No one is complaining, but nor are they leaping for joy, as initial sales figures suggest holiday retail results roughly equal to last year’s – and that next year appears modestly encouraging.
Gerry Kirkconnell, owner of a several retail operations from downtown George Town to Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman to the Sister Island of Cayman Brac, called his sales figures “pretty much flat with last year”, saying the variety of shops and commodities had sold equally “right across the board”.
“I haven’t done a lot of analysis yet, but roughly speaking, we’ve been flat,” he said. Like others, he was reluctant to release figures, but warned that the steady decline in cruise ship arrivals had hurt everyone, and the lack of a port was likely to perpetuate the trend.
“We had some ships run into trouble,” he said, referring to slowing arrivals and storm-related disruptions. “And service in 2013 may be slowed.
“I don’t know what the people at the old Hyatt hotel have in mind, but they are doing some work on it and if we get that back, it’ll help,” Mr. Kirkconnell said.
Echoing concerns for declining cruise arrivals, Alexandre Tabacoff, manager at Island Companies, said the company had been forced to change its marketing and promotion plans, appealing to visitors with less discretionary income and shrinking numbers. But overall holiday sales were “a little bit better than last year, were encouraging, mostly due to our initiatives within the local community and the hotels”, he said.
Local shoppers and stay-over tourists comprised the bulk of business for Island Companies, becoming what he called “the retailer of choice”, but practicing more careful targeting.
“In July, we decided to close our souvenir stores because they weren’t profitable. Now diamonds and jewellery, sunglasses and watches are the most important,” Mr. Tabacoff said. “My big concern, though, is the cruise business. We have had to change what we offer, selling more affordable products, and we don’t use the media companies any longer, who are very expensive,” he said describing on-board promotional teams who recommend restaurants and retailers to passengers.
“We are trying to get the best for the cruise ship tourists, but the concern in 2013 is that traffic will keep decreasing,” he said. “This year has been better than last year, though, and it’s an important difference with hotel guests and local shoppers.”
Reflections General Manager Damien Dilbert said “our Christmas went pretty well, although not as great as we had expected, but we did well.”
Reflections’s three divisions – groceries, clothing and liquor – had performed equally, although the latter, he said, had generated excellent revenues: “Sometimes as much in one eight-hour or nine-hour day as in one month at other times of the year. It was probably the busiest [division].”
In 2010, Reflections introduced “Black Friday” shopping events to Cayman, borrowing the traditional post-Thanksgiving November sales push from American retailers.
The effort proved so successful and gained so much momentum, Mr. Dilbert said, that in 2012 the company extended the 50 per cent discounts for a week, reserving a special day for civil servants, whose paychecks arrive on the 26th of each month.
Plans for the new year include opening a new wholesale distributor and a retail outlet likely to raise some eyebrows, although Mr. Dilbert declined to elaborate. “Christmas is the busiest time of the year for everyone, and while it was not the best we’ve ever seen, we did pretty well,” he said.
Wayne Kirkconnell, managing director of Automotive Art, said his Shedden Road store is a barometer of local sentiment, and while the season “started out with a strong, strong showing, everything suddenly went down when the government ran into trouble. In 11 years, I’ve never seen anything like it. We saw these strong numbers and then suddenly we were standing around wondering what happened.”
Police arrested then-Premier McKeeva Bush on 11 December on suspicion of theft and breaches of the Anti-Corruption Law. After two days of questioning, investigators released him until February. An 18 December no-confidence vote in the Legislature led to Mr. Bush’s ouster on 19 December and his replacement by Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly.
“It really seems to have affected sales,” Mr. Kirkconnell said. “We had one figure one day, then half that figure the next day. We cater to locals, and it seems Caymanians were taking it slow in a sort of holding pattern.” He said his sales “turned up” again after seven or eight days, but they never recovered their previous levels.
“It was an average Christmas, not one of the best, but pretty good,” he said. “I can see that some things will pick up in 2013, maybe go down on some other things, but we look forward to 2013.”
The cinema, restaurants and Books & Books bookshop at Camana Bay all performed “on a pace with last year,” said Karl Noble, who oversees the enterprises for Dart Realty.
“The cinema had a slow start, but then a couple of blockbusters did very well, and books are a tough business to be in, but at Christmas you can do 2.5 times more than a normal month. Everybody is happy and on a par with 2011,” he said.
Still, in Camana Bay, Hugh Treadwell, chief executive officer of Active Capital Management, said the retail outlets “had favourable sales results this holiday season with improvements on last year. This trend was even with seasonal and year-round local residents, as well as both cruise and stay-over travellers”.
The newest outlet on the Paseo, Caribbean Canvas Company, he said, “had a great response from both locals and tourists to all of our bags, clothing, T-shirts, our new hats and our brand new line of dog accessories, Caribbean Canine”.
Bernard Passman, part of Island Companies’ portfolio, has a retail outlet within the Mansions luxury store and “has done very well … and had an especially strong sales of classic Passman pieces” and a range of new designs.