Eternal Clearance Sale of the Spotless Suburban Strip-Mall
November 2, 2012 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Please satisfy my curiosity re: The Never-Ending Clearance Sale Event.

There are a few major national chain brick-and-mortar stores in my new (very retail-heavy) neighborhood which have sported gigantic CLEARANCE EVENT banners outside the front doors continuously for a year now. These are stores that feature relatively specialized types of merchandise, not "big box" variety stores like Wal-Mart or Target. Both stores do have marked-down items, but not especially more of then than you'd find at any big retail store, and not in any organized fashion that I can see. These chains both have other stores in the area which do not fly the eternal CLEARANCE SALE banners.

Can anyone with insight into the management/workings of these types of establishments offer an explanation as to what's the deal with the eternal CLEARANCE EVENT... that doesn't actually seem to be? Is the banner a decision that would be handed down by corporate, or something the regional or store manager would decide? Do these stores serve as clearinghouses for unsold stock from other stores in the area? Is it just a sign that sales numbers are not up to snuff, and they're trying to attract eyeballs/customers? (Or maybe that sales are good but they want to do even better?)

I realize this is a frivolous question but I drive past both of these stores nearly every day and it's driving me bonkers.
posted by trunk muffins to Shopping (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You'd be surprise how far a "sale" sign goes in getting the numbers up. I've worked/managed a number of specialty retail stores, and indicating that there was a sale in any way boosted sales up a bit. In NYC there's a lot of camera shops in tourist-heavy areas that have had CLEARANCE SALE: STORE CLOSING signs up for, I shit you not, decades. The tourists don't know any better (and a person who doesn't work in retail wouldn't really know what an actual store closing clearance sale looks like) and they shop there because they're not savvy consumers in the first place to be buying electronics in Times Square.

As far as who makes that decisions, keep in mind in certain jurisdictions it is illegal to advertise a sale if you're not actually having a sale with prices marked down at or below a defined amount/percentage. I'm not 100% clear on how that works, though.
posted by griphus at 10:49 AM on November 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Griphus, one of those places actually closed down next door to my office a few months ago. Blew my mind.

To answer the question, yes, ditto what griphus says.

Also, there are chains like National Wholesale Liquidators which sell junky dollar store overstock type stuff which use a lot of SUPER DUPER SALE type graphic design to get the idea of a neverending clearance sale across without specifically claiming that there is a sale. Is that the "relatively specialized types of merchandise" you're talking about?
posted by Sara C. at 10:59 AM on November 2, 2012

I know a guy that is in the family of a family owned, very large furniture store that seems to be having a perpetual inventory clearance sale. I commented that they might want to find a new inventory manager :) He explained that the sales are legit. They make a deal just about every week with a furniture manufacturer to buy a big lot of inventory at deep, deep discount. Then they have an inventory clearance sale and make a nice profit even though everything is 70% off. The contract normally forbids them from advertising which manufacturer that week's deal is with.
posted by COD at 11:14 AM on November 2, 2012

Even in Big Box and Department stores, there are always things on Clearance.

So a perpetual Clearance sale isn't really that far from normal.

There are places in the mall that sell cheap, slutty clothing and they've been going out of business for years. The name changes every so often, but the merchandise and the signs remain.

Caveat Emptor
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:27 AM on November 2, 2012

I know an antiques resale place with a big clearance sale sign, and I asked when they were going to shut down--apparently it's because they're liquidating their massive warehouse of furniture, fully intending to shut the place down once it's all gone. However, they have enough inventory for a couple years' worth of sales.
posted by lhall at 11:40 AM on November 2, 2012

The House of Scrimshaw was a fantastic tourist trap at the gateway to downtown Newport, RI, filled with generic souvenirs emblazoned with "Newport, R.I.", so your neighbors will know where you got that ill-made sweatshirt, as well as fascinating kitsch items of local and exotic provenance (including some scrimshaw) and an excellent variety of costume and locally made jewelry. Ever since I was a kid, it had a "GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE!" banner across the window. A new one each year, for 30 years.

The building it was in was burned to the ground by an arsonist. Two years later, a new building was built in its place, and we wondered who would be moving into the new storefront... national franchises have been taking over retail space from local institutions, and we were nervous about losing more local character to the creeping mall store cancer.

Even before the signs went up and the doors opened, we knew what was going in there... across the shiny new window was a banner: "GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE!"
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:53 AM on November 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

Sara C., good question and I should have clarified -- these aren't "Big Lots" or "Tuesday Morning" type overstock outlet joints. One of the stores deals in housewares, the other in craft and hobby supplies.
posted by trunk muffins at 12:12 PM on November 2, 2012

A slightly different scenario, but the small online retail business I work for has a pretty permanent clearance sale, populated mostly with the same items for months. It's not a fake or a ploy or anything, they really are items we want to get rid of but they're just not clearing out as quickly as we'd like them to! :)
posted by rhiannonstone at 4:45 PM on November 2, 2012

Yep, I was going to guess it was a craft store! I worked at Michael's craft store for awhile, and the constant and poorly organized clearance section is very familiar to me.

There's two reason there's ALWAYS clearance stuff:

1) Something gets discontinued - this actually happens a lot as there are visible trends in crafting, and some things, especially something linked to a franchise (like a Pixar movie for example) go out of "style."

2) The item isn't making enough money for the company, and they decide it's not worth the shelf space it takes up. Per rule 1, there's constantly new stuff being released, and they can't keep everything. I remember people bringing things to the register that were in the normal sales section but rung up clearance. That's how fast it happens - sometimes we didn't even know something was on clearance until someone tried to buy it.

I think craft stores are a bit unique in that people who buy a lot of craft supplies (oh, we crazy bunch) are willing to dig through trash to get treasure, since we amass so many supplies. Hence the lack of organization. The people who want that much stuff will put in the time to look for it.

I'm almost positive the banner is handed down by corporate. "Event" is just a trick advertising word make you think "Oh no, I better hurry up and buy!! Plus they don't really let the regional managers decide much.
posted by dithmer at 6:55 PM on November 3, 2012

As I understand it-- and this varies by region-- a specific thing must be regular price at least 12 weeks out of a year. So if they're rotating the sales, it would be fine to keep the SALE SALE SALE banner up. It's also fine to announce CLEARANCE YAY! if you always have clearance. I'm pretty sure it's illegal to put up "fire sale" or "going out of business" if you're not actually going out of business.

I work in a chain store and we're directed to put up our most exciting signs regardless of whether the sale is any good or not. We're also directed to put up our "Now Hiring" sign right before the holidays even if we aren't hiring and can't consider any applications. There are benefits to being corporate-controlled, but that's not one of them.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:59 PM on March 11, 2013

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