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Keep calm and carry on

Don’t be too optimistic. The light at the end of the tunnel may be another train.

I’m not really one for looking back, but man, am I glad to have seen the back of 2010.

I’m sure I’m not the only one. On a personal level, it was a crappy year. On a general business level, 2010 was always going to be the year that just had to be got through before we stood any chance of seeing a recovery in any real sense.

Many merchants and manufacturers, having survived – to varying degrees of success – the fallout from the global financial crisis, started last year almost holding their collective breath and taking things very steadily and surely.

Well, it looks like that was the right thing to do because there is definitely some more positive vibes out there.

We ran two stories this week of independent merchants reaching record sales levels, Grant & Stone and HPS, so the business is still out there, still to be had.

OK, OK, the VAT rise is going to have its effect, especially on bigger ticket items, especially in the short term. And the NI rise in April will be a bit of a nasty shock as well. But by and large, the great British spending public will probably do as it always does – grumble like mad, try and get a discount or better deal where it can and then spend on the things it always intended to buy in the first place.

There were reports this week that optimism amongst chief executives and chief financial officers is higher than it has been for some years and merchants at last month’s NBG conference were all quietly confident that we are heading in the right direction, with varying degrees of speed.

There is of course, likely to be further fall-out from the collapse of Connaught and Rok, with the chance suppliers, sub-contractors and employees getting their money looking less and less likely with every day. And a sub-contractor that hasn’t been paid by a big firm like that probably hasn’t got much in the piggy bank to pay his merchant suppliers in turn.

Still, cautious, careful optimism seems to be the order of the day.

However, to really cheer things up, we need to look to the Southern Hemisphere. This summer, England’s sports fans were in shreds at the appalling performance of the football team in South Africa. Tomorrow morning (I’m writing this on January 6), we will wake up with the Ashes urn in Andrew Strauss’ hot little hand, having trounced the Aussies on their home turf. That’s a start to 2011 I can live with.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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