minneapolis ended its liquidation sale of clothes and shoes on Saturday, Jan. 17. On the last day everything was discounted an additional 70 percent and considering the few pieces that were left, it was a very successful Going-Out-of-Business sale.

But bargain hunters like me who were wondering if everything would be 90% off on the last day were left scratching our heads. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 13-14, Saks discounted everything 80 percent. On Thursday, however, the discount dropped to 70 percent. Hardly a bait and switch, but it's unprecedented in my experience for a retailer to raise prices in the last few days.Maybe they were committed to closing Saturday and everything was selling too fast at 80% off.

I asked Tiffany Bourre, director of communications for Hudson Bay Co., in an email why the company backtracked on the discounts. I also asked her if there was an update about the outlet relocating in downtown Minneapolis or elsewhere. She ignored my shifting discount question, but responded to the relocation question: "I do not have a timeline to share. Should we have any updates we will make an announcement," she wrote.

Meanwhile, the store is still open but only to sell fixtures and a few remaining art pieces discounted 50 percent or so. (All the clothing and shoes have been removed.) I chuckled at the $300 price of a bird cage (?) festooned with ribbon and curlicues. My untrained eye failed to appreciate the artistry or artist, but I wonder if anyone will buy one for $30, let alone $300.

The store remains open for the sale of fixtures and art through Sunday, Jan. 25

Come back to Minneapolis soon, Saks Off Fifth, but you can keep the birdcages.

Pet food delivery options, local and national

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: January 19, 2015 - 4:10 PM

In Monday's article about Chuck & Don's new pet food and supplies delivery, I focused on a local business, but there is plenty of competition offering it locally and nationally.

I should have included a mention of Fetch Delivers. The Minneapolis-based company has been doing online delivery since 2006. It delivers to the west metro on Thursdays and the east metro on Fridays as long as the order is placed online or by phone at midnight on Mondays. Delivery is free for orders of $40 or more in Minneapolis/St. Paul and first ring suburbs. In outlying areas, delivery is still free but the minimum order jumps to $100. Customers can find out the minimum order needed with their ZIP code. There are no weight restrictions. For phone orders call 612-338-2433.

Lunds Byerly's stores offer delivery and drive through service. The delivery fee is $9.95 regardless of size. The drive-through service (at Byerly's stores only) is $4.95. Pet owners who want a larger selection may want to choose the St. Louis Park store, which has a Bone Marche store a couple of doors down that is owned by Byerly's.

Urban Tails Pet Supply in Uptown offers free delivery with only a $25 minimum and no weight restrictions. Most of the Twin Cities is included.

Some Meals on Wheels recipients can also request delivery of pet food. The 35 Twin Cities Meals on Wheels Programs accepts pet food donations to interested meal recipients. Some cash donations can also be directed to pet food programs, according to Grant Boelter, communications specialist for Metro Meals on Wheels.

If you have a favorite pet store close by and they don't have a formal delivery policy, ask them. Pet Supplies Plus on Hiawatha Av. in Minneapolis will deliver to seniors and others who are less mobile, as long as they live within a couple miles of the store.

The article also goes on to mention that Target offers rush, same day delivery for $10. Target and Wal-Mart and many other websites also offer free delivery on orders over $50 although some have weight restrictions.

Best Buy's website had glitches for hours today

Posted by: Kavita Kumar under Best Buy Updated: January 14, 2015 - 5:04 PM

For several hours today, Best Buy's website didn't allow customers to actually buy items from it.

Instead, customers were greeted by the words "coming soon" on product pages where an "add to cart" button should have been. But the issue appeared to be mostly resolved by mid-afternoon.

A Best Buy spokesman said in an email around 5 p.m. that the website was working again.

"The deployment of system updates led to the temporary loss of some site functionality on Wednesday," he said.

This isn't the first time the Richfield-based electronics has recently disappointed customers on its website. On Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year, the retailer took down its website at least two times. Best Buy said at the time that a surge in mobile traffic overwhelmed its systems so the retailer decided to take its site offline while it addressed the issue.

Today was obviously not as big of a sales day. But still, many frustrated customers took to Twitter to vent their frustrations with the site.

Despite these occasional website woes, analysts have been optimistic about Best Buy's performance during the holiday season. But we'll know for sure tomorrow morning when it reports its holiday sales.

Minnesota shows biggest gain in holiday retail sales

Posted by: Kavita Kumar Updated: January 12, 2015 - 4:18 PM

Hey Minnesotans, did you by chance notice more gifts -- or nicer ones -- under the Christmas tree this last year?

It would make sense if you did since Minnesota apparently showed the biggest gain of all states in holiday retail sales. That’s according to the number crunchers at First Data, a prominent payments technology firm that compiled the data from transactions at more than 400,000 retail merchant locations across the U.S. It included both online and brick-and-mortar sales in its data.

Not only that, but Minnesota blew everyone else away. Retail sales grew 12.9 percent in Minnesota between November 1 and January 4 compared to the same period a year ago, according to First Data. That compares to the national average of 3.2 percent. The next closest state was Oregon with 7.4 percent. The states at the bottom of the list included the likes of Mississippi, Massachusetts and Nebraska with less than 1 percent growth.

So how do you explain Minnesota's eye-popping growth?

I asked the folks at First Data what could account for such a big increase. They pointed to the state’s low unemployment rate (3.7 percent in November compared to 5.8 percent nationwide) as a likely factor.  Also, they noted that Minnesota had a much warmer December than the previous year, which could have put shoppers more in the buying mood.

But the data was also met with some skepticism. Dave Brennan, co-director of the University of St. Thomas Institute for Retailing Excellence, wondered if the data included sales from certain types of stores not typically used in retail sales numbers or if there might be some other factors throwing off the results.

After all, shoppers in the Twin Cities were expected to spend just 3.7 percent more during the holiday season compared to 2013, according to the University of St. Thomas’ annual survey.


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