ugg sunburst starved Shoppers Flock To High
Linda Koldenhoven of Altamonte Springs admits she indulged this holiday, spending more on luxury gifts, including a Gucci wallet for her teenage son and $360 Christian Dior sunglasses for her daughter.
The well heeled mother of three and owner of The Christensen Group agency in Sanford even received her own holiday treat: a $9,000 full length, chocolate colored mink coat a gift from her husband.
Luxury retailers, from Neiman Marcus to Louis Vuitton, are expected to drive the nation’s retail sales growth this holiday, fueled by cash happy customers willing to spend more than in years past. And it’s not just big name stores: Auto dealerships and jewelry stores are reaping rewards.
“I haven’t seen this kind of activity in years,” said Eli Portnoy, a luxury market expert and president of Los Angeles based The Portnoy Group. “People are feeling the need to buy premium brands like never before.”
Portnoy credits the country’s middle income shoppers for spurring the trend. Consumers, who a few years ago were buried by the weak economy, are throwing money at Coach bags, Tiffany Co. jewelry and other luxury brands with midlevel price points.
Take Neiman Marcus, the high end Dallas based department store chain that’s having one of its best holiday seasons in years. In November, same store sales climbed a respectable 8.4 percent, beating most other chains.
“Growth from our fine luxury brands apparel, the designer pieces has been amazing. Through the roof, actually,” said Bunny Johnson, vice president and general manager at the Neiman Marcus in Orlando.
Watches are selling well, especially the diamond encrusted Franck Muller pieces that can run upward of $100,000. But trendy, more affordable luxury pieces are difficult to keep in stock.
On Friday, the store at Mall at Millenia received a shipment of 45 pairs of Ugg shearling boots that retail for $150.
“We realize that nobody needs anything we sell,” Johnson said, “It’s pure fun, luxury things they’d like to have.”
Still, those boots are nothing compared with what some of Orlando’s elite shoppers have been snatching up.
Sales at La Belle Furs Outerwear in downtown Orlando are up 20 percent this month compared with December last year, said owner Art LaBelleman, whose family has run the furrier for 85 years.
He attributes some of that growth to fashion trends fur, real or faux,
is in style. Even so, customers are definitely splurging, he said. Cashmere shawls and ponchos trimmed in fur are selling exceptionally well, despite their price tags of $500 to $2,000.
At Parker Boat Co., in Orlando, December sales are up a whopping 30 percent, said Nick Hanna, general sales manager. Just since the start of the month, the store has sold a $500,000 39 foot power boat, and two yachts for more than $800,000 each.
“There’s just been a wave of people in the store who aren’t holding back,” Hanna said.
For the first time in at least three years, the company is delivering a boat complete with a big red bow on Christmas Eve to a customer who bought it as a surprise gift for his family. The price: $25,000.
Those hood sized bows come free of charge at the Mercedes Benz of South Orlando dealership, which is on pace to post a record month. The dealer sold 50 cars in the first two weeks of December.
“We don’t have the volume that we’re used to, but the people who are coming in are buying,” said Edward Jablon, general manager. “Several customers paid in full and are picking up their cars on Christmas Eve.”
The bows are a pittance compared with the price of the cars, which range from $29,000 to $190,000.
These retailers and others in Central Florida credit the summer’s hurricanes for the uptick. In times of tragedy, consumers tend to want to splurge on something nice, said Mark Blinderman, owner of Jewelers of Maitland.
“I think people feel like they deserve a treat after everything they’ve been through, with the hurricanes and all,” he said, adding that his yellow diamond pieces in the $35,000 to $80,000 range are moving well.
It’s unclear how the boom in luxury sales will affect the market overall. Some experts predicted early in the season that consumers’ desire to buy nice things could hurt Wal Mart,
the retail behemoth known for its low prices.