For most of 2001, financial and economic news was a never-ending stream of mixed signals, confusing data and conflicting reports. Expert Analyst A disagreeing with Expert Analyst B, while both adeptly making use of computer-generated color graphics and historical case studies to prove the merits of their economic theory.
During the fourth quarter, just as the media lost its fear of using the "r" word, economists and financial analysts told us that yes, we were in a recession that had actually begun in March. We watched interest rates drop, unemployment figures rise and the stock market rebound to an extent that by the close of ’01, we were being told to say hello to a new bull market.
None of the talking heads on CNN, MSNBC and all the other alphabet-all-day-news channels could agree on the depth, breadth or length of the recession, once it was finally allowed to be given that moniker.
Amidst all this confusion, however, it appears that among the go-to-work-pay-the-bills-average-Americans, calmer heads prevailed. Yes, the average consumer was more cautious and careful about his personal financial situations than he’d been 12 months before, yet he still managed to maintain confidence and a belief that better days were ahead. In short, many more Americans were "seeing the glass half full" rather than "half empty."
According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll conducted in mid-December 2001, seven out of 10 people surveyed felt the "nation was headed on the right track." According to the WSJ, that result was nearly identical to one conducted pre-September 11 when 72 percent (which according to the paper was a record) answered yes to the same question.
Just last month, many in the collision repair industry witnessed our particular market segment not only "on the right track," but running full steam ahead.
The International Autobody Congress and Exhibition (NACE), which has been sponsored for the last 19 years by the Automotive Service Association (ASA), was held the first weekend in December at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
For those lucky enough to attend, the NACE convention and trade show made a perfect bookend for the close of one year and the beginning of another.
The atmosphere was energetic and the mood upbeat.
The seminars were well-attended and the audience full of questions. On the show floor, attendance far surpassed the exhibitors’ expectations. And it didn’t take long for the confident and positive attitudes of the body shop attendees to rub off on the manufacturers and suppliers who were exhibiting. Of course, the fact that the shops were buying products and services from the exhibitors in record numbers also helped — it helped a lot.
The entire event gave off a buzz; the buzz of an industry moving ahead, conducting business, making money.
If someone really wants to know the state of this industry, listen to the owners of the collision repair shops, those many committed, hard-working individuals who — day in and day out — service customers, perform quality repairs, give employment to countless people, buy parts and materials, and invest in capital equipment.
Listen and what you will hear is the sound of successful business owners and the buzz of prosperity.