Financial markets are making huge gains and losses seemingly at the same time, rocking investor and consumer confidence. The Fed has pledged to keep interest rates at historic levels for the next two years. Congress has solved the debt ceiling crisis – for now.
What does this mean for small business owners? How can you sort it out?
Well, it helps if you can call an economist. Alan Beaulieu is half of the twin-brother team that runs ITR, an independent economics firm in Boscawen, N.H. He works with the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, giving advice to the folks who make a lot of the iron in your shop.
"It's not just the economy. It's what do you do with this information. There must be some purpose to it," Beaulieu says. "A lot of people can talk about what they think The Street's gonna do, but if it happens, what does that mean you should do with that information?"
Lawn & Landscape caught up with Beaulieu this summer at OPEI's annual meeting to see if he'd share his insight on the future of the U.S. economy, and what factors the average contractor can watch to accurately predict what will happen next for his own business.
Do you have any broad predictions for what the economy's going to do in the next year?
Both political parties are gonna make it scary. And I'm not doing this to push people one direction or the other. And in the process we're going to forget that there are a lot of things going right. And there are still opportunities and businesses can move forward, and the world's not ending in November 2012.
And the people that can remember the things that are going on right, the people that can remember that customers will be buying, the housing market will be soft, yes, but it'll be better than '11. More people have jobs in '11 than had them in '10. People who keep all that in mind will find that they will be growing their businesses in 2012.
It's basically a function of tuning out the noise and tuning into the realities of the world around us. The thing we can do is turn off our TVs and radios. [Laughs.]
Can you give our readers a longer-term outlook on things?
And the recession will last for a good part of '14 if not all of '14.
It won't be a steep recession. That's probably the thing I'd emphasize if I were you is that people will think recession, they will think the last one we just went through. But that was the Great Recession. It's not the same thing. There are still things you can do. You still can remain profitable.
You have to know when it's gonna happen so that you can prepare for it, and there are different things to do to prepare.
Right now, it's gotta be about competitive advantages. It's gotta be making sure you have trained people, customer service has gotta be better than anybody else's. That takes money. It takes effort. It takes CEO involvement.
One of the three big things for 2012 is that you have competitive advantages, customer service, which is a function of marketing and advertising after that. And then you have very well trained employees.
So if a business owner has any lingering fear or concern about a recession coming around the corner again, what can he do to prepare? Is there anything he can keep in mind to ward it off?
Because they won't lie to you. And so you don't ever need to be surprised again.
But we get those leading indicators, and we let thousands of people know what's goin' on so they don't ever have to have that. It's like an MRI, you know? You don't have to wonder if there's anything growing, because you've just been tested.
You don't have to wonder if there's a recession coming, because it's always been tested. No worries.
What else should a landscaper keep an eye on?
And the non-financial side, they're just gonna be looking at personal wealth. They're gonna be looking at – it's not gonna be so much housing occupancy, because a lot of the homes that are empty weren't hiring them to begin with. It's just gonna be a functional of household net worth.
It's gonna be a function of if the stock market's doing well, people will spend money on a landscaper. Those would be the two things I'd start with those guys. Use those barometers. And those are easy to find.
Previously you mentioned consumer confidence is not a good leading indicator.
It just tells you how people are feeling today. But there's no predictive ability to it. People wanna think there is, because it seems pervasive.
I look at it in terms of housing, they look at it in terms of retail sales. And you look at it in terms of what people are actually doing. There's no connection.
The author is editor and associate publisher of Lawn & Landscape. Email him at email@example.com.