Local retailers rang up a very merry holiday season, outperforming national trends, thanks in large part to gift cards and last-minute shoppers.

At The Citadel Mall, sales were up 2.5 percent compared to last year during the final week of Christmas shopping, said Diane Loschen, marketing manager for the mall.

“We’ve had a good season,” she said. “The final figures aren’t available until February, but it looks like we’ll be in line with the national average – about 4 to 6 percent sales above last year.”

Another traditional mall offering – photos with Santa – also proved popular at The Citadel.

Thanks to collaboration with NORAD, mall displays tracked Santa’s trek around the world, showing last year’s visits in other countries combined with a holiday display that proclaimed “happy holidays” in other languages.

“The Santa photo sales were up 15 percent,” Loschen said. “It’s been a really positive season for us.”

- Advertisement -

While sales were up in Colorado Springs, malls nationwide reported slower traffic and lower sales as they competed with discount retailers and big-box stores. Luxury retailers and stores that catered to teenagers were the big winners during the Christmas season, analysts said.

But the real Christmas story is the sale of gift cards, which will carry retail activity into the normally slow month of January, analysts said.

Shoppers bought $18.5 billion in gift cards in November and December, 6.6 percent more than in 2004, according to the National Retail Federation.

Retailers cannot claim the sales until the cards have been redeemed.

Gift card sales at The Citadel contributed to Christmas sales this year, Loschen said, with card purchases increasing 10 percent compared to last year.

The sales also pushed year-end shopping beyond Christmas Day at Chapel Hills Mall, where marketing manager Jill Lace said the busiest day was Dec. 26.

“We were really busy,” she said. “It was probably our highest traffic day – so many people give gift cards and then use that day to redeem them. Overall, traffic was up starting about Dec. 1.”

At Saboz, in its third year of business, owner Linda Bridger said sales were very good.

“We had the best Christmas season yet,” she said. “Business has generally been above expectations since June. We planned an aggressive budget for December, and we missed it, but the year ended well for us.”

The downtown shoe and accessory store promoted its one-of-a-kind items via print and radio spots, she said. The advertising campaign paid off.

“We did extremely well,” she said. “We have some new boots and other things we haven’t sold before, and those were big sellers.”

While local stores did well, retail giant Wal-Mart had a flat Christmas season, according to figures provided by the company.

Sales were up in December only 1.9 percent compared to last year, and 3.6 percent at Sam’s Club.

Wal-Mart analysts say the company added $2.4 billion in sales in December.

Other higher-end discount retailers reported exceptional sales in December.

Target posted an 11.6-percent increase compared to the same period last year, with total sales in December of $8.42 billion.

7-Eleven franchises still available

Months after deciding to offer company-owned 7-Eleven stores as franchise opportunities, nearly all are still available.

The company has about 70 stores in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, said Joanne Webb-Joyce, director of national franchise sales for the company.

Of those, only 10 have been sold as franchises.

“We have a total of six who are in their stores and operating as franchises,” she said. “Four more are still in the pipeline, but are nearly ready. So, we have a total of about 60 stores that are still available.”

Webb-Joyce said the number of stores sold was encouraging, because it takes about 20 weeks to complete the process.

“We’re very pleased,” she said. “We’ve had a good response. We opened the stores in Colorado for franchises in the summer, and left it open only to store managers. We just recently, in the last quarter of 2005, opened it to the general public. We think it’s going well.”

The corporation has a lengthy process that includes interviews and training for potential franchise owners.

Once a franchise is turned over, there still is time to back out – a franchise owner has 90 days to return the store to 7-Eleven.

“We only have someone do that about once a year, and usually it’s for personal reasons,” she said. “But it’s still a fairly friendly system – it offers an out, if someone doesn’t think it is the right business opportunity for them.”

7-Eleven is in the process of turning all its company-owned stores into franchises. The movement started in Maryland in 2000, and will continue until most of the stores are franchises.

“We’re keeping some of them as company stores,” Webb-Joyce said. “We want to use some of the Texas and Florida stores as test markets – we want to be able to test new store layouts, new products. But we are a franchise company, and we’re moving toward most of the stores becoming franchises.”

For more information about owning a 7-Eleven franchise, go to www.7-eleven.com or contact the corporation at 7-Eleven Franchise Department, P.O. Box 711, Dallas, TX 75221 or call (800) 255-0711.

Amy Gillentine covers retail news for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.