Who’s hiring

Here’s a sampling of the big chains with local stores that are staffing up for the holidays, and the number of employees they plan to add nationwide:

Target: 70,000

Walmart: 55,000

Kohl’s: 53,000

Toys R Us: 45,000

JC Penney: 35,000

Gamestop: 17,000

JoAnn’s: 3,000

Some of the other retailers looking to recruit seasonal hires locally:

Belk

Kmart

HH Gregg

Best Buy

Old Navy

Pier 1 Imports

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas and Indeed.com

For many retailers, the ringing of cash register bells is the sound of the holidays.

The gift-shopping season can account for up to 40 percent of a retailer’s annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation. With business hinging on the final two months of the year, hiring extra help to handle the holiday surge has become an industrywide norm.

Many national and locally based retailers plan to bolster their work forces by Black Friday, one of the most critical sales days of the year.

While holiday hiring may stimulate job growth temporarily, it’s not exactly a happily-ever-after tale. Many seasonal workers are hired with the understanding that they’ll be unemployed again in a few months.

Even so, seasonal hiring is a critical process for both the temporary employees and the retail industry during the busiest shopping season of the year.

Fewer jobs, better sales

Retailers plan to hire 444,000 seasonal workers nationwide, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm. That’s down a bit from last year’s number of holiday hires, which was at a 12-year high.

The firm said the decline in hiring may be related to a predicted drop in sales gains this year, but a later report by the National Retail Federation predicted sales to grow by 3.9 percent in November and December this year.

James Pedderson, a spokesman for the Challenger firm, said a growth in sales may not affect hiring.

“While the 3.9 percent growth rate predicted by the NRF is better than a year ago, it is still below prerecession averages. Even if retailers are able to achieve that minor gain in sales, it doesn’t necessarily translate into more jobs. Some retailers will simply take the extra profits,” he said.

Target announced plans to hire 70,000 seasonal workers, which is 18,000 fewer than it hired last year. That decision wasn’t related to sales projections. Joan Kozlak, the chain’s vice president of human resources, told The Associated Press that the scaled-back workforce reflected a more efficient approach to handling the busy season.

Challenger also said companies may need less help over the holidays because they already hired more employees earlier this year. About 482,000 workers were added to retail payrolls between March and August, about 42 percent more than the same time last year.

Early birds

Hiring early may be a trend among Lowcountry merchants. Half-Moon Outfitters, Southern Seasons and Coastal Cupboard already have begun recruiting extra help for the holidays.

It may be a smart move to prepare for the early birds. About 61 percent of consumers plan to finish holiday shopping by early December, according to CFI group, a retail analytics firm.

Half-Moon Outfitters is a Charleston-based outdoor apparel shop with eight stores in Georgia and South Carolina. Owner Beezer Molten said the company hires extra help for the back-to-school rush in August and keeps those employees on staff through fall to ensure they’re trained and ready for the year-end rush.

“Your staff has to be ready for the holiday season well before Thanksgiving, or really, well before Halloween,” Molten said.

Brad Pitner, owner of Coastal Cupboard, agreed. With the exception of part-time gift-wrappers who are hired later in the season, Pitner said most seasonal employees are on staff by the end of October.

“It just takes a while with our kind of store to grasp all the types of things we carry, so we try to give them extra months before the chaos begins,” he said. “November through December are our biggest months, so we try to be as prepared as possible for that.”

Southern Seasons in Mount Pleasant held a job recruitment event Oct. 21 to help find 50 to 60 seasonal employees it plans to bring on staff for the next few months, according to store manager Britt Johnson. A “large majority” who attended the event will be hired, Johnson said, but they’re still searching for more candidates.

Seasonal surge

Seasonal job growth often is like a tide that washes a crop of shells onto the shore, only to swallow them back into the ocean moments later. The opportunities are short-lived, and many workers return to unemployment as soon as the extra business subsides.

Charleston economist Steve Slifer of Numbernomics said that’s why the temporary surge of employment doesn’t do much for job growth.

“It’s meaningless in the sense that two months later, they’re all going to get laid off,” he said.

But like the few seashells the waves leave behind in the sand, some workers will have a chance to stick around after the busy season.

“It never fails, you’re going to get people who want to stay on after the holidays,” said Johnson of Southern Seasons. “The ones who are so passionate about what they’re selling, they end up being the people who end up staying for years.”

Managers and owners of Palmetto Moon, Coastal Cupboard and Half-Moon Outfitters said they, too, were open to keeping seasonal workers on staff after the holidays.

That’s what Zantonio Gaines of North Charleston hoped for when he showed up with a resume to the Tanger Outlet Mall on Tuesday. He’s been unemployed for three weeks and said that finding work hasn’t been easy.

“I’m looking for something in retail,” he said. “I would take a holiday job, but I’d rather stay there longer.”

The expanded opportunities for employment during the holidays may offer relief for many who have been job hunting for weeks or longer. Perhaps it will even help them put a few more presents under the tree.

The question is whether it helps them in the long run.

“It’s nice, wishful thinking, but does it really happen? I think the answer is probably very little,” Slifer said.

“But it does put money in your pocket and it carries at least a carrot that it could turn into something else, which is a big deal in today’s labor market.”

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.