AMY ADONIZ, general manager at the Best Buy flagship store, knows what her staff wants for Christmas: a case of Red Bull.
Two weeks before Black Friday, Ms. Adoniz gave in to employees’ requests and had a Red Bull vending machine installed at the store, at 62nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan. Many in the sales staff of 140 are drama students, opera singers and actors who may run themselves ragged selling electronics by day and performing at night. To keep them from getting hungry and cranky over the long Thanksgiving weekend, Ms. Adoniz let them wear slippers and Uggs boots to work, and had food delivered three times a day.
Employees aren’t the only ones being tended to this shopping season. To lure customers, Ms. Adoniz waits for — and on — their dogs. “We have a doggie water bowl with filtered water, and treats for them as well,” she says.
With unemployment rising sharply, and consumer spending plummeting, Best Buy managers are bending over backward to attract shoppers and are encouraged to put their personal stamp on the stores. For Ms. Adoniz, that means stoking employees with caffeine and carbohydrates and catering to customers’ pets.
It’s an extraordinarily tough time for retailers. “November is shaping up to be the worst month in retail since I’ve been here 30 years,” says Edward Schmults, C.E.O. of FAO Schwarz, the toy chain. “Now I know how that little kid felt who misbehaved all year and then wondered if Santa was going to show up in December.”
Next year could be even worse. Fitch Ratings forecasts that the United States economy will contract 1.2 percent in 2009, with consumer spending falling 1.6 percent. “The impact on retailers is almost tragic as the economy adjusts,” Mr. Schmults says.
And Best Buy, to limit the damage, is not just cutting prices. It is trimming inventory and advertising, promoting higher-margin, private-label lines and pushing exclusive products, like the Blue Label series of notebook computers made for Best Buy by Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba. It’s also adding new services and products that specifically aim at women.
If the stock market and consumer spending hadn’t plunged so precipitously, Best Buy, the nation’s biggest electronics retailer, with $44 billion in annual revenue, might not have had to bother stocking up on delectables for dogs. The chain’s chief rival, Circuit City, recently filed for bankruptcy protection and is closing 155 stores. Tweeter, a high-end rival, shut down this week, and Sharper Image’s stores, which sold more exotic electronics, are liquidating. CompUSA closed most of its stores last year.