Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Retail Group Expects Holiday Sales Growth

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Retail Group Expects Holiday Sales Growth

Article excerpt

The National Retail Federation is anticipating a 5 to 6 percent growth in sales for the Christmas shopping season.

That was the message Thursday from Tracy Mullin, president of the trade association. She was in Oklahoma City Thursday to visit with Bob Benham, co-owner of Balliet's and chairman of the Board of Independent Stores.

Mullin -- whose organization encompasses all aspects of the retail industry from hardware vendors to jewelers -- took time out to discuss retail trends and how Balliet's fits in with some of those trends. Mullin said the NRF is anticipating a positive Christmas shopping season with 5 to 6 percent growth over last year's $260 billion in sales. Nonetheless, she concedes that the economy now isn't as sunny as it was even a few months ago. "I think a lot of retailers would have loved to have seen Christmas fall in June this year when everything was gangbusters," said Mullin. As in previous years, Mullin said the discount stores segment will likely drive much of the growth. Nonetheless, she said things look good for department stores and specialty stores like Balliet's as well. Specialty stores have the opportunity to stand out from the pack, she explained. "It's always been a challenge for small companies," said Mullin. "I think today's challenges are bigger, but I think the opportunities are also bigger. There is a lot of sameness out there among the chains. Go to any shopping mall and you will see the same stores and the merchandise is very similar store to store." In Oklahoma City, for instance, Balliet's has carved out a niche for itself in high-end fashion, cosmetics, and salon service. Benham said his store will not carry any line that is carried at Dillard's or Foley's. So Balliet's is Oklahoma City's exclusive dealer of Armani, Luca Luca, Moschino, and other exclusive labels. The market for these products is upscale women. Benham relocated to Oklahoma City in 1991 from Kansas City where he served as president of Hall Merchandising to buy into Balliet's and run it. He helped turn the business around, finally achieving in 1997 its first profitable year since 1981. The only reason the business survived all that time was because of the support of its primary owner -- American Fidelity Group, the insurance company which at the time also owned 50 Penn Place. In order to keep its real estate investment viable, it was important to also keep Balliet's as an anchor tenant, he explained. Now, however, things look better, with the store anticipating 1998 as its third consecutive year of sales and profit growth. In addition to carving out a niche, Benham explained that Balliet's strength also lies in superior service. Benham said he knows many of his customers by name. "We are a relationship-driven business," said Benham. …

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