By Margot C. Lester, Columnist
With unemployment continuing and credit markets remaining tight, the folks in charge of the balance sheet are understandably pessimistic. This according to the Quarterly Economic Outlook Survey by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and UNCâ€™s Kenan-Flagler Business School. The survey polled 1,584 CPAs serving as financial executives (CEOs, CFOs and controllers). More information and full poll results are available at aicpa.org.
Forty percent were downright pessimistic, an increase from 25 percent in the last quarter. About 20 percent said they were optimistic. More depressingly, a whopping 78 percent think U.S. business conditions wonâ€™t rebound to pre-recession levels until 2012 or later. Ouch.
â€œUncertainty about the sustainability of the recovery continues to limit planned investment and hiring,â€ said UNC Kenan-Flagler accounting professor Mark Lang via a press release. â€œThe next few months will be crucial in determining whether uncertainty resolves to the point where firms are willing to significantly increase spending and hiring.â€
Another survey, this one by financial software developer Sageworks, says independent retailers have watched sales drop 2 percent this year. Thatâ€™s on top of a reported 8 percent decline last year. By comparison, publicly traded retailers experienced a 0.5 percent uptick year-to-date, plus a 0.4 percent increase in 2009. Not huge gains, but a marked difference in performance compared to independent shops. Sageworks analysts attribute the gap to small businessesâ€™ limited influence with suppliers and smaller advertising budgets. Additionally, many private retailers specialize in â€œboutiqueâ€ items, not the mainstream stuff folks buy more frequently.
One local retailer seeing a decline doesnâ€™t blame the economy. Martha Jenkins, owner of Kitchenworks (kitchenworksinc.com) in University Mall, attributes most of the decline to the departure of Kerr Drug, which significantly reduced the mallâ€™s foot traffic.
â€œWe are down 3.41 percent from last year â€“ and thatâ€™s unusual because we usually go up every year a little bit,â€ she says. â€œIn 2009, we were up 5.14 percent over 2008.â€
Jenkins expects traffic to pick up when the Chapel Hill Library opens a mall branch later this year. In the meantime, the 25-year retail veteran is taking matters into her own hands.
â€œIâ€™m back on the sales floor because I love to sell, Iâ€™m good at it and so sales go up,â€ she laughs. â€œAnd Iâ€™ve thought up ridiculous promotions, like Ducking for Discounts, where you get to pick a duck out of the tub of water for a discount. Next weâ€™re going to have a worst-pan contest, where you bring in your worst pan and get some percent off a new one. Weâ€™re going to put the yucky ones in the window and give a big prize to the winner.â€
Sheâ€™s also planning special in-store events, like book signings and demos. If you want to keep up with whatâ€™s going on, email email@example.com to get on the mailing list.
Some relief may be in sight, at least for Orange County small businesses. The Orange County Board of Commissioners recently voted to commit an additional $200,000 to the Small Business Loan Program. Eligibility requirements and application procedures are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, calling 245-2327 or visiting the co.orange.nc.us/ecodev.
Keller Williams busy
Lots of news coming out of Keller Williams Chapel Hill recently. The brokerage announced the formation of a commercial services division headed by Mike Clayton. He merged his company, Clayton Commercial Real Estate, with the firm to create the new KW Commercial Chapel Hill. Brokers in the group include David Morgan, Mike Hickey, David Bellin and Chris Nesbitt. For more information, visit KWCommercialChapelHill.com.
The residential division announced a new hire and a free workshop for area agents. Earlier this month, the firm welcomed a new agent, Wei Liu, as a residential broker. KW broker Rachel Leber will offer a free workshop on Internet marketing for all area brokers on Sept. 15. at 12:30 p.m. at Keller Williams Realty, 1516 E. Franklin St. in Chapel Hill. Contact Rachel@LeberRealEstate.com for more information or to register.