Layaway plans scarce in Shelby County

Published 2:15 pm Monday, December 15, 2008

Layaway has made a comeback on the national retail scene, but in Shelby County, the consumer incentive is hard to find.

Few Shelby County stores offer layaway in the face of economic woes. Advance Pawn Shop in Calera has offered a 90-day layaway plan since opening for business in 2006. Manager Dan Fitts requires consumers to pay 25 percent of their purchase up front, and make additional payments every 30 days. By the end of the 90-day period, the balance is paid in full and the consumer takes the product home.

Less than 10 percent of Fitts’ consumers use layaway to purchase jewelry, electronics and musical instruments. Fitts said men are especially appreciative of the plan during the holidays.

“A man can put a piece of jewelry away for his wife or girlfriend and in his eyes he’s done,” Fitts said. “All he has to do is make the payments and pick it up.”

Fitts said if consumers fail to pay the balance within the 90-day period, the product goes back on shelves. Consumers may use the money they put down as an in-store credit to purchase other merchandise.

At Bella’s Bridal and Formal in Pelham, co-owner Joseph Pena said 90 percent of his consumers use layaway.

Bella’s requires an initial down payment of $200 for bridal gowns less than $1,000 and $300 for gowns more than $1,000.

“The customer gives us their commitment, and we go ahead and order the dress,” Pena said. “We try to work with our customers because it’s a hard time right now. We don’t want to stress the bride out.”

Pena said Bella’s layaway plan has no time constraints, and consumers pay the balance at their own pace. Most gowns take 12 to 14 weeks to be delivered, and by that time, Pena’s customers have paid the full balance.

Bella’s also offers layaway for bridesmaid and prom dresses. However, prom dresses require a 50 percent initial payment.

As prom season approaches, Pena said parents and daughters map out a joint payment plan early in the year.

“It’s called the babysitting plan,” Pena said. “(The parent) pays half up front, and the daughter takes care of the rest.”

Pena said he didn’t know of other businesses in Shelby County that offer layaway, but thinks more merchants should consider the option.

“We feel like it’s something that works,” he said. “It helps the customer and it helps the merchants. It’s a good thing.”

On a national scale, Kmart, Goody’s T.J. Maxx and Marshalls offer layaway, and Sears stores resuscitated its plan to entice consumers. However, the chains do not offer layaway at all of its locations. For example, T.J. Maxx in Alabaster’s Colonial Promenade does not offer layaway.