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Isle stores boost holiday staffing

Retailers expect brisk sales amid a better economy

By Kristen Consillio

LAST UPDATED: 1:36 a.m. HST, Sep 29, 2010

Seasonal hiring in Hawaii appears to be on the rise from a year ago as retailers prepare to boost staffing for an anticipated brisk holiday season.

Toys R Us plans to more than double its work force in the state, hiring between 150 and 200 workers, and open as many as five smaller stores throughout Hawaii.

The nation's largest toy retailer is among a number of companies that will bulk up staffing in the coming months, providing a welcome boost to the state's sluggish job market over the past 18 months. Hawaii's unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.4 percent in August over the previous month.

"Last year the economy was so bad, if anything we were losing jobs," said Carol Pregill, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii. "When we look at the economy slowly improving, we anticipate more companies will be hiring seasonal workers this year."

Toys R Us will double its U.S. work force with about 45,000 seasonal hires, or 10,000 more than in previous holiday seasons. It operates Toys R Us at Pearlridge Center, Babies R Us at Pearl City Gateway and Hawaii's first Toys R Us Express store, which opened this month on Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki.

The number of seasonal hires for Toys R Us nationwide is up from the past three holiday seasons because of the opening of 600 new Express stores, which measure between 3,000 and 20,000 square feet, compared with a full-size store at 40,000 square feet. While many of them are purely seasonal, others could be long-term depending on sales.

The privately held company, with 125 Hawaii employees, will open an Express store at Windward Mall at the end of October, and has several sites in development in Waikiki, Kapolei, Maui and the Big Island, according to David Palmer, manager for Toys R Us at Pearlridge Center. A timetable for openings has not been determined.

"There's more optimism as far as the economy," said Palmer, who expects holiday sales will be up over last year. "Most people feel that the worst has already come and gone."

Other national retailers also plan to boost seasonal hiring this year due to optimistic holiday sales projections.

Macy's will hire as many as 65,000 employees nationwide, while Walmart and Target plan to maximize staffing, though neither would provide projected national or local hiring figures.

However, the retailers indicated that seasonal workers are often the first in line when permanent jobs become available.

"We often retain holiday hires and transition them to full- or part-time positions," said Milinda Martin, a spokeswoman for Macy's, which has more than a dozen stores in Hawaii.

The company's hiring plan represents a slight increase from previous years and reflects expectations for same-store sales in the second half of the fiscal year to be up by 3 to 3.5 percent over the same period a year ago, she said. Same-store sales refer to stores that have been open at least a year.

Toys R Us retained about 25 percent of the 130 seasonal workers it hired last year.

Meanwhile, Hilo Hattie will expand its work force by 10 to 20 percent, or 15 to 30 seasonal workers, at its eight stores statewide, according to Mark Storfer, executive vice president and chief operating officer.

"I don't think we hired last year," he said. "We definitely see an upswing in consumer spending so far this season."

Holiday spending for Hilo Hattie began in mid-September with the start of the winter cruise ship season to the islands, Storfer said. The company, with 150 retail personnel, said year-to-date gross sales are roughly 37 percent ahead of last year.

Mark Hollander, chief executive officer and president of Crazy Shirts, expects seasonal hiring will likely increase over last year since sales "look as strong, if not a little bit stronger, than last year."

While seasonal hiring is just one indicator of the economy's health, any slight improvement could make or break a business since 25 to 40 percent of a retailer's revenue comes during the six- to eight-week holiday period.

"It's such a critical time in a retailer's life," Pregill said. "The well-staffed sales floor is what's going to help generate greater sales. Maybe this holiday season will be a step in that recovery direction."

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