Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. It is a day to cook, eat, watch football, and spend time with family and friends. As a kid we’d drive from Syracuse to my grandmothers in the Catskills. One year we got caught in a snowstorm, and were forced to stay in a crappy motor lodge. They refused to give some milk for my baby brother. For years, my family gave them the finger whenever we drove by. Now, I can be a bit more understanding. Maybe they were pissed off because they had to work on Thanksgiving.
There have always been people who work on Thanksgiving – doctors, police and firefighters to name a few. These people provide essential, life-saving services, and part of the deal is to work on a holiday from time to time. Others, like the folks at the long forgotten three acres motel just had to work, because a motel never closes.
Retail is another matter entirely. No one’s life is depending on having Best Buy open on Thanksgiving. By now you’ve probably seen an article or three about retail stores opening on Thanksgiving to get a jump on the holiday season. As illustrated on this chart from the Inlander.com, retail stores have been pushing their black Friday opening time earlier and earlier since 2006.
The pattern is clear. Every year a few stores open earlier, and the next year more stores open at that time, except for a few who push it even earlier. Why are the retailers opening earlier? It is a push to increase sales in a competitive market. Most retailers make 20% to 40% of their yearly revenue during the holidays. For a company in trouble like Best Buy or Sears, holiday sales may determine whether stores need to close or worse. As unpleasant as it may be for all involved, some would argue that staying open on Thanksgiving is what is best for the company.
As I wrote in Busting, “best for the company” is a sign of corporate idolatry. Best for the company is usually measured in terms of the short term gains, and often comes at the expense of long term health. My advice is to put people first. Let the employees enjoy Thanksgiving, and come in fresh on Black Friday. A refreshed and relaxed workforce can outsell a tired and frazzled group of workers any day. Some companies like Apple and Costco seem to agree.
ifo Apple Store reported a detailed description of Apple’s decision to keep most stores closed on Thanksgiving. “Over the objections of the Market Directors, Apple CEO Tim Cook cancelled the plan to keep several stores open on Thanksgiving. Cook’s specific objection was that it’s important for Apple retail employees to be with their families on the holiday. On the other hand, the Market Directors were reportedly motivated by large potential holiday-quarter bonuses based on performance targets, adding to their $400,000 salaries. The last calendar quarter at Apple retail is always the busiest and generates the most revenue, leading to the largest bonuses.” Good for you Tim Cook!
Maybe those Market Directors will look for a job at Walmart, who is pushing the opening time earlier and earlier every Thanksgiving. Walmart is a company that consistently prioritizes money over people. In a particularly perverse development, Walmart will be serving a free Thanksgiving dinner to it’s employees during their breaks. What has been a celebration with family is now being co-opted by the company. I can just imagine the managers having to parrot the company line about how much Walmart cares. At least they are giving the employees extra pay for working on the holiday. In an equally bizzare development, some Walmart stores are having a holiday food drive to support other employees who do not make enough money to buy food for their families.
One VP of marketing at Walmart said how excited employees are to come in to work that day. Stephanie Ritter who works at a Walmart in Colorado begs to differ. She started a petition on Change.org, asking Walmart to close its stores on Thanksgiving. Ms. Ritter writes
Most businesses are closed on Thanksgiving, I understand that Walmart is a staple in many towns, but everyone survives it being closed on Christmas. As a single mother, it breaks my heart to know that I won’t be able to spend that time with my son.
What kind of company do you work for, a Walmart or an Apple? Share your story below.