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I am trying to figure out where our markets are headed. Here's some of what I know:
The ABI (Architectural Billings Index) is finally up over 50, though just barely. This means that architects' billings are starting to increase over the prior period - and that perhaps bottom has finally been reached. The ABI new inquiries is up over 60, meaning more business is coming at an increasing rate
McGraw-Hill is forecasting educational construction (square feet) in 2012 to fall a further 9%, after dropping off 13% in 2011. It is now more than 40% off the 2008 levels. So they say bottom has not been reached yet, but may be later this year.
The Hussey Seating backlog is up about 20% over a year ago - not counting the backlog we gained through our acquisition of Clarin Seating. We have gained via several ways: the college market, new products, and increased market share overall. No matter how we did it, it is very sweet to have an increasing backlog in a down market.
The economy is growing. Manufacturers are becoming much busier (31 months of growth now); the stock market is at 13,000; employment is growing (unemployment in southern Maine is now around 5%); and consumer confidence is up.
Bonds approved for education construction purposes were off 40% in 2011 compared to 2010. The overall approval rate was 72%.
The median age of American school building is 40 years old - which is the age at which these buildings are considered functionally obsolete. This means half our buildings need replacement or major renovation.
Our quote activity is off about 20% for the last 12 months, compared to the prior 12 months. This is a key indicator to us of future business. You can't book an order unless it's been quoted!
Anecdotally, some of our dealers are telling us business is terrible, and others are telling us they are busier than ever.
Our list of renovation and replacement opportunities seems to be bigger than ever.
There are more new projects being planned at the major league level. Four NFL stadiums (San Jose, Minneapolis, Atlanta, and L.A.) and a number of basketball or hockey arenas (Sacramento, Edmonton, Quebec, Calgary, Detroit).
There is quite a bit of action in college arenas and stadiums. Having modern athletic facilities is a major recruiting tool - and there is serious pressure to keep up with your competitors.
So lots of signals, some up and some down - what I am to think? How do we take all this data (and more I am not sharing here), and figure out what to plan for? Staffing decisions, capacity decisions, marketing focus, financial forecasting.... yikes, this can be a tough call.
My overall take? Here's my best guess at this time:
Our particular niche of spectator seating has yet to hit bottom in K-12, and we will see a further decline in 2012 - and then a very slow climb for a number of years, waiting for public funding capacity to catch up with the significant needs of new school construction and modernization.
College work is active and will continue to grow, particularly in renovation and replacement work.
Major league facilities will be there, though nowwheres near the levels seen between 1985and 2005. One major stadium a year is not that big a market.
We will need to find new markets to penetrate in order to keep growing at the pace we desire.
So - we now have to put this all together, see what we come out with in our budgeting and planning work, and make these decisions I reference above. I know that we won't be right, but I hope we get it close! Wish us luck. And I am open to others' views of our world of seating!