Patience, planning key to Black Friday shoppers

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Fernando Hernandez has spent the last five years perfecting his craft of getting a jump on Black Friday.

The St. Joseph resident pulled up to the locked doors of Best Buy around 11:30 a.m. and saw no one else.

Hernandez was waiting outside in the cold for a few hours because of a special deal on a flat-screen TV, a Canon camera and a Boost Mobile cell phone. He had not had a Thanksgiving meal yet. However, once he was done shopping he planned on driving another 2.5 hours north to Pentwater to spend time with family.

He secured the 49-inch television for $200 by default as he was first in line. Hernandez has waited outside the Benton Township Best Buy for the last five years, where he’s slowly climbed up a few spots in line. But this year was the first time he was at the very front.

Hernandez came prepared to brave the approaching winter weather. Dressed in a cap, gloves, insulated shoes and overalls, Hernandez also ran through his process on picking out the best deals.

“I do a lot of research online to see if it’s actually a deal because a lot of times a store will boost the price up and tell you it’s a deal,” Hernandez said. “There’s a website that leaks the ads for nearly every main store.”

The savvy shopper scopes out all the big box stores in advance, which includes Wal-Mart, Sears and JC Penny.

The first time he stood outside a store for Black Friday sales was for a Samsung TV. He showed up at midnight and waited until 5 a.m. But that was when Black Friday was more serious.

“I learned to dress right because I got cold the first time,” Hernandez said. “I also learned to be among the first 15 in line. A few years ago I waited in line and was too far back. Everybody got crazy. When they were handing out tickets, a guy was pulling it away from the Best Buy worker.”

After that, Hernandez said the store put in temporary gates to make a single file line leading to the doors.

Henrique Gomes is originally from Brazil, but he’s enrolled at Andrews University.

The Berrien Springs resident got to Best Buy around noon and was also waiting in line for the $200 TV. Gomes said he was there to buy a 49-inch TV for his church.

The first time Gomes took part in bargain shopping around Thanksgiving was in 2001 when he still lived in Virginia.

“It was a much simpler process. You would go get a newspaper and circle the deals while looking with your family. There was not a lot of places you could go to check prices,” Gomes said. “It was also more serious back then. People would go at 5 a.m. on Friday, but now it’s Thursday afternoon which doesn’t feel as intense.”

Gomes said he comes well dressed because he learned the hard way.

In addition to bringing a hot drink, Gomes said the idea is to keep things moving and fun.

“Have some patience. Don’t just sit down, get to know people,” he said. “You come across some nice people waiting in line. You start taking and then time flies by. If you keep thinking about it, it will take a long time for the doors (to open).”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 25, 2016)

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More shoppers to take advantage of Cyber Monday this year

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BERRIEN COUNTY — While plenty of families completed their Christmas shopping during Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, millions more are searching for that last holiday deal online.

Jennifer Tulley is one of them, having already shopped at Target in Benton Township last week. While the Benton Harbor resident has yet to take part in any Black Friday sales, she said she’ll be do the bulk of her shopping Monday online.

“I used to do a lot of my shopping at Kohl’s and Macy’s, but now you just find those same items online at a cheaper price,” Tulley said. “It makes all this walking around pointless.”

According to a survey from the National Retail Federation about shopping intentions for 2015, about 135.8 million American consumers will have shopped Thanksgiving weekend with almost 80 percent of holiday shoppers – 183.8 million people – planning to take part in Cyber Monday.

Ever since 2005, when the Monday after Black Friday was relegated to the busiest online shopping day of the year, the number of shoppers has grown due to high-speed Internet connectivity and more mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

To Sherry Booth, of St. Joseph, Cyber Monday is a product of online retailers like Amazon, eBay and Shopify.

Booth, who was doing some of her shopping in downtown St. Joseph Friday, said she won’t be buying anything online during the holiday season because she enjoys shopping locally.

In the week leading up to Black Friday, Booth said she has received an average of two emails a day from Amazon notifying her of what is on sale Monday.

“All those emails I get from Amazon are kind of annoying, especially since I only order something from there maybe twice a year,” Booth said. “People who shop online that much should take the time to put it back into our own economy.”

The NRF also found an emerging way that shoppers were placing orders online. The survey showed that out of all Americans who plan to shop online, about 24.8 million – or one in five – will use a mobile device. That’s up 22 percent from last year, the NRF said.

In the past few years, St. Joseph resident David Whitt said he has made online purchases on his iPhone.

As an Amazon Prime member, Whitt said he regularly checks the site to see if there are any deals that piques his interest.

“I do this regularly, not just on Cyber Monday,” he said. “I can be at work scrolling through my phone and make a purchase on the spot. It’s made things so convenient now. I was never a fan of going store to store in search of something that I already knew I wanted.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 30, 2015)

Patience pays off for Black Friday bargain hunters

Dozens of shoppers wait for the opening of the Best Buy store in Benton Township on Thursday. (Don Campbell |HP Staff)

Dozens of shoppers wait for the opening of the Best Buy store in Benton Township on Thursday. (Don Campbell |HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Michael Gagliardo was among the dozens of people waiting in lines outside of the Twin Cities’ largest retailers on Thursday.

The Kalamazoo resident was at Best Buy in Benton Township, waiting for a chance to get a 55-inch flat-screen TV on sale for to hang on his living room wall.

When he arrived at Best Buy at 10 a.m., Gagliardo discovered he would be the second person to receive a doorbuster ticket.

“This is the earliest I have ever been to one of these sales,” he said. “I went this year because I was bored. I had to work at UPS on Wednesday and my family decided to go to North Carolina for Thanksgiving.”

Gagliardo said he drove to Benton Harbor for Thanksgiving because there were too many Western Michigan University students in Kalamazoo already stationed outside of stores as early as Wednesday.

The lone person in front of Gagliardo at Best Buy was Benton Harbor resident Brendalin Lewis. She was also on the hunt for a cheaper-than-normal flat-screen TV.

“I’ve been doing this for 11 years,” Lewis said beneath a tied-down tent shielding her from the ever-changing climate.

In years past Lewis has shopped at Best Buy, Meijer, Target and Wal-Mart for Black Friday deals. Lewis said she chooses stores based on whomever has the best deal.

Her first time lining up in anticipation for Black Friday doorbuster sales was at Meijer more than a decade ago, when she bought a skateboard for her grandson. Lewis says she doesn’t budget for presents this time of year, but always plans to keep an eye out for that one big deal that can make or break a Christmas.

When asked if she had learned anything from doing this for so long, Lewis had a simple answer: “Be the first one. You’ll get what you want if you are the first one.”

At Target, John Florvilus bested everyone.

The Berrien Springs resident left home early and showed up in Benton Township at 6 a.m. to an empty parking lot.

Florvilus said he waited another four hours until he saw someone else arrive at Fairplain Plaza.

Florvilus was out looking for a 55-inch TV for his children during his first attempt at Black Friday bargain hunting. He said he thought people would be there just as early, since he had never done anything like this before.

“I saw it was going to be on sale today and realized I had to make some effort to get it,” Florvilus said. “I put my chair out here as a placeholder and waited in my car because of the rain.”

Those who showed up only a few hours beforehand weren’t as lucky.

Ruth Koemes and Ron Robb, of St. Joseph, got in line at Best Buy about two hours before the doorbuster sale began and found themselves behind a line of about three dozen people.

The couple is originally from Grand Rapids, where in the past they have seen lines at Best Buy wrapping around the building.

“This isn’t as bad, but I think we might miss out on what we came for,” Koemes said.

The two were in Benton Township to buy two large flat-screen TVs for themselves and Koemes’ son. Robb said they were made aware of the Best Buy deals through a few emails, but didn’t look elsewhere for others.

“I saw something through email about the cheaper TV,” Robb said. “We’re not really Black Friday people.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 27, 2015)

Local stores take advantage of Thanksgiving deal-seekers

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — As the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm. Thanksgiving evening many birds likely will be waiting outside some of the larger area retail stores hunting for deals.

Many stores have been opening their doors earlier each year in anticipation of Black Friday sales. While it had been customary to wait in long lines until stores allow people to flood in at midnight, many are choosing to instead open on Thanksgiving Day.

Cindy Christians, manager of The Orchards Mall in Benton Township, said the mall be closed with the exception of the mall’s anchor stores.

“Carson’s, J.C. Penney and Sears Hometown Store will be open on Thanksgiving,” Christians said. “It will be through their outside entrance because the mall will be closed. The mall was not closed last year, but the prior year it was. Last year, we tried it but there was not much traffic on the inside because not everybody was open.”

The mall will open at 6 a.m. on Friday, rather than its normal time of 10 a.m. The mall will then close at its normal time on Friday at 9 p.m.

The Best Buy in Benton Township posted its hours on its website at the beginning of the week in advance for holiday shoppers.

Thanksgiving shoppers can access the electronic retailer today from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m.-10 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are required for in-store Black Friday doorbuster shopping and will be handed out when people begin to line up today.

According to the store’s manager, ticketing helps ensure the safety of Best Buy customers and employees when the store opens its doors.

A ticket will grant customers the ability to buy an item for a limited time for the doorbuster sale. The tickets will be handed out in a two-hour time frame on a first-come, first-served basis before Best Buy opens at 5 p.m.

While stores like Meijer and Walmart are open 24 hours a day, Black Friday sales don’t start until specified times during Thursday and Friday.

For its doorbuster sale, the Target store at 960 Fairplain Drive in Benton Township will open at 6 p.m. today and remain open through 10 p.m. Friday. The store hours on Saturday and Sunday are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Target store manager Ashley Turley said they consider this to be the best time for families to go shopping, as they also opened the same time on Thanksgiving a year ago.

“A ton of guests came out to shop and took advantage of our Black Friday deals last year,” she said. “We hear from many guests that the 6 p.m. open time allowed them to enjoy the tradition of Black Friday without having to shop through the entire night.”

Doorbuster maps will be handed outside to customers waiting in line. The digital version will be available on the Target app.

Turley said all store employees are scheduled to work at some time over Black Friday weekend. She also said they are there to help if a problem arises.

“Wait patiently and follow the directions from the store teams to keep everyone safe,” Turley said. “We will have plenty of team members around if guests have questions or need help finding something.”

Numerous other stores around Southwest Michigan will be open this evening and/or offering Black Friday deals.

Shopping downtown on Friday

Bargain hunters can also venture to downtown St. Joseph on Friday and Saturday.

Whitney Behnke, executive director of St. Joseph Today, said merchants will begin their extended holiday hours on Black Friday.

In addition to special sales, shoppers can also enjoy free, horse-drawn trolley rides from noon to 3 p.m. on Friday. On Small Business Saturday, special giveaways and discounts will be available.

Behnke said downtown St. Joseph is a good venue for people who seldom go shopping.

“You will easily find gifts for everyone on your holiday shopping list from our merchants, restaurants and entertainment venues,” Behnke said in an email. “Our shops are not overwhelming like malls or the big box stores. The owners and associates are very attentive to helping you find gifts within your budget.”

For a full list of shops and Small Business Saturday specials, visit www.stjoetoday.com/shopsmall.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 26, 2015)