My wife and I recently visited a favorite high-end garden center in our hometown shopping for Christmas items.  She is a poinsettia fanatic (keeping them going nearly year-round) and also a very particular buyer of evergreen roping or garland.  This particular garden center had no less than eight different kinds of garland.  The kind my wife favors for our front door was out-of-stock.  When we visited with the owner about it, he told us he had sold out.  He added that last year, he had unsold inventory of the same product which he had to discard.  He quickly added  that he believed this was  an indicator of improvement in the economy on the horizon.

Since we did not find the garland that she wanted at the first garden center we visited, we proceeded to make a circuit – visiting three more independent garden centers, the garden centers associated with two national home improvement chains and two large Christmas tree lots.  She did finally did her garland (although she really wasn’t very happy with it.) Only two garden centers had any of it and one had it priced so high it was out of the question.

We took advantage of the opportunity to talk to the employees or owners of each of the eight establishments we visited over a two-day period.   Of the eight, six reported that their Christmas season sales were well ahead of last year, one reported it was about the same and one reported a decline based on reasons that were unique to that particular establishment.

So we have now instituted a new measure of economic activity – the Christmas tree index.  The index’s 2009 value will be 75 – because 75% of retailers we surveyed (on an absolutely non-scientific basis) reported that their sales were increasing this holiday season.  While we did not conduct the survey last year, we suspect the index would have been near zero.

We found those two afternoons to be rather encouraging.  I enjoy visiting garden centers, but eight is usually too many for me over a two day period.  This year, it was just the ticket to help me focus on the improvement we can see in the overall economy and specifically in the green industry.

Author’s note:

I swear I began this article before the Wall Street Journal published an article with similar findings last Saturday. Here’s a link to their article.

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