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Bargain hunters’ predawn pilgrimage: Black Friday kicks off shopping season with savings, service

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Customers started lining up before dawn Friday at Belk on Raleigh Road Parkway to take advantage of holiday sales and a gift card giveaway. Brie Handgraaf | Times
Customers started lining up before dawn Friday at Belk on Raleigh Road Parkway to take advantage of holiday sales and a gift card giveaway. Brie Handgraaf | Times

Greg Bryant doesn’t usually take part in Black Friday shopping. In fact, his wife Vanessa was shopping on her own until about 2 a.m. to take advantage of deals at Carolina Pottery, but the duo woke up bright and early to get a deal on a new dryer for their daughter.

They didn’t realize that an in-store holiday promotion would bring the cost of that dryer under $100.

A Lowe’s Home Improvement employee told early morning shoppers to text a code to a special number for a chance at a gift card ranging from $5 to $500. When Vanessa Bryant sent the promotional text, she won the minimal amount and urged her husband to take a chance and enter.

“She was jumping up and down when she saw it,” said Greg Bryant. “Everybody heard.”

The win meant their budget stretched further when shopping for their three daughters and five granddaughters.

“Usually on Black Friday, I look for appliances, electronics and household stuff,” Vanessa Bryant said. “For the grandkids, we look at the big-box toys, too.”

Greg Bryant said if he has the chance to win big next Black Friday, “I’m going to be here.”

Kenly resident Tiffany Snody had a similar mentality when she was the first to line up at Belk around 2:30 a.m. Friday.

“I usually go to Target or Walmart, but I saw the ad for the gift card and I thought they had some really good deals, so I’d start here,” Snody said. “I thought there was going to be a big line, so I thought I needed to get here early so I could get the gift card.”

Because the second person in line, Anthony Kelly, didn’t arrive until about 4:30 a.m., Snody enjoyed the heat of her car before starting the queue about 90 minutes before the store on Raleigh Road Parkway opened.

“I love the thrill of Black Friday shopping,” Snody said with a smile. “I like getting up early, seeing all these people and freezing. It is all part of it, including not being able to feel my toes.”

Belk store manager Ashley Rhame and her staff handed out 250 gift cards on Thanksgiving night before shuttering at 1 a.m. and resetting the store to reopen at 6 a.m. Friday. There were another 150 gift cards valued at between $5 and $500 handed out Friday, but with fewer than 150 people in line when the store opened, Rhame handed out the rest of the cards as customers continued to trickle in.

“There certainly are people that come out for one thing in particular, but you’ll also see people in here for hours,” Rhame said. “They’ll fill carts full or they’ll make multiple trips. They’ll go to home goods first and drop off a load at their car, then go to apparel. The average transaction is definitely over $100.”

Kelly said he anticipated spending several hundred dollars Friday at six or so stores as he shopped for his wife, son and grandbaby.

The Wilson father said he probably would continue shopping throughout the weekend and participate in Small Business Saturday, which started in 2010 to spread the holiday sales to locally owned businesses instead of just national retailers. Vaughan’s Jewelers was just one of the many shops in Brentwood that had sales for Black Friday and Small Business Saturday customers.

“I think the key is building the customer base on offering fair prices and good service year-round, so when people realize we’re offering 20 percent off that this weekend, they’re motivated to come in,” said Tripp Vaughan. “I really believe good customer service is what separates us from chain stores. That and if you spend money with us, it will stay in Wilson.”

The American Express small business economic impact study shows about 67 cents of every dollar spent at a small business stays in the local community.

Vaughan said the store has been stocking up on merchandise since summer.

“We’ve spent the better part of two months getting ready to go for Christmas,” he said. “When you do a large percentage of your yearly business in two months — November and December — you have to be ready to go by the first of November.

“We probably have more merchandise this year than any year in the past.”

Name-brand jewelry like Tacori and Vahan is popular, but Vaughan said Hook + Gaff is new to the shelves and has been a hit as folks appreciate the men’s watches that are Swiss-made and assembled in Greensboro.

“They are made for golfers and fishermen, so the crown is on the other side, so when you swing, it doesn’t hit your wrist,” he said. “It is practical but with style and it is more traditional than flashy.”

Having merchandise at all price points also has been essential to bolstering sales for Vaughan’s Jewelers.

“We try to have a broad range because not everyone has a $1,000 budget,” said Tripp Vaughan. “I had two people this morning who wanted to spend $100 or less and both walked out with a package.”