Signs of economic recovery started appearing about the same time we began hearing casual furniture retail inventories were clearing out long before the selling season ended.
Meanwhile the April 20 Gulf Coast oil spill kept everyone fretting about its impact on the environment. One retailer told me he thought that disaster actually helped his business because the media had turned its attention from the recession to focus on the leaking oil. When consumers weren't reminded daily of the high jobless rate, they came in to buy, he said.
While the BP oil well was being capped, summer trade shows were bringing a new level of excitement with introductions of an assortment of fun and different products. Buyers and sellers expressed the optimism the home furnishings industry is known for.
Stocks rebounded a bit in July as upbeat earnings reports from key manufacturers convinced investors the economic recovery wasn't stalling as much as they had expected. That was partly because companies were able to squeeze out higher production from a smaller number of workers.
Also last month, the Consumer Confidence Index declined sharply to 51, proving the Main Street perspective was widely different from that of Wall Street. Economists watch the confidence level closely because they know consumer spending accounts for about 70% of U.S. economic activity and is critical for a strong rebound. A rapid, sustainable recovery can't happen without the American consumer.
Although buying patterns have changed, consumers still are investing at home. One place they are willing to spend money is in outdoor living areas for entertaining, resting and relaxation. More than 9,000 consumers shared their plans in response to the latest survey Casual Living conducted with HGTV. Our first report, contained in this issue, shows nearly three out of 10 consumers plan to buy conversation groups this year while more than a third plan to buy in 2011.
For the casual industry, this provides a preview of what consumers want along with some positive numbers to support our optimistic view.