Analysts Say Staffs Will Be Leaner This Year

In light of the slow 2000 holiday season and a cooling economy, analysts are predicting leaner retail staffs in 2001. Government figures for mass layoffs and initial claims for unemployment insurance in December 2000 were the highest in six years. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, retail businesses account for just 7% of those claims.)

Just before Christmas 2000, Michael Anthony Jewelers, a gold jewelry manufacturer in Mount Vernon, N.Y., laid off 100 employees in a pre-emptive strike against a potential recession. And immediately after the new year began, Sears, Roebuck and Co., Hoffman Estates, Ill., announced it would close 89 “underperforming stores by the end of the first quarter 2001,” according to a company statement. Soon after, Montgomery Ward and Bradlees both declared bankruptcy, and Service Merchandise and J.C. Penney announced store closings.

There may be an upside to the downturn. “Last year retailers were desperate for employees, but this year may not be as busy, so some jewelers may [be able to] slough off weaker hires,” says Janice Mack Talcott, co-owner of Performance Concepts, a retail consultancy based in Olympia, Wash. She says jewelers can be choosier about hiring new employees this year, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to find better ones. “The same folks with the same skills and characteristics are still out in the market. Jewelers will just be less desperate to get people to fill spots.”