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On The Sunny Side Of The Street

As the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “You can hear a lot by listening.” That certainly was true of my last couple weeks as I broke out of the bubble of the New York metro area to attend CEDIA 2016 in Dallas and then CTA Innovate And Celebrate in San Jose, Calif.

Events like these give one a chance to take the pulse of those in the retail and manufacturing trenches. Most of the time in the recent past I was greeted by stories of tightening margins, budgeting pressures, and the impending fear of consolidation or macroeconomic uncertainty. It was a scary place out there in CE RetailLand.

But my recent travels and both digital and in-person conversations have given me some reason to smile.

It seems, ever so gradually, there is growing sense of optimism in the industry (knock on wood, or as my mother-in-law would say, kinnehara!)

There have been some earlier signs. I’ve fielded inquiries about CES way earlier than I usually do, indicating a level of anticipation on the product side. On the retail side, a visit to the shiny new Starpower showroom in suburban Dallas was an eye-opener. Dan and Dave Pidgeon have created something special in their selling spaces. Their showrooms not only put their premium product mix in context for the homeowner but the design, layout and thoughtful working vignettes create genuine excitement for the shopper.

When I asked Dan how business was, he just smiled and replied, “It’s terrific.” And I can see why.

A few laps around the CEDIA floor yielded many signs of a resurgence for the installer class. CEDIA’s own research indicated that the average installer’s revenue grew 17 percent last year; the general consensus among attendees I spoke with was more of the same is expected, due to the mainstreaming of Ultra HD, the growth in interest in the automated home, and an overall feeling that the worst of our national economic woes are behind us (at least judging by consumer sentiment).

CTA’s economists Shawn DuBravac and Steve Koening confirmed that thought in their holiday sales forecast presentation in San Jose. Prime indicators of a resurgent consumer are prevalent: a rising consumer confidence index; a higher level of intent to purchase tech products, growing consumer debt (yes … they explained, that’s a good thing because it shows consumers’ willingness to spend what discretionary income they have).

Now, I’ve been observing this industry a while now and I know there can always be a dark cloud or two on the horizon.

The CTA team also talked about ongoing income disparity and the uncertainty of the upcoming general election. It’s no coincidence that the high end of the market is where the money is being made. But there are clear signs of life, and interest in technology, from the entire consumer spectrum and that bodes well for a healthy holiday sales season.

As I often say, technology should solve a consumer’s problems. If you can show them that, you’ll get the sale. But it also helps when that consumer is primed to make a purchase. By most indications, shoppers are more optimistic, and one thing I know, Americans like to spend when they are happy.