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Signs of success: surveys show consumers see Clinton's election as proof of economic recovery.

WHILE LOCAL REtailers remain unsure as to how much an Arkansan in the White House will mean to them in improved sales, consumers in Arkansas and around the country have wasted no time in showing signs of approval.

The University of Michigan's Consumer Sentiment Index, endorsed by the Department of Commerce as one of the nation's leading economic indicators, rose from 73.3 to 83.6 from October to mid-November.

The increase, announced at the university's annual Economic Outlook Conference at Ann Arbor on Nov. 19, reversed an 18-month declining trend.

In another show of support for President-elect Clinton, the university's national economic forecast predicted the U.S. economy would expand by 2.7 percent during the first year of Clinton's term, by 3.4 percent in 1994. The 1992 forecast called for a growth of only 1.8 percent.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Index of Consumer Sentiment, a quarterly survey produced by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's Arkansas Institute for Economic Advancement, offered a similar positive outlook. Released in late November, the index increased 5.8 percent, from 110.5 in August to 117.0.

The Arkansas survey is a representative sample compiled by the AIEA through phone interviews of some 400 residents across the state.

Asked how they stood financially compared to the same time a year ago, 22 percent of the respondents felt they were better off, an improvement over last August's 20.5 percent. Questioned how they throught they and their families would be a year from now, 52.3 percent thought they would be better off, up from 37.3 percent in the last survey.

Asked to compare the national economy with the state's 23.2 percent felt Arkansas' economy was in better shape while 23.9 percent felt it was in worse shape than the nation's.

John Shelnutt, senior research specialist with the AIEA, says his group purposely waited until after the Nov. 3 election to conduct to survey in order to avoid any enthusiasm Arkansans may have felt following Clinton's victory.

"We hope that we're beyond the euphoria stage," Shelnutt says. "It may still be there in the certainly doesn't hurt to win the election."

Sales tax collections in the first four months of the fiscal year bore out Arkansas consumers' air of anticipation. Sales taxes totaled $327.5 million, according to state Department of Finance and Administration figures, an increase of $22.5 million or 7.4 percent over the same period of fiscal 1992.

Gross receipts, which consist of use and sales taxes, the 10 percent mixed-drink tax, the alcoholic beverage excise tax and gross receipts permits, increased 8 percent in the first four months of fiscal 1993, reaching $377.8 million.

The state's top retailers enjoyed particularly profitable years in 1992 as well. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Bentonville-based discount chain, reported sales of $38.362 billion for the first nine months of the year, a 27 percent increase over the same period in 1991.

The chain opened 84 stores and 35 Sam's Club's warehouse outlets in 1992, the same year that saw the corporation lose its chairman, Sam Walton, to cancer. Walton, who founded the chain that now includes 1,804 Wal-Marts, 243 Sam's Clubs and four Hypermart units, died April 5.

Little Rock's Dillard Department Stores Inc. showed sales of $3.174 billion in the first nine months of 1992, a 17 percent increase from the first three quarters of 1991. The chain now operates 220 department stores in 19 states.

New Look in North Little Rock

Dillard's is one of the 88 stores in North Little Rock's McCain Mall, which underwent a $3 million renovation in 1992. The renovation included new lighting and furniture, new floor tile on both levels of the mall and an exterior paint job.

"I really think it is going to be the mall of the '90s," says Tisha Anspach, who became McCain's manager in June after 18 months at Barton Creek Square in Austin, Texas. Both malls, along with Little Rock's University Mall, are owned by Melvin Simon & Associates Inc. of Indianapolis.

Shoppers in the '80s were more concerned with brand names than anything else, Anspach says. In the more conservative '90s, consumers seem to be more interested in value, turning to family-oriented outlets dedicated to convenience rather than excess, she adds.

"Our merchants know one another and they work together," Anspach says. "It's like one big family and I hope that comes across to the customers."

Anspach and her tenants have yet to see an increase in sales figures as a result of Clinton's victory, but they remain hopeful it will bring attention to his home state in the months to come, eventually translating into dollar signs.

"I think in the past it's been really difficult to pull in the really strong retailers |Contemporary Casuals, Merry Go Round, Wet Seal, etc.~ because most of these retailers have not seen Arkansas as a viable market," Anspach says. "We just need to be recognized more."

The Gap is one of those major retailers, scheduled to be open for business in McCain in May 1993. Best Buy, another major chain, has already found its way to Arkansas, opening a North Little Rock outlet in August.

Best Buy sells consumer electronic products, major appliances, home office products, computer software and photographic equipment at 100 stores in 14 states. The Minneapolis company reported sales of $818 million for the year as of October, a 63 percent increase compared to the same 10-month period last year.

The fact that the Best Buy outlet is located in close proximity to two of its competitors, Midwest TV & Appliance and McDuff's Supercenter, was a strategic move, says George Fouts, a senior vice president with Best Buy.

Wal-Mart and Sam's Club outlets being nearby make the location even more ideal, Fouts adds.

"That corridor with the mall |McCain~ and Target is one of the retail meccas of that community," Fouts says.

"I like having them |McDuff's and Midwest~ there so the consumers can see the two different prospects of sales," he adds, calling the differences in sales styles between his store and his competitors "considerable."

Hot Springs, Clinton's home for much of his young life, is already seeing some response from national retailers expressing interest in locating in the area, says Karen Love, general manager of Hot Springs Mall.

"They were excited about the chance of opening up some new possibilities," says Love, who has received several inquiries from potential buyers interested in the five acres of peripheral land south of the center. Love says she's been approached by national chains and restaurants "that didn't consider Hot Springs before, due to the population base."

Sales projections for 1992 show an 8 percent increase over '91, with the center's 70 stores doing an average of $189 per SF in sales, "which is more than healthy," Love says.
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Title Annotation:The Year 1992 in Review; surveys on state of retail industry in Arkansas
Author:Taylor, Tim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Dec 28, 1992
Previous Article:New faces, new places: the Arkansas medical community goes through changes, expansions.
Next Article:Public enterprise in 1992.

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