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Al's column

NOT BAD: Retail sales continued their slow but steady climb back up in April, totaling $366.4 billion on an adjusted basis or 0.4% ahead of March, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Year-over-year comparisons show total April retail sales rose 8.8% over April 2009. Sales at furniture and home furnishing stores, which includes flooring, gained 4.6% in April over that month last year. Looking at the total, the National Retail Federation (NRF) said April’s sales performance showed “evidence of a much more confident consumer compared to this time last year.” Rosalind Wells, NRF’s chief economist, said April sales benefited from spring shopping patterns and seasonal weather. “Spending on discretionary items had fallen by the wayside these last few years,” said Wells, “and we are encouraged to see consumers dipping into that pot once.”

GETTING BETTER: Supporting the Census Bureau report on April retail sales, the latest monthly release on import cargo volume at the nation’s major retailer container ports indicates that vendors are feeling more confident about the economy’s improvement. According to the monthly Global Port Tracker, the ports should handle 1.14 million 20-foot equivalent units in May, up 10% from May of last year. The report also forecast double-digit gains in import cargo volume in June, July, August and September. If May and June imports rise as predicted, first-half import cargo volume should reach 6.6 million 20-foot equivalent units, an increase of 12% over the first half of last year. We might be winding our way up the road to recovery.

GOOD DEAL: If you haven’t seen the 2010 issue of Beautiful Flooring, published by the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) and the Meredith Corp., contact rrushing@wfca.org and get a copy. It’s an elegant publication, informative and educational, replete with color photographs and articles covering all categories. This issue, in the third year of publication, has 121 pages with stories that will rivet the interest of the consumer, answer lingering questions and spawn ideas for fashionable floors for the benefit of retailers across the country. A Better Homes and Gardens special interest publication, Beautiful Floors is a great marketing tool. You can get free copies for your store as handouts or mailers or to be used in other creative ways. The copies are free; all you have to pay is modest shipping costs. Other than email, you can call Rushing at 800.624.6880.

STIMULATING: If you have ever wondered about the stimulus packages doled out by the government: who received them and why? Ponder no further. Florida Tile is a recipient and the money is to improve the company’s energy efficiency. It was awarded $162,500 in American Recovery and Reinvestment ACT (ARRA) economic stimulus funding to replace old, inefficient lighting with advanced, energy-efficient fixtures at its facility in Lawrenceburg, Ky. The grant provides 50% of the funds needed to complete the lighting upgrades and the company will add the remainder. Two years ago, Florida Tile moved its manufacturing operation to Lawrenceburg, investing $15 million to “recycle” an under-utilized plant. Now more than 150 workers are in the modern porcelain and wall tile manufacturing facility that was designed to be eco-friendly from the start.

CARE CARES: The 7th Annual Entrepreneur Meeting will be held Oct. 26 and 27 at the Hilton Garden Inn, Atlanta Airport/Millennium Center. CARE is seeking relevant and timely papers that would benefit its entrepreneur community. If you have a presentation or ideas that you would like to see at the meeting, contact Jeremy Stroop at CARE: email, jstroop@carpetrecovery.org; call 706.428.2127, go on the web at carpetrecovery.org. Meeting registration will be available on the CARE website starting May 31.