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Enhance shoppers' post-recovery experience

I think we can all exhale now.

From where I sit, it looks like the recession is pretty much over.

Not being an economist, I'm basing my observation on the fact that I've seen buyers writing orders at the last five industry shows I attended.

It started in August, when I was in Tupelo to report on the furniture market there. Even though I felt a growing sense of optimism on the part of retailers, and watched them back that optimism up by writing orders, I decided to keep a wait-and-see attitude.

But then something odd happened. I saw essentially the same behavior at the Casual Preview Show.

Ditto for Premarket in High Point, the Vegas market and most recently at the High Point market.

But it looks like I'm not alone in that observation. A recent survey taken among leading economists determined that the recession, which has rocked all our boats since it was officially declared in December 2007, is over.

The study, conducted by the National Association of Business Economics (NABE), polled more than 40 professional economic forecasters who determined that "The Great Recession is over," seems to substantiate my opinion.

The fact that we are out of the frying pan is good news. However, we still may not be out of the woods, according to Lynn Reaser, NABE's president.

Here's why. NABE President-elect Lynn Reaser explained, "The survey found that the vast majority of business economists believe that the recession has ended but that the economic recovery is likely to be more moderate than those typically experienced following steep declines."

Even so, compared to the economic news we've had to digest for the past two years, this predication for a moderate recovery is still much better than a sharp stick in the eye.

Being a guy who would rather always see the glass as half full, I say it's time to stop questioning whether the business will ever come back.

From my perspective, the question never was if the business would return. The real questions involved when the business would return, how it would be different when it did, would we recognize it when it came back and last but not least, what steps would be needed to be ready for it when it arrived.

I jotted down a few things that I would have done during the downtime to ready my store.

  • Take Inventory: By that, I mean not just of your stock. I would take inventory of my store. Is it clean and neat? What does it look like from the road? Do your windows tell a story and if so, is that story appealing enough to lure the customer inside?

  • Gather Competitive Intelligence: Who do you compete with in your trading area? When was the last time you were in their stores? What do they stand for? Do they do a better job in terms of pricing, product assortment or merchandising?

  • Enhance your customer's experience: Do you see your store through the eyes of your customer? What can you do not merely to meet her expectations, but to beat them? What's your "wow" factor?

  • Use the down time to up the skills of your sales team: Nobody likes to spend money during a recession, but this is an excellent time for you to judiciously spend in order to boost the selling and interpersonal skills of your staff. Retail has always been about the in-store experience and now more than ever, customers want to connect with the retailer, not just be sold by them.

  • Forget about thinking outside the box: Throw the box out the window, along with everything else that may have become stale in the store. The recession has caused us all to find ourselves in a new mindset. Now more than ever, the consumer is looking for answers and solutions. She can get casual furniture anywhere. Why not be the store that provides excitement, experience and solutions?

The business is headed your way. Here's to being ready for it!

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