Overnight temperatures dipped into the low-20s in Wisconsin this week, but Mike Franke has braved the cold while sleeping in a tent.
It’s not some winter wilderness adventure, though. Mike is camping out at the Best Buy store in Delafield, about 30 minutes west of Milwaukee, to hold his spot at the front of the line for Thanksgiving night’s doorbuster deals. He has been there since Nov. 17.
“I’m getting a 4K TV. In fact, everyone in our group is getting one of those,” he said. “A couple people are buying laptops and tablets, and I think everyone is getting the Echo Dot. Best Buy always has the best deals on Black Friday.”
Mike is one of the dozens of Best Buy shoppers who have made an annual tradition of camping out at stores across the country. By the time most stores open at 5 p.m. on Thursday, lines of customers will wrap around the buildings.
This is Mike’s 10th year camping out at the Delafield store, and he figures has been first in line at least six times. He takes time off work to be there.
At first, it was all about the deals. But, through the years, Mike and his family made friends with some of the other campers. They get together with one of the other families a few times a year, and they’re even planning a trip to Orlando, Florida.
The group of seven stays in two large tents, one of which doubles as a living room. Mike sleeps on a queen-sized air bed topped with four inches of memory foam and two sub-zero sleeping bags.
“It’s almost like sleeping in my bed at home,” he said. “Once you get under the blankets, you’re plenty warm.”
And these campers aren’t exactly roughing it. A portable generator powers their space heater and a 40-inch TV they bought on Black Friday five years ago. They have a satellite hooked up so they can watch football and movies, and they have power strips so they can keep their phones charged.
“We have such a good time here,” Mike said. “And I kid you not, 95 percent of the customers who come in think it’s cool, what we’re doing, even though most of them wouldn’t do it themselves.”
One shopper dropped off a pot of chili for them earlier this week.
“Of course our friends and families think we’re nuts, Mike said. “But, at the same time, they like the deals we get.”
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what people think. He and his camping buddies always look forward to their annual get-together.
“Some people go hunting on the weekend,” Mike said. “This is our hunting trip.”
Most Best Buy stores open at 5 p.m. local time on Thanksgiving, Nov. 24, offering shoppers the chance to take advantage of thousands of Black Friday and doorbuster deals. For customers who prefer to shop from home, almost every item in the Black Friday ad will be available on BestBuy.com throughout Thanksgiving Day, with additional deals available all weekend long.