In late December the New York-based Conference Board reported that its index of “leading economic indicators” rose 0.7 percent. That doesn’t sound like much, but it came after four consecutive months of decline. The private research group’s index tracks 10 forward-looking factors including consumer confidence, wages, stock prices, jobless claims and manufacturing orders. This latest rise seems to indicate the U.S. economy is set to resume recovery by late spring.
That’s pretty much the way everybody seems to feel these days:
We’re moving in the right direction—somewhat slowly at
first—and business will improve as 2003 progresses. That is,
as well, the general consensus of our own “conference board”—a
group of 10 industry leaders we asked to give us their outlook for
the year ahead (see page 20).
Fortunately, most of the window coverings and interior fashions
industries weathered 2002 in fairly good shape. It wasn’t easy,
and neither will be this year. But the forecast is for steady improvement,
especially for those who are serious about their businesses and
about getting down to work at doing what is necessary for any business
in any industry to be a success: business planning, solid customer
service and controlling expenses.
This industry will get some outside help. For the past two years
Americans have looked homeward more so than in recent decades. The
desire to make homes workable, comfortable and secure remains strong
and that will lead to spending more money on the home than for,
say, vacations. There also will be continued improvement in window
treatment products in general and new technology that will make
customization easier and exclusivity more readily available. In
short, high-end looks specialized for the tastes and budgets of
each customer—looks not obtainable through mass merchants.
The rest must come from each individual dealer and will require
a lot of knowledge. You need to know who are your best customers
and how you can serve them better, what do your customers want,
what do they need, what products will fulfill their demands. Business
owners must upgrade their business procedures, stay alert to new
styles and new markets, concentrate on differentiation and do all
this while maintaining cost controls.
Sounds like a lot. Fortunately, there are a full 12 months ahead
of us to work on it.