Columnists Chuck Koehler The Retailer’s Perspective: Recession Recovery 101

The Retailer’s Perspective: Recession Recovery 101


Man, what a crazy ride we're on lately. I don't know about you, but I'm just tired of it! I am soooo ready to just get back to "life as I once knew it".

The other day when I was having a "to hell with all of this... I quit" moment, something occurred to me. What would I do if I just walked out? No one's hiring. Anywhere I could find a job would be way worse than what I'm doing now. The proverbial "I can just get a job flippin' burgers at McDonalds" is no longer valid unless you've got a masters degree in finance or psychology because that's your competition right now. Life as we once knew it is not the reality right now. Will it get back to normal? I think so, or at least some reasonable facsimile thereof. But here's what's going on in my mind at the moment.

I've been on a big Buy American kick about the last three months and I have to tell you, I'm really glad I'm doing it. Even in a bad economy, people are still spending money on the basics. It only takes a few extra minutes of your life to scour the labels of juice packs, laundry detergent, and trash bags to find an American made option. Somewhere in Toledo, Ohio, a single mother of three is saying her prayers every night that the factory where she works won't lay her off. I'm gonna do my part to answer her prayers and I hope you'll do your part to help her as well.

So as I try to make every purchase from an American factory, I've been totally surprised by who has the most Made in America options of all the stores I frequent. Wal-Mart. Yep. Wal-Mart has gotten a really bad rap through the years about selling cheap products manufactured overseas and destroying the American way of life. But they have, by far, come out on top with the most American made options. And the funny thing is, they've probably always had that option. It was me, the consumer, that bought the cheap stuff from third world countries without a care in the world about the sanctity of the American worker. Well, I do now and I'm gonna keep that single mom in Toledo in her job and I hope you will do the same.

Here's a couple of examples of what's happened to me since last month.

My assistant finally convinced me to replace the trash can in my (her) office. I stopped at Target and grabbed one off the shelf and started towards the trash bags department. Then I realized I hadn't looked to see where the trash can was made.

Two seconds later I was headed back to the trash can isle and a few minutes later I found one that WAS made in America.

While buying the trash bags, I discovered that Glad Trash Bags and Hefty Trash Bags are manufactured outside the US.

But, the Target brand is made in America. I left the store with two purchases that were both made in America. If I hadn't looked, I might have contributed to that single mother of three getting a pink slip. Way to go Chuck. High five myself. You're're bad!

Buying light bulbs was a longer adventure. I almost gave up on finding an American made option until...drum roll please...wait for it... I went to Wal-Mart. The Wal-Mart brand of light bulbs are American made. The most popular brands in America, are not made in America. They are made in Mexico and China. Now, when I need light bulbs, I'm going to Wal-Mart and buy their store brand and go about my day feeling good about my imaginary girlfriend in Toledo keeping her job (she sure makes a lot of products doesn't she?). It sure would be nice though if manufacturers would put a big ole Made in America sticker on their products for all of us.

Now, the next question that we all have to ask ourselves is how long are we going to have to keep this up until things get back to normal? According to all of the experts that have flooded the airwaves the last year or two, it's gonna be years and years. I think most of the people singing that tune are hoping it's true because their investment clients have fired them and they need the TV money. The thing I find most amusing about these people, be it TV or print, is that not one of them is actually telling us anything we can use. It's just mindless drivel that fills up doom and gloom space somewhere. The more negative they can be, the more it's in your face. Well, hold onto your hats because I'm going to go out on a limb here and tell you what I think is going to happen and how it can benefit you.

First the disclaimer: This opinion comes from a very long term study of the current economic situation and how it effects MY business and how MY business is going to navigate through this. This is what I'm banking on and I hope it gives you just a little something to look forward to as well. A little ray of sunshine maybe. Okay, disclaimers aside, here's what I think is going to happen.

Way back in late October/early November 2008, when the world economy was still melting, I thought the bottom of the crash would be when the DOW Industrial Average hit 6,500. I had a very researched, methodical system that went into determining that number and basically what 6,500 represented was this: If the market dipped below 6,500, it was unrecoverable and the global economy, as we've all known it, would be over. I truly felt (and still do) that if the market fell below 6,500 it would spin out of control and we were all toast. Then, on March 9th of 2009, the market dropped below 6,500.

I wish you could have been here with me that afternoon as I watched it go to 6,487. I truly panicked. Then it climbed out a little and closed at 6,547. It's never dipped below that mark again. So, how does knowing this help you?
I want you to check the market at the closing bell every day (not all day like me... it's annoying to everyone around you). Every day that it gets farther away from 6,500 is a very good thing. But how far does it have to go before we are in full recovery mode? Here's my theory.

First off, you have to realize that my analysis of the market has no bearing on the amount of money I have in it. It's simply an indicator of the state of the economy. The DOW is made up of stocks of companies that trade on the New York Stock Exchange. If the stock price of a company is circling the drain, they're cutting expenses, closing factories, laying off workers, or just shutting down and saying "I quit."

On the other hand, if the stock price of a company is rising, thus forcing the DOW higher, then they are hiring workers, adding shifts, and adding new products to their line. The farther the market gets away from 6,500, the farther we are getting away from the effects of a crumbling economy. That being said, here's what I think is going to happen next.

When the market is solidly in the 9,000s and jumping up and down between 9,500 and 10,000 things have to change (while writing this article, the market was solidly at 8,100). A lot of the companies that trade on the NYSE will have recouped substantial losses on their stock price and consumers will have recouped substantial market losses as well. When the market hits the mid 9,000s and stays there, corporate America will have to start rehiring and adding back lost shifts.

If you're still employed by a company that has had massive layoffs, you've been holding your money tight expecting to lose your job. But, if your company suddenly announces it's hiring 200 additional workers to fill a second shift, then for the first time in about 2 years your job is safe and you're golden. Every person that gets hired is going to go out and buy things they've been putting off for a couple of years because they have been unemployed.

When the market is solidly over 10,000, McDonalds is going to have to go on a massive hiring blitz because they're losing their engineers back to the engineering world.

And, most importantly for you, people are going to start coming into jewelry stores again to get their broken jewelry repaired that they've been putting off for a couple of years because they were scared for their jobs. Now that their company is on a hiring blitz, they're gonna feel good and they are going to start spending again. And, when customer traffic picks up for the bread and butter items like repair, you have the opportunity to show them all of that two year old inventory you're ready to move out the door at blow out prices.

So, as I personally try to navigate through this craziness with the experts telling me absolutely nothing, I need something to pin my hopes and dreams on. The market going north of 9,500 is the brass ring that I'm holding on to. How long will it take to get there? I don't know, but I do know this; I want the market to get there slowly and deliberately where it's a true 9,500, not just a fluke.

I'm personally thinking that's going to happen sometime around August or September which means I'm planning on staying hunkered down through the summer, but coming back strong after that. But keep this in mind: Nothing is going to happen on the day the market goes over 10,000. No fireworks are going to be shot off in your hometown. No parades in honor of the NYSE will occur. It's just going to be a regular day, but all along the way there will be gradual positive changes for the good. Every day we get farther away from 6,500 and closer to 10,000 is a step in the right direction and things are getting better. And, on a positive note, if you've made it this far and you're not in danger of going out of business today, you're probably going to survive this mess.

So, as you navigate your company through The Great Recession of 2008/2009, I hope this helps and gives you something to look forward to.

Good luck and don't blame me if I'm wrong because I'll be bankrupt and there won't be anything left to take.... ha ha.

Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. You can contact him at 615-354-6361, or send e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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