In a meeting with several muck-a-mucks at my company last month, I predicted that the economy would perk up by the third quarter of this year. They looked at me as if I were predicting a lasting peace in the Middle East instead.
Now, I’m not known for irrational exuberence. So I blamed my uncharacteristic — and quite frankly, frightening — optimism on overexposure to the twin titans of toddler TV, Bob the Builder (“Can we fix it? Yes, we can!”) and Dora the Explorer (“Come on, let’s get to it! I know that we can do it!”). Norman Vincent Peale has nothing on them.
But after speaking with a number of catalogers and hearing how their business has been going this spring, I feel that my exuberence may not be irrational after all. If the catalogers featured in our cover stories, “The Sweet Smell of Sales” and “Rosier Outlook for the Gardening Market,” are anything to go by, it appears that the economy really is turning around.
Granted, few of the marketers we spoke with are enjoying dazzling, trade-in-the-Toyota-for-a-BMW sales. For most, business is up less than 10% from last spring — and last spring was no blockbuster. But less important than the actual numbers is the trend, and the trend is definitely curving upward.
Then there’s an apparent renaissance of M&A activity. As we reported last month, Dr. Leonard’s and Carol Wright Gifts were bought by an equity firm for about $200 million — not a shabby sum. And in the space of nine days, two computer catalogers made acquisitions: PC Connection bought online supplier MoreDirect, and PC Mall purchased the parent company of fellow mailer ClubMac.
Furthermore, PC Mall is looking to make additional purchases. And in his session at the March meeting of the New England Mail Order Association, Blair Corp. president/CEO John Zawacki said that his company is being “quietly proactive” in seeking acquisitions as well.
If you want to be a Gloomy Gus (or what I would formerly refer to as a realist), there’s still plenty to fret about: As of this writing, Federated is liquidating Fingerhut, big-name corporations continue to announce mass layoffs, and instability in other parts of the world remains a threat to our economy, if not to our national security.
But there are enough positive indicators, finally, to counterbalance the negative. And in the spirit of Bob the Builder and Dora the Explorer, I’m going to focus on the positive. “Can we see the light at the end of the tunnel? Yes, we can!”
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