By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

With financial markets slumping worldwide, some analysts forecast a rough holiday season for retailers across the nation, but many local retailers say their businesses are humming along because of a number of simple strategies.

In Sandy Springs, Schakolad Chocolate Factory franchisee Craig D’Egidio keeps the door of his Hammond Drive business open to let the scent of his chocolate waft out. Buckhead vendors are taking advantage of being in a regional shopping destination. Kim Puffenbarger of Davonshire in Brookhaven said neighborhood patronage is keeping her sales figures where they need to be.

D’Egidio said that distributing coupons and samples gives potential customers “an opportunity to come into the store, see what we make and taste the product. It will hopefully make them want to come in again.”

Online sales also have “been a good addition to our retail base,” he said.

Terri Jackson of Just the Thing in Buckhead said her women’s fashion accessory boutique has set aside a room devoted to gifts that cost $25 or less.

“That’s sort of a special room. It’s where a lot of people come to do their secret Santa parties and their teachers’ gifts and just little gifts. … That’s pretty much what they’re going to be looking for this year, I think,” she said. “We’ve tried to keep our price points down for a lot of things we have. I think that’s very important this holiday season.”

Jackson’s strategy of putting forward fixed-cost items coincides with advice given by Sherian Wilburn, the president and CEO of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce, who said practical gifts are the way to go.

“When resources are tight, (customers) tend to be practical in their gift giving,” she said. “Those are the kinds of things I would use as the teasers.”

Doing so provides an alternative to across-the-board price reductions, which Sharon Silva, the executive director of the Buckhead Business Association, warned could be counterproductive.

“I think there’s probably a fine line between the urge to discount because of the economy and setting a precedent that may be hard to come back from,” she said.

Puffenbarger, who recently opened the specialty boutique Davonshire with her brother, Greg Flemming, said she has been “extremely, pleasantly surprised” by holiday sales.

“People are still giving gifts. People are still entertaining. The world hasn’t stopped,” she said. “We actually took another empty space in the same shopping center and opened just a Christmas shop or a holiday shop. We package things so that when you leave here, your gift is ready to give.”

Peter Rooney, the president of the Buckhead Business Association, said he noticed a recent increase of “elaborate color postcards or very simple, small-run, distribution-type mailings” in Buckhead.

“I do think sale items will play a role as everyone will be looking for a great deal this season,” he said. “People will be going into special shops looking for that bargain in small, niche-type stores.”

Nancy Turner of Elements of Style in Buckhead said she recently held a trunk show to give customers an opportunity to preview upcoming spring lines of clothing and order from them.

She markets her store herself and maintains her customer base in the arts community by “really working, marketing.”

“I’m not doing as well as I would like to be, and I’m not growing my business over last year, but I’m doing OK,” she said.

Jim Whitlow of Deka Athletics in Buckhead, which sells women’s athletic gear, said it’s hard to make a business stand out by holding a sale.

“The whole world’s on sale,” he said. “We’re definitely going to do a couple of men’s nights for husbands, since we’re a women-only store. Our sales numbers are good. We are ahead of last year’s figures, but we’re a new business. People are still discovering us.”

The current economic situation has implications for holiday shoppers, too. Looking outside the mainstream can have its advantages.

Don Vellek, an agent at Valerie Wilson Travel in Buckhead, said that although most people have made their plans for holiday trips, bargains can be found.

“Because of the economy we are seeing price reductions pretty much across the board in certain things — for example, hotel stays, because the hotels are pretty hungry for business. One of the messages that I’ve been sending out is you may see opportunities now that you may never see again,” Vellek said.

Luxury resorts, for instance, typically require 10- or 14-day minimum stays during the holidays, but many have relaxed those policies, he said. “I have every indication that this year many of those same properties are more than willing to negotiate with us.”

Phyllis Ghingold of Fantastic Finds, a consignment boutique in Sandy Springs, said women come into her store looking for designer merchandise “at a fraction of the cost.”

“If someone walks through the door of the store, I’m going to have something that appeals to them that they can afford in the economy,” said Ghingold, who owns the store with sister Amy Haysman. “We just did a fall preview in October where we had cupcakes and champagne, and then we did a big mailing with a 20-percent-off-any-item coupon. The customers really had fun with that.”