A frenetic scene from the future of shopping is playing out at 85 Innsbruck Drive in Cheektowaga.
More than 10,000 orders a day are shipped from warehouses the size of two Walmart Supercenters. From 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, workers haul carts through endless aisles, grabbing items from towering shelves that reach the 30-foot ceiling.
Huge spools of bubble tape dangle above the four assembly lines where employees double-check orders amid an inharmonious chorus of tape ripping, as boxes are packed and hurried to loading bays.
Welcome to Christmas Central, the country’s leading online retailer of artificial Christmas trees and holiday decorations. It’s part of the online shopping revolution that is steadily pulling more business away from brick-and-mortar stores. And today is the annual celebration of that retail transformation: Cyber Monday, when online holiday sales soar.
Christmascentral.com sells everything Christmas-related to everyone – from local residents to national companies to the White House. It also has partnerships with Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Sears.com and eight other major retailers to fulfill orders.
This year the company’s sales could reach $50 million.
“We’re so busy, I can’t handle any more business,” said Dave Gordon, president and CEO of Gordon Companies, which operates the Christmas Central site, the Dave’s Christmas Wonderland stores on Union and Transit roads, and other businesses. “It’s mind-boggling, but it’s a good problem to have.”
The wild success of the company has caught the attention of HGTV, which taped episodes at the company’s bustling warehouses for an upcoming series.
Online shopping is expected to increase 13 to 15 percent over last year’s holiday sales to as much as $82 billion. Total holiday sales – in stores and online – are projected to rise just 3.9 percent from 2012, to $602.1 billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation.
“Year over year, consumers are becoming more and more comfortable about ordering online,” said Gene Alvarez, an e-commerce expert at Gartner Technology Research in Connecticut. The strong reputations of online retail giants like Amazon, good customer service, prompt shipping and easy return processes have allayed most of the initial apprehension consumers had about e-commerce, Alvarez said.
“Customers can buy and receive with ease as a result of an improved execution of e-commerce,” he said.
Internet sales account for more than 80 percent of Christmas Central’s total revenue, making it a harbinger of what analysts are predicting will happen soon: an online takeover of the lead in all retail sales.
“Not yet, but with same-day delivery on its way to becoming a reality, I think for the first time I can say that eventually they will,” said Ron Rule, an e-commerce expert and consultant to various online retailers. “Retail’s big advantage right now is the instant gratification, and consumers are still willing to pay more for it. Once online shops can deliver the same experience, there’s simply no reason to limit your shopping choices to a local retailer’s limited inventory.”
In the case of Christmas Central, Alvarez said it has found a niche.
“Their names says it all; it’s about finding that hard-to-find Christmas decoration without having to go in and out of stores,” Alvarez said. “It’s made easier through a Google search, that’s probably driving their growth.”
The family-owned business, which was spawned from Dave’s Christmas Wonderland stores, is also one of the country’s fastest growing companies. It has grown more than 169 percent the past three years, according to Inc. Magazine. Another 40 percent increase in business is expected this year. It has made the magazine’s list of fastest growing companies three years in a row.
“This list is the single most comprehensive, recognizable achievement for private industry,” said Patrick Hainault, group vice president of marketing for Inc. Magazine. “Their ranking shows sales are growing at a remarkable rate ...
“It shows how vigorous they are; they’re creating jobs, making the economy hum,” he said.
Gordon said the company has grown 100-fold since it went online, from one employee in a 16,000-square-foot facility to hundreds of employees in multiple warehouses totaling 300,000 square feet.
Gordon got his start in the retail business in 1977 after he completed his undergraduate business degree. He opened National Warehouse Sales on Colvin Boulevard in North Buffalo, which sold a variety of closeout merchandise including Christmas decorations.
“Christmas merchandise was the most easy to obtain because every year after Christmas all the big retailers and manufactures wanted to get rid of their stuff, so it was very easy to get,” Gordon said. “But the regular closeouts became more and more difficult as more and more of these closeout stores began to open around the country and the merchandise became very diluted and very difficult to get.”
So the store’s focus became Christmas items, giving birth to Dave’s Christmas Wonderland in the late 1980s, which had five locations at one point. It’s main store is on Union Road in Cheektowaga, and a new location recently opened on Transit Road in Amherst.
In the late 1990s, Gordon’s wife and two children suggested he give the Web-based selling site eBay a try.
“We figured if we could sell what we sold in one store in Cheektowaga, New York, how much could we sell the world? Because everybody in the world was going to be able to buy it from their living room,” Gordon said. “I had the vision, and eBay was the thing.”
Their Internet effort took off. Nathan Gordon, Dave’s son and the company’s chief information officer, pushed for the company’s own website, which originally sold closeout items. But it sold so many Christmas decorations, the family had to take items off the shelves at their Union Road store to fulfill online orders.
In 2005, they bought the domain name christmascentral.com and went live with the site. Not long after that, Amazon came calling. The company asked the Gordons to fulfill some of their orders by becoming a seller on their site. The partnership gave the company more exposure, garnering increased traffic to its site. By 2007, Christmas Central moved to a 100,000-square-foot warehouse on Walden Avenue. And three years ago, it bought three warehouses on Innsbruck, totaling 300,000 square feet.
“As we grow, our buying power grows,” Nathan Gordon said. “We can buy at better prices and sell at better prices. “The big thing is our stock; people don’t stock the way we do. It’s a one-stop shop for all Christmas items.”
They now have partnerships with 10 major retailers, and 10 more are in the works, while even more companies are expressing interest. And suppliers in China are also anxious to team up. It’s a year-round business, with growing patio furniture and pool supply sales.
Due to the growth, the Gordons plan to expand to a 500,000-square-foot facility and introduce their own line of holiday decorations.
The ability of a small company to carve out such a unique place in the market shows the might and potential of Internet sales. Location becomes meaningless, while service and price are the keys to success.
“It’s the breadth and the depth of what we carry,” said Nathan Gordon. “You can go to our site and you can buy every single thing to decorate your house, as opposed to some sites that just sell trees or wreaths.
“You can buy a 99-cent ornament or you could by a $40,000, 30-foot tree and everything in between.”