NECPA Member Voice
Last month, I sent an email to our active members asking for their opinions about our economy. In that email, I said the following:
"Judging from our experience and conversations with many of you, it would seem that the business climate has been more active than in the recent past. Has something changed? Did you do something different, change your marketing or advertising strategy? Or is it, dare I say for fear of being accused of jinxing it, the economy making a comeback?
"Considering our government has difficulty figuring out what is going on, even with their advanced society monitoring abilities, and the media feeds us questionable statistics, we must sometimes rely on our gut feelings and opinions of our industry peers.
"That said, I would like to hear your opinion. What, if anything, do you think is going on? We will gather and publish noteworthy responses ..."
We received responses from two people, and I thank both of them for taking the time to respond. They have opted to remain anonymous, and so we will honor their request. As the originator of this opinion poll, I do not have that option and look forward to what comes of it.
So here are the opinions in the order received, followed by mine, as I promised. I hope you enjoy reading them and consider a counter-response. Please feel free to voice your thoughts about future opinion poll subjects.
Dear Mr. Massey:
While I applaud your upbeat attitude that the economy might be making a comeback, might I suggest that you temper that with questions about how it is doing so.
Our company has been inundated with business this year. The truth of it is, we didn’t give any incentives, no advertising, nothing had been done by our company to make business better because we hadn’t the money to invest in anything to help us. What helped our business came in the form of a terrible hurricane followed by a Nor-Easter last year only to be followed by a horrific snowstorm this past winter. Awning companies along the East Coast, especially Long Island (where our business is located) have been reaping the rewards of ruined awnings, enclosures, pool and outdoor kitchen covers, along with boat covers. We are, unfortunately, re-gaining our livelihoods on the backs of those who had suffered numerous losses. Since we all know that the economy has been regaining growth rather slowly, this rebirth of business for the awning industry should not be taken as a sign that everything economy-wise has taken on a rosy glow. Far from it.
As one of many "mom & pop" shops, the lagging economy has forced some rather austere times where raises were held back, hours cut, and on some rare occasions, payroll had to be held back until customers were able to pay us for the work we had to do. Thankfully, with the resurgence of business, we have been able to somewhat turn back from the narrow confines of dwindling sales and forge ahead with strength, always remembering that this too could be over in the blink of an eye.
From the devastation of the storms, insurance companies have been haranguing our customers to the extent that some of them didn’t know what to do. We had received call after call from our customer base imploring us to deal with their insurance company for them. The insurance company would then contact us over and over again for information that didn’t pertain to us. Holding up checks to their customers, which held up payment to us. After all, how do you press the issue for payment when everyone is behind the proverbial eight-ball? We are only now getting payment for work that was either completed months ago or for work that we need to complete but couldn’t until payment was assured by the insurance brokers. Those monies were to be able to obtain the necessary materials without our company having to make the initial outlay, not knowing if we would ever get paid. It sounds harsh to have customers wait for their work to be completed because we need at least a deposit but, without the deposit, we could wind up digging a deeper hole, trying to maintain that small-shop money-in-the-bank which affords us to pay our bills and make our payroll in a timely fashion. There are still invoices that have yet to be paid from townships all because FEMA and the government-at-large have been poking and prodding small towns to expose why they are asking for money due to the storms. Every penny now has to be accounted for but, in being more critical of how money is being spent, they are hindering the small businessman from getting paid. Many more shops might end up closing if they don’t get off the backs of Small-Town, USA. We hope that we will not succumb as many others have.
There are still many Davids trying to slay their Goliaths. The economy is still very much in a slump. What you might surmise to be an upturn in the economy is great if you are a glass-half full type of person; just remember that the glass is also still half empty and waiting to be re-filled. I propose that all of us proceed with cautious optimism. Be mindful that we should still put aside something for that rainy day because you never know what might happen next. Right now we are happy to be making money. Just remember all of the people who aren’t able to do so because they lost their jobs. Remember all the people who lost so much in those storms. We have a long road ahead of us before the economy truly picks up. Hopefully, the road will pick up a few thousand hitchhikers longing to have a job again. In G-d and America We Trust.
We definitely have seen an increase in awning business this year, especially commercial businesses recovering welded frames. I don’t think this is due to the economy improving - I think it is due to companies putting off regular maintenance, but now they are at the point where their falling-apart awning is forcing them to invest in recovering - we’re seeing this with several apartment complexes. I think the competitiveness of [the] housing market for renters is causing property managers to invest in making their place look better than the competitors’. This is also true with recovering retractable awnings - many recovers of other’s initial work where fabric is dry rotted and in danger of falling off the awning.
We’ve seen a large increase in new retractable awning business. I think some of this is due to more Sunsetter advertising about benefits of awnings - energy savings and increased "living" space. The good news is that with the Internet, people are able to do research on the product. They then come to us looking for more alternatives. I’ve been able to sell people on why they want to buy a retractable awning from us - focusing on the product we sell and our experience - for many of our customers, price becomes secondary.
Surprisingly, one area we’re not seeing a great deal of increase in business is new residential awnings - not sure why this is. While I’ve also seen interest in motorized curtains, I’ve not seen the willingness to pay for them and most people just go with our poor man’s solution of rope and pulleys.
The economy fell hard. Since it began, we have all made adjustments to our business and personal lives to compensate. Many of us were also victims of recent natural disasters. These hardships have affected each of us quite uniquely. Given this, we will feel the effects of an improving economy differently as well, each climbing back at our own rate and in our own way.
As for Awning Cleaning Industries, we had hoped our cleaning service would prove to be recession-resistant. In fact it was not, at least not as resistant as we had hoped. So we compensated and adjusted as necessary, getting through the past few years status quo.
So, here comes the optimist with a data point: At the Fall 2012 NECPA Board Meeting, most were concerned with having a show so closely following an IFAI show just three months earlier in Boston, both in a down economy. The January 2013 NECPA show turned out great; it came close to matching previous years’ numbers.
At Awning Cleaning Industries, our numbers moved up a bit from Fall 2012 through Spring 2013. We use several barometers to forecast the future, one of which is our wholesale service sales to you, the awning and marine industries. There is a direct correlation between the work we receive and your selling more work. Another indicator has been the increase in retail sales this year. Consumers appear more willing to take some risk and spend some money.
So to the pessimist, this is just another unexplained moment in an economy that is still in a state of up and down flux. To the optimist like myself, it is a new source of energy, a good sign. Do I believe the economy has turned the corner? No, not yet, but it is showing signs of life, and I’m a bit excited, and excitement can be contagious when shared. So share it I have.