The Black Friday Experience: Amazing Race, Treasure Hunt and Twitter

Over the last couple of months, I have had a number of things that were “blog-worthy”, but due to busy schedules, etc., I just haven’t taken the time to add them.  However, after today’s BLACK FRIDAY experience, I had to write and so here I am at my laptop, well-rested from an afternoon nap, ready to relate the WHOLE experience….

As a preface, my first real venture out in the Black Friday world occurred last year.  And I really only swirled the fringes of the event by getting up early and heading to Staples so I could get the 500 GB hard drive and a couple of thumb drives.  By 6:15 I was done and back home.  That was it.  

The scant experience of 2007 left me wanting for more this year and so the adventure started…

A true Black Friday experience, in my opinion, really begins on Thanksgiving Day.  It did for me, and, in some respects, was more than I had bargained for (did I really use that word???).  I awoke at 6 AM to get the Lexington Herald-Leader, our local newspaper.  I had anticipated the forthcoming hunt for golden nuggets of low-priced values all night long.  But, much to my chagrin, the paper had not yet arrived.  So, I made myself busy checking email, relaxing, etc., as I figured it would be here by 7 AM (I used to deliver the H-L in this area and I knew that was a rule).  So, at 7:30, I once again checked.  Alas, still no paper.  I called it in and got the recording and left the complaint.  (Having delivered the paper, I knew that the next step would be that the district manager or the carrier would bring me a new one.)  

By this time, my wife, Julianne, was up and prepping the turkey.  I helped with cleanup and prepping.  I peeled potatoes.  I checked again at 8:00 and still no paper.  I called again and this time, after entering the info for the recording, I found myself redirected to a Filipino call-center, where they input the data and assured me someone would bring me my treasured paper with all of the colorful ads.  

So, we put the turkey (which had soaked in a spiced-up brine all night) on the grill.  Soon thereafter we noticed that the propane was going low, so I turned it off, pulled off the propane tank and headed to Circle K.  As I walked out the front door, I again checked, but no paper.  So, I picked one up at Circle K.  My appetite for tasty morsels of values could not be suppressed!!!

By the time I had returned home, there was still no paper, so I called again, and once again got a Filipino who this time promised me a credit for the day’s paper as well as a call directly to the District Manager to make sure it was delivered to us.  Of all the days to NOT get the paper!!! Man oh man….(and it NEVER did get delivered and we never got a replacement…..)

With Propane installed and turkey cooking, I commenced my treasure hunt.  My first ad was the Staples ad since they had so kindly provided me a good experience and a nice 500 GB hard drive for my nearly 75,000 MP3 files and my close to 30,000 photo files. I perused every page and then pulled out Office Max and Office Depot ads for comparison.  I did not even look at the Best Buy and Circuit City ads as I had already pre-determined that to even consider venturing to those stores would be like hiking into the depths of a steaming volcano.  

I found numerous items and noted them in my mind as I was continuing my Thanksgiving Day honey-do duties (indeed, Julianne had asked me to be her slave this day and, having Married Up, I agreed)..

We had a nice feast and family get-together.  A nice nap and then headed for the movies at 4.  Family traditions and lots of fun.  

After watching Bolt with the kids and grandkids, we headed home with a drive by flash of the tent-encrusted Best Buy store at Hamburg Pavilion.  We were now ready to attack Black Friday head on.

My first step was to try my hand at Twitter. I had seen the article in my store-bought copy of the Herald-Leader about how they would do the Twitter thing.  Being the old-man techno-junky, I wanted in on this new fun….

My daughter Chelsea has never had the day off on the Friday after Thanksgiving, so she had talked all day about going shopping for her daughter and nieces and nephews.  She had always dreamt of a Black Friday experience.  My wife too had caught the bug and even my daughter Marissa and my two sons Seth and Solomon were anxious to dive in this time.  We were fully committed!!

We all gathered at the house to make the preparations.  To accomplish the monumental task of getting those valued treasures in the big box caves, planning and strategy were necessary.  With pens and pads in hand, we all joined to together to peruse the ads.  We focused on opening times (Kohl’s at 4, Old Navy and Wal-Mart at 5, Target, Staples, Radio Shack and others at 6).  We organized who would go where.  Seth had to work at until 5 AM, so he would join us on the way home.  

We then compiled the lists of items from the various ads.  Compared, contrasted, finalized.  Chelsea then created the “all-details included” spreadsheet of what, where, when, who and how.  I printed it.  We knew what was needed and who would be getting them.  Our game plan broke down as follows:

Chelsea (20 something) would get up at 2:45 and come pick up Julianne by 3.  They would head to Kohl’s in Hamburg.  I would get Solomon, age 19, up at 3:30 and we would head to Staples…not just any Staples, but the one on New Circle Road in North Park (close to Radio Shack and Wal-Mart and away from the ritzier shopping areas, thus less crowding and better chance to get our valued treasures).  From Kohl’s, Julianne and Chelsea would head to Old Navy for the 5 AM opening.  Solomon and I would wait in the cold moning air at Staples until 6 AM.   In the meantime, Seth (age 21) got off at 5 and would head straight to Wal-Mart in North Park for the one REAL treasure, the $130 Kitchen Aid Mixer.  By six, 8 month pregnant daughter Marissa (also 20 something) would meet Julianne and Chelsea at Target in Hamburg for the 6 AM opening.  We would coordinate from there.  The plan was in place!!!

Things went off without a hitch.  We were all bleary eyed, but the excitement of the thrill and the cold morning air got us all going.  Julianne and Chelsea made it to Kohl’s and were 8th in line.  While waiting at Kohl’s, Starbucks had come over offering warm coffee and hot chocolate to the gathered masses (for sale of course!!).  They had their hot chocolate and then they were in.  They knew exactly what they wanted and headed straight in after the goods.  The aisles were narrow and the crowds were thick, so they maneuvered their way to the towels.  They were out in a flash and off to Old Navy.

By this time, Solomon and I had arrived at Staples, chairs and blankets at the ready.  We were numbers 3 and 4 in line at 4 AM.  A cold two hour wait would ensue.  The Wal-Mart parking lot had already become quite full in anticipation of the morning rush on their sale items.  We waited patiently and chatted with the two other gentlemen waiting with us.  One of them had waited with me last year.  They were after the specially priced laptops.  Solomon and I were after the 640 GB hard drives – $70 – (one each for Solomon and Seth) and the 1 TB hard drive – $139 – and 8 GB thumb drives for me, Marissa and Chelsea – $12 each.  

While sitting there I began Tweeting (sending messages to Twitter) and kept in communication with Chelsea and Julianne.  They were at Old Navy, which was passing out bracelets to the first 100 in line.  They were lucky recipients (and got a small MP3 player parting gift with the bracelet).  Old Navy opened their doors early and they were in going after the always valued Old Navy clothes.  

I monitored the first incoming Tweets from the Herald-Leader staff.  Their first messages – (from Mother Toungue) – “Where are you all?” and “I’m awake but I don’t wanna be.”  A few moments later she writes that “the line 4 Best Buy (on Nicholasville Rd.) stretches around  the corner of Office Max.”  I think to myself, “those folks are crazy…only a couple of items of each and most that wait there won’t get what they want.”  Comments about parking ensue.  In the meantime, we are watching as the Wal-Mart parking lot now overflows into the front of Radio Shack and neighboring stores.  The Staples line has also increased to over 20 people.  Radio Shack has a line too.  

By now Scott Sloan, from the Herald-Leader, is out Tweeting about which stores will open at 5 AM (including Best Buy, Toys-R-Us, Circuit City, Wal-Mart, etc.).  Julianne and Chelsea call and are already done at Old Navy, which opened just before 5.  They were on their way to Target…where the line had already circled way around the side of the store.  I comment on Twitter that “Wal-Mart is a madhouse. Avoid at all costs!!”

Side note:  Seth, on his way to work at Amazon, stopped at Wal-Mart to scout out the location of the Kitchen Aide and spoke to someone there.  Apparently, what is done at Wal-Mart is that they bring out shrink-wrapped pallets of the door buster items and place them in the aisles, with pretty much no rhyme or reason.  Folks must venture through the crowded aisles to find what they want and then literally fight their way to get the items as soon as 5 AM hits and the Wal-Mart associate cuts the shrink wrap.  Seth was told that it would be a madhouse — a scrum of sorts.

5:10 AM at Northpark.  Wal-Mart’s madness has begun.  Seth is on his way and says he will venture in.  A couple of folks from our line wander over to Wal-Mart to get a soda from the vending machines.  No shopping carts to be found anywhere.  All gone.

Over at Target in Hamburg, Chelsea and Julianne are waiting.  Chelsea ventures to the end of the line.  A new line had formed on the other door, and Julianne and Marissa, who finally joined them, wait there.  They are told that they must go to the end of the other line and wait.  Scott Sloan tweets in that the “hamburg target line stretches all the way around the building.”   But, Target is apparently extremely well organized.  The lines go in fast and there are associates strategically located throughout the store directing consumer traffic.  Chelsea heads for the mini-DVD players.  Most of the crowd is there for the video game stuff.  A Target employee directs the “running Chelsea” to take a different route.  She is able to snatch the last three $49 mini DVD players.  Julianne and Marissa get into the store about this time.

At 5:25 the Staples guys come out with little baskets to give us our product tickets.  I ask about the 1 TB Hard Drives (which were not a door buster item) and they tell me they are in lock-up.  A few minutes later they come out again with tickets for these and we would get these with the other items in the copy center.  They are very well-organized and very courteous.

Seth had arrived and made it into Wal-Mart.  He found the very last mixer (a miracle!!) but they were out of the $20 500-ct thread sheets and the $9 Kung Fu Panda DVDs.  He headed straight to Radio Shack, which opened 5 minutes early, Kitchen Aid in hand, to get the tripod flash light sets – $20 each – a couple of game things for my grand children, a tripod for my wife, and some other stuff, including a $39 16 GB thumb drive. 

Staples opens the doors at 6:03 AM.  I go for the thumb drives and a 4 GB SD Card – $10.  Solomon goes after his $12 wireless mouse, we get our $10 laptop cooling stations and then go get in the short line for our big ticket items.  I am told only one door buster item each…so I hand one of the 8 GB thumb drives back to Solomon and reluctantly hand the other one over to the store manager.  We are in and out of Staples by 6:20.  We load the car and walk down to Radio Shack.  There is mass confusion in this store, but Seth had stationed himself and had everything.  We went to the register, but one guy waits on us and then, mid-checkout, helps another, leaving us stranded.  A manager then starts the process all over.  Finally, we were done.  By 6:45 we were out of there.  We loaded the car, I tweeted our status to the Herald-Leader.  Solomon traded with Seth and took his stuff and headed home.  this madness is not for him, but he got what he came for.

Seth and I call Julianne.  They want to meet for breakfast.  By this time they had left Target and were at Gymboree.  Less crowded, but the check out process was stifiling.  They waited for 30 minutes to be checked out.  Only 3 people in front of them too….

The Herald-Leader staff continued to Twitter…Scott Sloan tells about the big lines in Kohl’s and how they were out of entertainment projectors but still had GPS systems.  He comments on Best Buy and was on his third trip into Dick’s to get golf balls. He got 90 golf balls.  Mother Tongue noted that Best Buy on Nicholasville Road = Hotel California.  You can enter, but you can never leave type of thing.

Seth and I make our way into Hamburg.  Traffic was not so bad.  I was tasked to go over to Bed Bath and Beyond and pick up some items we set aside a couple of days ago.  Everything in the store is 20% off.  Manager Steve greets us at the door with a coupon.  He recognizes me from a couple of days ago.  We commented on the Kitchen Aid at Wal-Mart.  He knew the deal and said that $130 was a killer price and we were lucky.  We are in and out with the Katana knives and 500 ct sheets and off to Gymboree in less than 7 minutes. On our way to Gymboree we noticed that the HH Gregg  parking lot was full.  I twittered that in to the Herald-Leader.  We pulled into the area by Gymboree.  Still lots of parking. Twittered that too.   

In the meantime, Julianne, Chelsea and Marissa finally make their way out at about 7:20.  We head to the back alley and drive over to Cosi for breakfast.  Didn’t know they offered breakfast, but it was really good and not crowded at all.  It was a nice time to rest and go over all of the activities thus far.  I twittered the about the niceties of Cosi…fast, efficient, not crowded.  And it was a good value.  Julianne pulled out her iPhone and got this photo of me…4 hours after we started this Amazing Race…

David “Sumoflam” Kravetz after 4 hours of Black Friday shopping

After Cosi, I thought we would be heading home, but no, we were next tasked to go to Gordman’s.  I had never been in this store.  Some nice things and really good prices.  Not too crowded either.   I got a few things and then went to the car to wait.  Chelsea and Seth came out shortly thereafter as well.  They picked up Marissa and headed home.  They had everything.  I got Julianne and we headed over to Hancock’s fabric on Richmond Road.  By this time it was about 8:45.  This store was packed.  We ended up not getting anything.  But Julianne just had a couple more things.  Marissa suggested Hobby Lobby, so we drive clear over to Brannon Crossing to Hobby Lobby.  Another nice place.  Never been there either.  We shopped there until about noon.

By 10 the Herald-Leader twittering had stopped, the mad rush was over.  For us too, dead tired, we headed home.

All-totalled, the six of us had hit 13 stores in 9 hours, got 95% of the things we had planned on getting.  All of us spent cash or used debit cards.  Nothing was bought on credit.  Together as a group we had spent nearly $1200…but we had saved and planned for this day.

It was a good experience and really was lots of fun.

To close this out, I am rating the early morning stores per our own experiences today.  My ratings are based on customer satisfaction, product availability, ease of movement in and around the store, customer service by the associates, organization.  These were not calculated in some fancy way, just my own evaluation.  A 5 rating is the best and a 1 rating is the worst.

Kohl’s – 2 (aisles too small, no ease of movement, but in and out fast if you knew what you wanted)
Old Navy – 4 (opened early, gave out prizes)
Staples – 4 (very orderly, staff was helpful, had everything, opened later than schedule, good deals)
Radio Shack – 3 (had everything but very unorganized, staff was somewhat helpful, opened early)
Wal-Mart – 1 (madhouse environment, fight for the doorbusters, long lines, no carts, no parking, we got lucky)
Target – 5 (despite long lines, things went very smooth and staff was in abundance and very helpful; had the products we wanted)
Gymboree – 1 (short lines, long wait, disorganized and understaffed)
Cosi – 5 (restaurant, good prices for breakfast, no crowds, fast courteous service, plenty of parking)
Bed Bath and Beyond – 5 (good parking, entire store on sale, courteous/helpful staff, good prices)
Gordman’s – 4 (plenty of parking, store was a bit disshevelled, prices were not that good)

Well, time to start planning for Black Friday 2009!!

All photos and commentary expressed are copyright of Sumoflam Productions and David Kravetz. All rights reserved.

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