March retail sales increase biggest in decade!

The results of March retail sales are in, and they were good.  In fact, better than good, better even than the modest increases that were projected.  Retail across the U.S. was up 1.6%, but apparel retailers fared much better, with increases ranging from 10% for Macy's to 22.5% for Kohls.

The glass half-empty viewpoint: Yes, sales were up, but they were being compared to a horrible March 2009.  Unemployment is still high, and there is a lot of uncertainty about the impact of the health care plan.  Real estate continues to be unpredictable, although improving.  Much of the increase nationally can be attributed to sales of autos and auto parts.

The glass half-full viewpoint: This was the biggest retail sales increase since 2000, when some of these numbers began being measured.  Part of the increase could be blamed on an early Easter, but this is a terrific trend for the retail segment, especially beating the projections.  Mass retailers also posted gains, such as Target at 10%, showing strength outside of apparel.  Some experts think consumers are slowly beginning to trade up, and to purchase some non-essentials.

The prognosis: Cautious optimism.  If April sales continue this trend, we'll really start to feel better, but long-term recovery will need to be supported by improvements in the unemployment numbers.  This is not time to abandon any spa management strategies you've developed through the downturn.  Expenses must continue to be controlled, and inventories should be very carefully managed.  Value pricing is still at the forefront of consumer minds, and spa services are still not high on the priority list.  But perhaps we can see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.