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Cinde W. Ingram

The new normal

Casually Speaking from the Editor

The year 2009 has arrived with baggage. Credit woes, bank bailouts, stock market plunges, high unemployment rates, low consumer confidence and other financial challenges combined to create a roller coaster business climate as 2008 drew toward its end. Economic experts and retail luminaries have made enough statements to let the rest of us know while they expect recovery from this recession, the geopolitical scene and competitive marketplace is not going to bounce back quickly and may not revert to its highest mark.

Before you shrink back in fear and put yourself out of business, consider what opportunities may lie ahead simply because your products satisfy the consumer's desire for casual lifestyles. There are no indications the casual trend will take a more formal turn, but there are signs the consumer's direction will continue to move toward comfort.

No doubt, times are changing. Specifically, today's consumer has pressure points related to lack of time and overload of information. Retailers who find ways to solve shoppers' need for speed and desire for data will find themselves ahead of the pack once consumers feel confident enough to reopen their wallets.

Expect the silent selling tool of good merchandising to be more important than ever to attract and satisfy customers. Strategies for e-commerce may be called for, along with bold designs and best business practices, to weather the months ahead.

Manufacturers and retailers alike are taking time to scrutinize expenses and get collections in order. Some find this to be the right time to renegotiate all outside costs, especially offshore manufacturing and ocean shipping. Because the recession is worldwide, all of us are in the same boat — whether domestic or international.

Given the uncharted waters ahead, smart company leaders will take the time to share their confidence when their business is well capitalized and positioned to withstand an economic downturn. Staffs who were reassured through such a mini State of the Union address before the end of the year returned to work re-energized and more productive as they focused on the job ahead.

Have you reassured your staff and shared your sense of confidence? Will that confidence spread to consumers who search your store or catalog and select something they are convinced is a good value? Don't let fear of failure keep you from missing opportunities to succeed.

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