Many local stores hiring fewer holiday workers this year

Retailers in SLO County — both chains and independent — are choosing to give more hours to existing employees instead

kleslie@thetribunenews.comOctober 18, 2013 

Shaky consumer confidence and stores giving more hours to existing part-timers may contribute to less holiday hiring by large chain stores and local independent retailers this year.

Nationally, retailers are at best expected to hire about the same number of seasonal workers as they did last year. Outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas predicts about 700,000 seasonal workers will be hired, compared with the 12-year high of 751,800 last year.

According to the firm, general merchandise stores such as Target are typically the biggest generators of seasonal jobs, but most are cutting back on seasonal hiring this year and instead exploring giving more hours to year-round associates.

Target, with two stores in San Luis Obispo County, has reported plans to add 70,000 seasonal workers nationwide, significantly down from the 88,000 hired a year ago.

The San Luis Obispo location is an exception, however, with plans to hire 70 seasonal associates, 20 more than last year, according to Director of Human Relations Morgen Monie. The SLO store has a higher turnover rate because of the college population and has to hire more people to fill the gap, she said.

Another exception: Companies that deliver the packages. FedEx, for example, which has two locations in San Luis Obispo and two in Santa Maria, plans to add about 1,200 seasonal positions — consisting of package handlers and parcel assistants — at FedEx Ground and FedEx Smart Post facilities in its Southern California/L.A. Metro district that includes SLO County, said spokesman Ben Hunt. (He did not have a breakdown of those jobs by county.)

Kohl's plans to decrease its seasonal hiring this year to 50,000, down from the 52,700 it expected in 2012. This means an average of 40 new people will be hired at individual locations. The Kohl’s store manager was not available to disclose the number of seasonal hires made at the San Luis Obispo location.

Among major retailers, only Walmart, with two locations in San Luis Obispo County, announced plans to hire more seasonal associates this year — 55,000 compared to 50,000 in 2012. The store also said it will transition 35,000 temporary workers to part time, and 35,000 part-time workers to full time.

At smaller retail operations in San Luis Obispo County, there seem to be fewer seasonal hires in favor of more hours for year-round workers.

Beverly's Fabric and Crafts, a California-based chain, has plans to add only two people to its San Luis Obispo location for the holiday season, store manager Tam Bailie said. That’s down from the three it hired last year.

Instead a “core group of workers” — which she said is very efficient — will have more hours, with the entire crew working on peak shopping days.

Peter Ray, manager of Kwirkworld in San Luis Obispo, has similar plans: He will likely only hire one or two new employees for the season.

“To me, it was crazy to schedule all those people who couldn’t work some days and could others,” Ray said. “The people who already worked here wanted more hours, so why not give them to them?”

Ray said shaky consumer spending was also contributing to some stores downtown being more hesitant to invest a lot in holiday hires.

“It’s been a struggle to get people to come shopping (in the past few weeks),” Ray said. “I think people are scared to spend money right now.”

Posies, in the Village of Arroyo Grande, has hired no seasonal workers.

The store recently fell on hard times and combined three separate businesses (all of which already operated at one location) into one, with all three original owners working the combined store instead, manager Laurie Glenn said.

“We used to hire seasonal workers,” Glenn said. “Times being what they are, we decided not to this year. … You either get inventive, or you get out.”

Glenn said she expects holiday shopping will help pick up business — she already has the Christmas decorations out and ready.

Tribune reporter Sarah Linn contributed to this story.

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