Thursday, March 12, 2009

"It's getting different out there"

Two months ago, Christine and Gregg Fellmann regularly sat for days without a customer coming through the door of The Tile Experience, their store in Matthews.

Now, they're seeing about a five a week - still not great, but enough to have them encouraged.

"We have customers just walking in," Christine said earlier today. "People are inquiring. It's a good sign."

Today, the Commerce Department reported that sales at U.S. retailers in February fell less than forecast, and that January’s gain was almost double the previous estimate - numbers that may show stabilization in one of the economy's key indicators.

Purchases in February decreased by 0.1 percent, led by the slump in demand for cars, but still less than the 0.5 percent drop that was expected. Excluding automobiles, sales unexpectedly climbed 0.7 percent.

Christine Fellman is seeing it. We told you last month about she and Gregg, who are among the many small business owners who saw traffic wither last year. They also will be the first to see signs of improvement, to make a little money, hire some workers, and show us we're headed toward something better.

Gregg, a tile installer for 26 years, moved to Charlotte 10 years ago and saw his business grow to 10 employees. Now, it's just two - he and Christine - hustling hard for customers the same way they did when he was starting on his own.

"I think it's getting different out there," says Christine. "I think people are starting to get their tax checks back."

Economists are mixed on what the retail sales reports mean. Some believe rising unemployment - a new and sobering report today - and falling home and stock values will soon drag sales figures back down again until at least late 2009.

Others wonder if this second straight encouraging month might be signaling the beginning of an eventual improvement in the economy. "We have changed our thinking based on these numbers," Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics with Moody's, told CNN today. Hoyt said that a half-year stretch of sales declines could reverse by the end of the year.

Christine Fellmann knows only this: They are surviving.

"People seem less scared," she says. "The phones are ringing. That's what's important."


watchy closey said...

the phones are ringing? how are sales?

Anonymous said...

Translation of this article: "The bad economy is starting to hurt The One's popularity. The narrative must chage!"

Anonymous said...

Do some real reporting. Why not examine what the federal gov't did to get us in this mess? It's amazing how no one talks about the printing press we call the FED.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for trying to report a positive piece of economic news. But, since they are in the tile business, should it be really all that surprising that they are seeing more traffic? People are either interested in improving their current homes to make them nicer places to live or improving them to put on the market in hopes of a fast sale.

When retailers of clothing, gifts, etc. start seeing an improvement in their traffic and when we stop seeing a SALE sign in every store front is when I will believe that we are turning the corner.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 3:40 -- The Obama camp gives out "talking points" to the press every day. They have started trying to distribute positive news to make everything seem like it's on the upswing. Maybe that means the unemployment rate in NC will go down to 8.5% next month.

Anonymous said...

I like sales. The cheaper the better. But the "great one" wants to control prices. It's ashame!

Anonymous said...

You can put out talking points, but as an owner of a small business there is no incentive in the stimulus for us to start spending again. There was no incentive to hire people, and their long term plan to go after anybody that has money will keep it that way. Things are going to be stagnent for a long time. The basic facts of the economy will overide anything the media puts out.

Vincent said...

dang I bet if all you doom and gloomers knew the truth , and that truth is that a down economy has magically fat burning powers, and reduces wrinkles, and keeps your undies in forever delightfully odoriferous order, you would spend less time playing the sad sack, woe is, me role, and more time moving on to the next chapter. My income is down 75% compared to last year...this time. I could complain, and drag my face in my shadow but I figured I'd just go out do what I can to make things better. Two thumbs up for the tile folks.