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  • Jennifer Marks

Off and Running in 2010

We're off to a fresh start in the new year with the season's first crop of trade shows.

From Atlanta to Frankfurt to New York to Las Vegas and back again to New York, I think we can expect the pattern of lower traffic and shorter visits to continue into 2010, but there's still a fair degree of optimism out there regardless.

A considerable number of companies spent 2009 positioning themselves to pounce at the first sign of a turnaround in 2010. Let's hope their opportunity to do so arrives sooner rather than later.

As crisis always does, the recession had a lot of companies looking for new outlets last year. Hospitality was a popular choice for many. Several companies made noise about expanding internationally, though very few appear to have actually put down the money to go after overseas markets seriously. Others talked up the independent specialty sector.

And a surprising number of suppliers have been speaking sotto voce about their direct-to-consumer outreach over the Internet. Some restrict their online assortment to clearance merchandise. Others offer in-line products, but at full price. No one I've spoken with claims to be minting money from the process, but these days every little bit helps.

As the industry looks ahead to new opportunities, "value" is said to be the watch word. But when isn't it? When aren't consumers motivated by "value" — whether it is the value of a gargantuan box of cereal for $2 or the value of flaunting your $3,000 limited edition designer hand bag?

The good news is that consumers are starting to feel more confident about the future. They may not be so crazy about the present, but they're starting to believe that jobs will start coming back in the months ahead. Hopefully, nothing will happen to the economy to freak everybody out and send them back into their hidey-holes.

The U.S. Commerce Department won't release its December retail sales estimate until mid-month, but later this week we'll get the monthly reports from individual retailers. Several were sufficiently pleased with November to raise their earnings forecasts. We'll see how much chest-thumping accompanies the December numbers. I hope it's a lot.

I'd like to close by wishing everyone a healthy and prosperous new year. We've got a lot of work to do!

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