Although the Thanksgiving turkey has yet to be stuffed, area retailers already are wrapping up the great Holiday Help Hunt. Some stores begin accepting applications for temporary Christmas help as early as August, while others are now in the midst of recruiting seasonal salespeople.
About 5,000 Christmas temporaries will be hired to handle holiday sales in the Washington area, estimates the retail bureau of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade.
"Essentially, there are jobs here for the asking," proclaims Hecht Company personnel vice president William Wooten, who says there are still Christmas temporary jobs available, particularly at the suburban Washington stores.
"We'll probably have all our extra people on board by the end of November."
Working as a Christmas temporary, claim area retailers, offers a number of advantages. Most stores offer a wide range of schedules for full or part-time work. Training in cash-register operation and sales techniques usually comes with the job. And in most cases sales experience or a high-school diploma are not required.
While salary is ofter the federal minimum wage of $2.90 (unless the applicant has prior experience), the big bonus is a shopping discount -- ranging from about 15 to 25 percent off retail price.
"The discount is usually what they come for," admits a spokeswoman for Bloomingdales which, like many other stores, offers its Christmas temporaries the same discount given regular employes.
"But regular employes must wait 30 days to get the discount," adds a spokeswoman for Woodward & Lothrop, which plans to have 1,000 temporaries at work this month in its 14 stores and two warehouses. "Our Christmas help gets an immediate 20 percent discount.
"Some Christmas jobs available are rather unusual -- we hire Santa Clauses and Santa Claus helpers. We also need extra gift wrappers."
The hardest jobs to fill, according to some retailers, are the full-time day positions. Stores usually want their Christmas temporaries to work a minimum of a month and stay through Dec. 24.
While college students and homemakers comprise a large part of the extra sales force, some stores encourage retirees to take advantage of the opportunity to earn extra money and buy holiday gifts at a discount.
And most retailers can relate a Christmas Temporary Success Story.
"I started as a Christmas temporary," says I. Magnin personnel director Sandy Povinelli. "I was in my last year of college, and I had no guarantee that the job would go beyond Dec. 24.
"I had no interest in retail at that time. But I became interested in the work, stayed on, and within 10 months asked for and got an executive position. The opportunities for Christmas extras are there."
The minimum-wage rise to $3.10 in January, however, may mean fewer opportunities for Christmas temporaries who want to stay on this year, cautions Board of Trade retail bureau manager Leonard Kolodny.
At holiday time, salespeople have an added challenge of being helpful and courteous to shoppers who are often both frantic and fatigued, notes Neiman-Marcus personnel manager Deborah Webb.
"A good salesperson is patient, loves to be with people and can keep a harried customer calm, plus keep a smile on their face," says Ward, who presented two employment seminars last week for persons interested in becoming Neiman-Marcus Christmas temporaries.
"We are in a business not to sell merchandise," announced N-M vice president and general manager Anthony Harriman to a group of prospective salespeople, "but to sell satisfaction.
"At Neiman-Marcus," he said, carefully rolling the name on his tongue, "it is out people that makes us a special company."
In its two-day training session for Christmas temporaries, Neiman-Marcus imparts some of the store's sales philosophies and techniques. Among pointers offered by personnel manager Webb:
Never say "May I help you?" That invites the customer to say, "No, I'm just looking" and may close the door on a sale. Instead use a conversational opener like "Good morning" or a merchandise greeting like "We just got in a new line of jeans if you'd like to see them."
Never mention price. If it's important to the customer, he or she will mention it.
Never judge a customer's ability to pay. "There are countless instances," says Webb, "when a customer wearing cut-offs and a holey T-shirt will pull out a wad of $100 bills."
Treat all customers with equal courtesy. The person who buys a $7.50 lipstick should feel as valued as the customer who buys a $1,000 mink.
Be aware that some customers are "lookers" and others are "askers." "the experienced salesperson," says Webb, "will make a note of that and let a person browse, yet be close at hand so if there is a question they can step in and help."
Dress appropriately for the department you're in. If you're selling sports wear, wear sportswear, and if you're selling couture, wearing designer clothes can add a special polish to your look. But use good taste. If you're selling pajames, don't wear pajamas.