Ace CEO sees positive signs in economy

Ace Hardware's 2011 Spring Convention in Chicago.

Chicago -- Ace Hardware Corp. CEO Ray Griffith pointed to some positive metrics that should give encouragement to hardware retailers in 2011.

Speaking during the opening general session during the Ace Convention & Exhibits here in Chicago, he said across Ace, same-store sales at retail in the month of February were up an impressive 5.8% over last year. Transactions increased "an equally impressive" 3.6%, he said. 

"We have not seen that kind of increase in over 47 months -- not since February 2007," he said.

While housing starts and new-home sales continue to languish at or near-historic lows, other macroeconomic factors support optimism for hardware stores. Griffith pointed to February consumer confidence as the highest in almost three years. The International Council of Shopping Centers retail sales increased 4.2% in February.

And almost as if on cue, the nation's unemployment rate for March slipped a tenth of a percentage point on Friday to 8.8%, down from 8.9% in February.

"Consumers do seem to be spending more freely than a year ago," he said. "Obviously it's too early in 2011 to get overly confident about sales, but it has the feel of a much better year."

His advice to retailers: Take advantage of the economic upswing, but be prepared to act quickly in response to change.

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