No matter the state of the economy, Toyology Toys founder Nori Klar always hires additional staff for the holiday shopping season, but not so much this year.
That additional staff — at least three or four employees per store — is vital for Klar's stores in Royal Oak, West Bloomfield and Bloomfield Hills. About 50 percent of Toyology's revenue comes from sales in September through December.
This year, though, Klar said she believes her stores will be OK with current staff, as sales are down due to a variety of factors, including inflation.
"We're known for our personal service and outstanding customer service and we want to keep our reputation," Klar said. "We were struggling all year finding employees. We had a lot of applicants but it seemed like nobody really wanted to work. We had a mission to find employees early before the holiday season so we really were all set by September."
The pressure to find enough workers to meet demand and build revenue is not unique to Klar's chain of toy stores.
With most retailers in Michigan expecting holiday sales to increase or stay the same through January, according to the November Michigan Retail Index survey released Tuesday, small businesses are eager to lock in their staffing.
Zingerman's Mail Order in Ann Arbor, which ships holiday gifts and baskets featuring meats, cheeses, breads, olive oils and more, aims to hire an additional 400 seasonal workers, according to Brad Hedeman, marketing and product selection lead. The seasonal hires are in addition to its 100 full-time employees.
"We can't do the things we do without people," Hedeman said. "Half of our annual revenues come in November and December and half of that comes in that week before Christmas. If we don't get people in, we can't hit those numbers."
Photo Credit Doug Coombe for Zingerman's Mail Order"We can't do the things we do without people," Zingerman's Mail Order Market and
Product Selection lead Brad Hedeman told Crain's.
In a typical year, Zingerman's Mail Order sees about a 2 percent increase in revenue. But the company saw its annual revenue of about $17 million jump to around $27 million during the COVID-19 pandemic — and that took lots of extra help.
Zingerman's Mail Order operates as a 24-hour warehouse after adding an overnight shift. With just a few weeks left in the holiday season, it's still looking to fill some positions, Hedeman said.
Overnight jobs start at $16.50 an hour, with day and weekend shifts starting at $15.50 an hour. Workers are rewarded with meals while on the clock.
Growth for Zingerman's Mail Order has made staffing a bit difficult, according to Hedeman. In previous years, the company has had all of its seasonal positions filled by November. This year, in order to fill all the extra spots, it is offering holiday season hires help with bus schedules and rides to work.
"A big function of that difficulty is how we grew during the pandemic," Hedeman said. "When everything shut down, we were the only way for a while for people to get the things they wanted from Zingerman's. The growth we've seen over the last couple years would've normally taken 10 years."
Photo Credit Zingerman's Mail Order via FacebookAnn Arbor-based Zingerman's Mail Order this year will add 400 employees to its usual staff of 100
to meet the demands of the holiday season.
"The number of people we need every year keeps creeping up and we struggle with that a bit. Now if you get an interview, we're most likely going to bring you on. We really value the people. We do a lot of business during the holidays. We spend the other 10 months of the year getting ready for the holidays."
While the mail order business is booming, some recent studies found that the number of holiday jobs elsewhere is down this year.
Hiring Lab, an economic research team from jobs site Indeed, found that the share of job seeker searches for seasonal work increased 33 percent as of Sept. 30 compared with the year before as interest in seasonal jobs rebounded to its highest level since 2019. Seasonal job postings, though, were down more than 8 percent during that same time period due to fears of a recession, the Hiring Lab report found.
Even big companies are seeing a shift.
Walmart in September announced it would hire 40,000 seasonal workers, down from 150,000 in 2021. UPS, though, is on the opposite end of that spectrum, and the shipping and delivery company this holiday season aims to hire more than 100,000 seasonal employees to meet increased consumer demand, similar to its 2021 total. Nearly 80 percent of those holiday jobs don't require an interview, according to a UPS news release.
Photo Credit UPSReports show that holiday hiring is down across the board, but UPS this holiday season aims to hire
more than 100,000 seasonal workers to meet consumer demand.
One Macomb County-based family-owned business is having trouble filling holiday jobs due to what one of the co-owners calls a demographic shift.
As recently as Monday, Whistle Stop Hobby & Toy in St. Clair Shores held interviews for daytime cashier and store associate jobs. Store co-owner Julie Everitt told Crain's she's had to place ads on social media to entice potential hires.
"On occasion, I get some people who come in and ask if we're hiring," said Everitt, who co-owns the store with her brother and one other sister. "It's been hard, I think, because we pay minimum wage. My brother, sister and I are always wondering where everybody is. People have to work."
Photo Credit Nic Antaya/Crain’s Detroit BusinessWrapping gifts is just one task that Whistle Stop Hobby & Toy in St. Clair Shores needs help
with during the holiday shopping season.
Everitt said the 53-year-old Whistle Stop now relies more heavily on 15- and 16-year-olds to staff the store. Prior to the pandemic, the retailer's staff consisted mostly of college students.
"Since COVID, it feels like there's been a shift. I think the money from the government kind of hurt us with college kids," Everitt said. "We have more high school students, but they're fantastic. The downside is a lot of them have school. That's why we're looking for day shift help."
That seasonal help in a lot of cases is let go following the holidays. Everitt said none of her business' handful of holiday hires has inquired about staying on past the holidays.
With January and February typically being slow months for retailers and restaurants, Klar finds any way she can to keep staffers.
"If they still want to work for us, we may just cut hours down," she said. "Or while it's slow, they can get some projects done, clean the stores, do inventory."
Tactics taken by small businesses — hiring younger staff, offering transportation and post-holiday work — shows just how important the holiday season is for them.
"Everybody who owns or operates a small business knows how vital this time of year is," Zingerman's Hedeman said. "A lot of us are offering shipping now. We know the more boxes we get out of the door, the more revenue we'll have. We can't do any of that without people, so we'll always keep pushing to bring the right people on because if we don't hit our holiday numbers, a lot of us won't make it."
By: Jay Davis