Retailers have to be ready for anything.

Shoppers can choose to wing it.

But Lucresa Butler knows exactly how her Black Friday will play out.

After her alarm clock goes off at 3 a.m., the east Bakersfield resident will slip into sweats and tennis shoes, swing by a McDonald's for a coffee then hit the Valley Plaza mall by 4 o'clock with $400 in her pocket.

She'll pick up a wireless printer at Target for $29 and a 12-cup coffee-maker for $8 at JC Penney. The rest will be spent on gifts for her grandchildren, ages 13 and 9 months. After four or five hours, she said, it'll be time to "go home and rest."

Part of the beauty of the biggest shopping day of the year is that there aren't a lot of rules, at least for consumers. They can do as the experts advise — research sales in advance and scope out the stores they plan to visit, as Butler has — or they can give in to whim. It's a matter of personal preference.

Store managers have no such discretion. For them, preparations have been afoot for a month or more. As the most experienced of them know, there's no margin for error.

EVERY DETAIL COUNTS

Andrew Masso has spent the week walking the aisles of the Kohl's he manages on Rosedale Highway, tidying up displays and asking employees to refill shelves here and there.

His planning is evident in numerous physical changes at the store. Seasonal workers have been brought in to help with stocking, receiving and running cash registers. The sales floor looks like it might burst with inventory.

Sales bins are loaded full of blankets. Clothing racks have been fully extended, top and bottom, to maximize capacity. Discounted items are stacked to the ceiling, giving the appearance of wallpaper.

Jewelry practically overflows from sales counters into aisles. Everywhere pillows, throws and sweaters beckon to passersby. The toy department is twice its normal size, cutting into space normally set aside for infant and toddler clothing.

Masso said the plan is to turn the store into a "destination" that gives shoppers, casual and expert alike, every opportunity to cross a name off their shopping list.

"I think our biggest goal is to (provide) a seamless experience and do that as fast and efficiently as we can," he said.

PLAYING BY EAR

Preparations have been somewhat less intense for Piper Harville, an eyewear kiosk manager at Valley Plaza who hasn't been through a Black Friday before. The trade-off is that she doesn't quite know what to expect.

Because her inventory is stored on the other side of the shopping center, she plans to keep extras of the most popular models behind the sales counter of her store, Privé Revaux. She plans to keep three pairs of every model on hand.

Also, having doubled the kiosk's normal staffing levels through the weekend, her plan is to show up shortly before the mall's 6 a.m. opening on Friday to see how things go. If her employees are able to keep up with sales, she'll go home. But she'll be back every few hours to check up.

"If it's real crazy then I'll stay," she said. "I'm just gonna play it by ear."

Southwest Bakersfield resident Karina Ojeda expects to do the same on Friday, but from a shopper's perspective.

She plans to go through the advertising circulars she gets in the mail to see what jumps out at her. Then she and her three siblings intend to leave the kids with their mother and grandmother Friday and head out to shop.

"We just go there and see what we can find," she said.

A QUESTION OF TIMING

East Bakersfield resident Luis Casas has done a fair amount of preparation and accomplished some actual shopping, but he has learned there's only so much planning he can do.

Engaged to get married in October, he spotted a pair of wedding rings last week and was able to pick them up at a great pre-Black Friday price.

Now he's thinking of going to Best Buy early on Friday to buy his-and-hers smartwatches for his fiancee and himself at half their regular price.

And what time will they be getting up on Black Friday?

"It depends what time my fiancée wants to get up," he said.

He's learning.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

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