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Survey: Strong holiday sales powering job retention in retail

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A drastic improvement in holiday sales over the recessionary trends of the past two years has lent strength to the retail industry in New Jersey, according to a survey by retail real estate services firm Levin Management Corp.

According to the survey, 73.1 percent of Levin's local and national tenants reported 2011 Christmas sales that were the same or higher than 2010, an increase of over 20 percent from last year's survey and nearly 35 percent than 2009. As a result of the seasonal sales increase, more than half of the 30 percent of survey respondents who reported adding temporary staff indicated plans to retain their hires.

"A vast majority of our tenants feel good about the direction of their industry, and jobs growth is a critical indicator of their confidence in the economy," said Matthew Harding, president and chief operating officer of Levin Management, in North Plainfield, which manages 35 properties in New Jersey, including value retailers Kohls, T.J. Maxx and Christmas Tree Shops.

In a pre-holiday survey, 28.4 percent of the respondents noted a larger sales volume than 2010, but that number jumped to 32.7 percent in the post-holiday survey, while the percentage of those reporting a smaller volume dropped considerably after the holidays.

The results suggest improved sales may stem from an increase in consumer traffic at retail stores, which 71.2 percent reported was the same or better compared to 2010.

While the number of promotional sale markdowns remained consistent from 2010, there was a greater emphasis on value-oriented inventory — a trend beginning to trickle down to retailers not known to offer value merchandise, like Gap, Talbots and Loft, Harding said.

"Moving forward, we see a generational push toward value," Harding said. "People are unquestionably going to be shopping smart, but now we know they are going to be shopping."

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