The U.S. Chamber of Commerce polled small business owners about the state of the economy during the third quarter last fall and found that most were optimistic about increasing revenue in 2018. Most also said their local economies were strong. About one-quarter of those businesses surveyed were retailers.
Increased confidence in local economies and the health of small businesses helped push the MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index up for the second consecutive quarter to 63.2. (The Chamber compiles its Small Business Index each quarter, interviewing about 1,000 small business owners about their take on the health of their businesses.)
This means 63.2 percent of the small business owners surveyed in September and October have a positive outlook about their company and the small business environment in the United States. According to the Index, local economies are bright spots, with nearly half of small business owners reporting they feel “good” about the health of their local economy.
Anne Dowell, owner of the Apron Strings kitchenware store in Hutchinson, Kan., is one of them. “We had a great year,” she says Dowell. “Sales were strong beginning in February and continued through the year.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey includes many different types of businesses, with those in the professional services industry most happy with their organization’s economic health. Retailers, who represented some 26 percent of respondents, had the highest negative outlook of any industry surveyed in the quarter, with 17 percent of retailers viewing the health of their business as “somewhat poor” or “very poor.”
Retailers were also the only group reporting that the holiday season and Q4 in general is important to their bottom lines. More than half of retailers (55%) view holiday sales as “very important” or “somewhat important” to their overall annual profit.
“We had an excellent year this year, and Christmas sales are up which is very encouraging, after several years of flat or down sales,” says Dowell, when contacted in mid-December. “I am optimistic that this trend will continue.”
Dowell notes that a nearby Target closed earlier in 2017, and while hurting the local economy, that closure actually helped her store’s small appliance sales.
Just outside of Detroit, Mary Liz Curtin, owner of Leon & Lulu in Clawson, Mich., noted her local economy is strong. “We are optimistic about the future of mom and pop retail,” she says, adding her housewares/lifestyle store “provides a shopping experience that on-line and big box stores simply cannot match.”
Small business owners in the West are most upbeat about their local economy, according to the U.S. Chamber report, but on par with the rest of small business owners in their perception of the national economy. In contrast, small business owners in the Northeast feel the least optimistic about both the national and their local economy. Small business owners in the South are overall the most confident in the country, according to the Index due in part to rising home sales.
In South Orange, N.J., Ben Salmon is more reserved than Dowell. “I’m not particularly optimistic, but I’m not pessimistic either,” says Salmon, owner of Kitchen a la Mode. “I remain hopeful but we do have to work really hard for every sale and every new customer.”
However, in Florida, a strong economy doesn’t always translate to kitchenware sales, according to Dave West, owner of Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium, located in Brandon.
“2017 was ugly and though housing starts are up in our area, we struggle with how to get to those new homeowners,” he says, adding he is “guarded” about the local economy. “Though I always attempt to be optimistic, not a lot of good news so far.”
Over half of small business owners in the Index survey expect revenues to increase in 2018 and a quarter of small business owners plan to increase investment in their businesses, according to the survey.
“We had a strong fourth quarter and look for increases again in 2018,” says Curtin.
Happy as small business owners are with their local economies, many in the survey are concerned about the national economy: just 38 percent of small businesses report they are bullish on the national economy, versus the 48 percent who are confident about the economic growth in their own backyard. Curtin is among those who are concerned about the overall economic picture.
“All signs show our economy to be strong, but I am worried about our nation’s stability in these uncertain times,” says Curtin. “We just keep going ahead and doing the very best job we can for our customers.”