Hold the Champagne ... for Now

Carole Sloan, May 24, 2010

The early reports back from the HD show in Las Vegas last week brought a smile to many who were there — whether formal exhibitors or suppliers walking the show, visiting their customers who were exhibiting or just plain schmoozing with friends and acquaintances.

The hospitality segment of the home furnishings business was the last to tank during this recession — primarily because there were so many projects already in the pipeline — and already funded, which is the critical issue.

So when the hospitality segment went down, the crash was considerably noisier than the declines in the other segments of the home business. And because of the financial havoc it created, it has been slower getting back to a reasonable level of activity — both in terms of specing new programs, and more importantly, funding them.

But listening to the folks just getting back from Vegas, there didn't appear to be any reason for drowning one's sorrows in the community's watering holes. It wasn't a gala by any standard, but it also wasn't a place where there was an overwhelming despair.

Basically, it was an attitude similar in large measure to the domestic markets we've been through so far this year. Attitude was positive — orders scant but still possible, rather than out of the question.

It's a situation we found at the High Point market in North Carolina last month. Suppliers there were generally buoyed by reactions, but still most are waiting for “the paper.” But at least many of them feel that orders will be forthcoming, if in smaller quantities and closer to need than in the past.

It was very much the same scene we found at the Home Fashions Market in March. Suppliers still have a positive viewpoint about how business will shake out vis a vis orders.

And the same holds true for exhibitors at the myriad regional shows that kicked off the year.

But before anyone gets out the candles and champagne in celebration, take a good look at Walmart's report last week. Its customer base is still hurting — hurting badly. And while some of the more prestigious nameplates in retailing reported very positive results, it's critical to compare those with 2008 rather than 2009 to get a relatively accurate picture of where we are now.

It's not a disaster, but still it's not a time yet for celebration.

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