Shoppers jam Gilroy Premium Outlets

Nov. 23 shoppers jammed parking lots at Gilroy Premium Outlets

Black Friday was Green Friday at the Gilroy Premium Outlets.

Get ready, get set, shop. The Christmas shopping season is on, and on Black Friday, Nov. 23, the “National Day of Shopping,” thousands of bargain hunters descended on the Gilroy Premium Outlets to kick off their holiday shopping.

While consumers are increasingly doing their Christmas shopping online, the National Retail Federation projects that 50 percent of shoppers still go to discount and department stores. Jim Fulmer, operations director at the Gilroy Premium Outlets, was ready for the rush.

“This time of year is always a busy season for us at Gilroy Premium Outlets,” Fulmer said. “The property is a hub for holiday shoppers; the diversity of offerings from numerous retailers means there’s something for every type of shopper.”

The Gilroy Premium Outlets, which was bought by Simon Property Group in 2009, sprawls across 54 acres with 577,000 square feet of retail space and 860,000 square feet for 2,927 parking spaces. Given the size, the variety offered from 145 different stores, and the number of shoppers who come every day, the outlets are like a small city.

It was a long Thanksgiving night for many outlet store employees. whose stores opened at 6pm and stayed open until 2am. The overnight hours are no longer a new occurrence. In the last five years, the retail industry has needed to adapt to give shoppers what they want.

According to Fulmer, the Nike, Adidas, Lululemon and North Face stores often have lines of shoppers waiting at the doors before the stores open, but long lines of campers waiting overnight for stores to open doesn’t happen at the Gilroy outlets.

“It’s not something that we need to do, but it’s something that Simon chooses to do; we want to provide the shoppers with the best experience,” Fulmer said. “The shoppers want to come and be immersed in the holiday spirit with the hustle and bustle of the shopping. It’s in response to the shoppers, but that’s the business that we’re in.”

Given the importance of the Christmas shopping season for the retail industry, working long and awkward holiday hours should be taken as a given for full-time and seasonal retail employees.

“It’s definitely not a 9-to-5 job. Even if it’s seasonal help, they know that these are the hours that people are shopping, so they know the stores need to be staffed,” Fulmer said.

While Fulmer would not share sales statistics, a full parking lot and cars lined up at the Leavesley Road exit on Highway 101 indicated brisk sales on Black Friday.

“I can tell you that we see full parking lots and we see shoppers with two or three bags from different locations, and those are all indicators that people are here and they’re shopping. The crowds kind of say it all for us,” Fulmer said.  

Despite Fulmer’s rosy picture of today’s retail industry, the shifting buying habits of consumers continue to take their toll. Increasingly, major retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target have begun heavily promoting online sales, including one Target online promotion that offered free shipping if the shopper met a minimum spending limit. Statistics indicate that the number of shoppers staying at home on Thanksgiving rose by 28 percent or $3.7 billion, according to MarketWatch.

“I wouldn’t say it’s make or break,” Fulmer said. “Christmas obviously is one of the busiest shopping times of the year, so it’s where a lot of sales are made, but the stores here know that you can’t survive in a business based on one holiday or another.”

Over the years, tour buses full of foreign shoppers have become more and more frequent at the Gilroy Premium Outlets. Depending on the time of year, multiple buses full of shoppers from around the world come to the outlets in search of deals. Credit card incentive programs, where retailers offer back rewards for spending, plus the overall experience of shopping at an outlet mall help attract these shoppers. And of course, there are the deals.

“When they go to Union Square in San Francisco, the prices are quite a bit different than coming here; you can save up to 25 percent or 65 percent from what you’re probably paying there with the retailers here,” Fulmer said.

With the management staff and guest services, Simon employs six people for the outlet center’s management. The custodial and security services are contracted out to Environmental Service Concepts and Allied Universal security.

Unlike many other large outlet malls, which are built in a racetrack or horseshoe configuration, busy roads such as Leavesley Road, San Ysidro Avenue and Arroyo Circle separate parts of the Gilroy Premium Outlets. The arrangement of the outlets can make shopping a bit more challenging, and the management tries to make navigation between stores easier through wayfinding and directions signs to help shoppers get from point A to point B.

Rain and wind didn’t deter early-bird shoppers Thanksgiving night or Friday morning at the region’s destination retail center, Gilroy Premium Outlets, off U.S. 101 in Gilroy.

Shoppers arrived before midnight to get parking spots, as  most of the outlet center’s 145 stores opened at midnight Thanksgiving for a two-hour early-sale rush, until 2am, then reopened on Friday, Nov. 23 at 6am.

For shoppers with stamina, long lists and remaining credit, the stores were to stay open until 10pm Friday, then reopen at 8am on Saturday Nov. 24 for 14 hours. The weekend opening of the holiday shopping season was to continue at the outlets and surrounding retail centers in Gilroy with long hours— 9am to 8pm—on Sunday, Nov. 25.

All parking lots were packed to overflowing Friday morning, with extra lots open, and filled early in the day, as shoppers juggled umbrellas and shopping bags, and navigated crowded sidewalks, puddles and crowded sidewalks.

Regular Gilroy Premium Outlet holiday hours would begin on Nov. 26, 10am to 9pm daily. The center describes itself as the largest collection of designer and brand name outlet stores in Northern California.

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