Good outlook for retail, but lots of unfilled jobs

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Jim Parrack, Shane McWhorter, Cleo Rajon and Daniel McLoud, left to right, discuss the health of Oklahoma City’s retail industry as the holiday season approaches Wednesday at a forum presented by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. To the right is moderator Cynthia Reid. (Photo by Kathryn McNutt)

OKLAHOMA CITY – Local retail is strong as the holiday season approaches with lingering effects from the pandemic, a panel of experts said at a Greater Oklahoma City Chamber forum on Wednesday.

“Retailing during the pandemic has done better than most people think,” said Jim Parrack, senior vice president of Price Edwards & Co.

Nationally, third-quarter retail sales are up 28% from the same period in 2020 and October retail sales are up 12% from before the 2019 pandemic, Parrack said. .

“The traffic has been exceptional and the holiday season is shaping up well,” said Shane McWhorter, General Manager of Classen Curve-Nichols Hills Plaza.

As COVID-19 spread, the locations benefited from being outdoor centers, where customers felt safer to shop, McWhorter said. Tenants have taken extra steps to make customers comfortable in their stores, he said.

Likewise, they have worked to make employees feel comfortable and have been successful in retaining staff, he said.

The labor shortage has been extremely difficult for small retailers, said Cleo Rajon, executive director of the Independent Shopkeepers Association.

“It’s a nightmare right now,” Rajon said. “They fail to grow and meet the demands of their customers. “

The Oklahoma City metropolitan area’s unemployment rate fell to 1.9%, the lowest in over 30 years of recorded data, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“1.9% unemployment is not good. It’s way too low, ”Parrack said. “Who wants to move their business to Oklahoma City if they can’t hire anyone? “

The staff challenge means some store owners have made the difficult decision to reduce hours or days of operation, Rajon said.

Online shopping has increased with the pandemic – or in the case of some stores, it’s started from scratch, she said. It accounts for about 10% of all sales and is not going to go away.

Local store owners have done a good job of adjusting by adding curbside pickup, installing a drive-thru window, or using Facebook Live to introduce new products, Rajon said. They also helped each other.

“Our local stores here are a tight-knit group. We support each other, ”she said.

This collaborative spirit and ability to pivot is what enabled Trade Supply Co. to meet the challenges of the pandemic, said owner Daniel McLoud.

The business started as a vacation pop-up in downtown Oklahoma City in November 2013. After moving into a storefront, they started making products for the store and then wholesaling them. Today, they have a contract to deliver items to all of Oklahoma’s state parks, McLoud said.

“Focusing on relationships, not sales is what makes us successful,” he said.

The supply chain situation had a big effect on the company, McLoud said.

“We are monitoring some sites every six hours so that we can order the things we need for manufacturing,” he said. “You have to have plans B and C in place when a room is not available and find the closest thing possible. “

Supply chain issues mean some retailers will have to seek out local sources to stock their shelves, Parrack said.

Some retailers have raised their prices because they took on more debt during the pandemic and others have gone out of business altogether, he said.

Closures are not uncommon as retail is one of the fastest growing industries, Parrack said. “Even in a good year, 3,500 stores are closing across the country. “

Panelists were optimistic about retail in 2022.

Large projects delayed by the pandemic will start to move, Parrack said.

Rajon said several members of the Independent Traders Association have upcoming plans and plan to open new locations. She also sees a trend towards micro-shops where owners “can experience entering the local market in a less risky way”.


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