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Jenny Heinzen York

Clearer Skies

Economy continues improvement

JennyI WRITE THIS COLUMN just having returned from the Atlanta market.
     It was a challenge for many of us to get there - a brutal storm hit the city with several inches of snow, just as the market was getting ready to start. That same system moved steadily northward and managed to impact nearly everyone on the East Coast.
     Accordingly, things got off to a rather slow start that week. And there was panic in the eyes of vendors on the first couple of days. But by Friday, the panic was replaced by relief, as the buyers started to show up in force. And by Saturday, the relief had turned to actual joy at how well the show and the traffic were going.
     There were tales of numerous rebookings, obscenely long stays in airports, long and hazardous drives - your standard planes, trains and automobiles nightmares. But despite it all, it seemed that most people who needed and wanted to get to the market made it happen.
     People always ask me what I expect at each market. And my boilerplate response has become, "I don't forecast any more, because I have been wrong so many times." After all, predicting market traffic or success can be every bit as difficult as forecasting the weather ... and we all know how that goes sometimes.
     But, I'm going to take a chance and make some predictions, based on what retailers are saying and on what I saw in Atlanta.
     Independent retailers are reporting very strong holiday seasons, and there is data indicating that furnishings items (not always strong during the holidays) were tracking well above normal levels. We've always said that home décor makes great gifts - and now it looks like the general public is starting to realize that, too. I mean, who really needs another sweater? But, nearly everyone could probably use a new lamp.
     The stores that had a good holiday are in need of product - and they need it quickly. That bodes well for all the remaining markets this season, and should help carry our struggling industry for a while as the overall economy continues to show strong signs of improvement.
     So, I'm forecasting a better-than-expected start to 2011. It may not be all clear skies ahead just yet, but the clouds are definitely breaking up.

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