Things promised to get ugly as the annual orgy of spending by stampeding shoppers was set to coincide with a strike by Wal-Mart workers, but a number of factors came together to ameliorate what could have turned into a true national disgrace. Rather than concentrating all of their price cutting in one massive Black Friday push, retailers spread the bargains over a long super shopping week. Many stores even opened and started sales on Thanksgiving evening. Rather than door-busting human herds, consumers came sleepily staggering in like retail zombies when they should have been home, laying tryptophan sodden on the sofa, actively avoiding piles of dirty dishes.

Several retailers also had earlier starts to their layaway programs which surely eased Thanksgiving weekend traffic as well as locking in prices at earlier pre-sale levels. Online sales also had a broader time horizon as Cyber Monday grew into what could be called Cyber Two Weeks. Both online retailers and the web arms of bricks and mortar outfits have been racking up big gains. Online competition has been fierce as retailers use computer algorithms to adjust prices in real time.

While all this dampened the Black Friday frenzy, there were certainly enough wild melees, parking lot gun threats, “panty bar” cat fights and trigger happy pepper spray police to go around (Stampedes and Gun Threats During Black Friday).

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth – toy industry hiring, which has been quite strong since about April has suddenly slowed. My feeling is that this is temporary and that after negotiating this air pocket we will continue our long upward climb.

Toy industry hiring has always been very event driven with companies regularly putting off decision making on their staffing needs until the next: trade show, sales call, order confirmation, etc. Earlier in my career, I was always flabbergasted by this. “If you need a top Wal-Mart salesman, what does it matter what happens at the next golf outing?” Over time, I’ve learned not to judge and just accept reality for what it is.

Since we are in the midst of the all important holiday shopping season, it is only natural for toy companies to wait and see what happens. Many companies will also have new budgets beginning in January and three of the four most important industry trade shows take place in January and February which adds to the temporary standstill. These will pass like the pages of a calendar, but it is no surprise that toy industry hiring often slows at this time of year only to ratchet back up in March or April.

Much less certain is the outcome of the high speed chicken match going on in Washington, D.C. The brief spell of post election “happy talk” is now over. The two parties are as far apart as ever. In response, U.S. companies are scaling back hiring and investment plans at the fastest pace since 2009. Many companies have put together two 2013 budget plans for different outcomes to political negotiations over the impending fiscal cliff. Not only will going over the cliff probably throw the US (and global) economy into recession but it will be compounded by companies turning off the spending spigots.

Politicians of all stripes are up in their own heads trying to figger out which game theory scenario they like the best. Negotiate now or let it all slide over the fiscal cliff? Which helps me more? Which hurts him more? Who will get the blame? Never mind the economy or the public.

At the time of this writing there arn’t any substantial talks and the situation is in stalemate. Last week, Obama didn’t mention a “grand bargain” but rather “putting together a framework.” I think “framework” is code for “punt” and that things will be put off for six or twelve months. At that time we’ll be right back where we are now and things will once again devolve into gridlock and competitive finger-pointing. In the meantime, an economy that has been trying hard to recover continue sputtering along, once again left without enough fuel for takeoff.

Muddling through,
Tom Keoughan

P.S. – A recruiter, who we usually refer to as the Obvious Huckster in Ohio (OHiO) recently felt the need to publicly declare that he was indeed still in business. I guess nobody was quite sure. If you cross paths with him, I would suggest asking for references from five people that he has placed in jobs during the last six months. What you discover may surprise you…then again, it may not. 🙂

P.P.S – Lastly, I would like to share my condolences to all families and businesses adversely affected by the Superstorm Sandy. Personally, we took two feet of water into the first floor of our Hoboken home so I know what it feels like.