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Retailers hoping seasonal workers stay on after holidays
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Just in time for the holidays, Carlita Cane got a cashier's job at a Cracker Barrel restaurant and store. She is hoping to keep it after Christmas -- and Cracker Barrel would also like her to stay.
With the economy improving, many U.S. retailers are doing more than taking on extra help for the holidays. They are hoping to keep the new hires afterward.
"We are staffing up. We want enough people in the stores to make shopping a good experience," Cracker Barrel spokeswoman Julie Davis said.
Across much of the nation, holiday business is expected to be stronger than it was in 2002, with analysts predicting an average sales increase of 4 percent to 5 percent over last year.
Part of the reason for the expected rise is that last year's West Coast dockworkers strike hurt sales by cutting off the flow of merchandise to stores. But in general, sales are going up this year because people are spending more.
Competing for labor
But as the labor market improves, competition for workers will increase and stores will probably find it harder to hold on to employees.
"A lot of people took jobs in retail because nothing else was available. Those people will be rotating out as new jobs are offered, so many retailers will be getting a little more aggressive in hiring," said Burt P. Flickinger III of Strategic Resource Group in New York.
Many stores are hiring additional employees as usual for the Christmas season but do not plan to keep them on the payroll after the holidays.
Electronics are expected to do particularly well during the holidays, so Circuit City recently took on 12,000 workers, spokesman Steve Mullen said. Still, most of the new hires will work only through Dec. 31.
Among employers looking for permanent hires is Sarah Calfee, retail manager for a Harley-Davidson store in Franklin, who said she placed an ad in the local paper and was looking for holiday hires who might stay on after the season.
"People of all walks of life are coming in here wanting jobs. Mothers wanting extra cash; restaurant workers who work at night, all kinds of people," she said.
While some holiday workers are taking second jobs to make ends meet or get some extra cash, others do it for the discounts offered by their employers. Those discounts will help stores compete for workers as the job market heats up.
Cracker Barrel provides 20 percent off sales to new employees and as much as 35 percent to experienced workers. Plus, they can get two $50 gift certificates each year and there are three days of "employee appreciation" each December when they receive an additional 10 percent off purchases.
New employee Cane, 18, said she plans to use her discounts to buy Christmas gifts. And she does not plan to leave after the holidays.
"I'm looking at this for the long term. I like working down here," she said.