Thursday, March 25, 2010

Healthcare Reform and Your Business: Where Do You Stand?

The newly signed healthcare reform bill is perhaps the most controversial and debated topic in the last 50 years in America. It has stirred passionate responses from all sectors of the American public, from celebratory to calls of unconstitutionality. Earlier this month, nearly 12,000 MerchantCircle members responded to a series of questions on the current healthcare topic in the Q1 Merchant Confidence Index. Not surprisingly, a good majority of the respondents, roughly 65%, do not currently provide health benefits to their staff. And just about half of the respondents (49.2%) felt the U.S. government should indeed reform the healthcare system.

Questions between principle and practicality were covered in this article from USA Today on Tuesday. Clearly, the jury is out amongst local merchants, somewhat due to a lack of clear understanding of the impact to them and the nature of changes which are years down the road. Experts like Steve Strauss say the reform bill will help small business because many of the uninsured work for small merchants.

So we’re asking our members today. What are your thoughts now that this proposed reform is reality? Are you fundamentally in favor or insecure about the far reaching effects on your bottom line? Is this a windfall for the future of our domestic workforce and affordability through planned exchanges?

Let us and the MerchantCircle community know your thoughts. We look forward to hearing them!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

MerchantCircle Confidence Index (MCI) Survey Results - Q1 2010

Below are the results of our second quarterly Merchant Confidence Index (MCI) survey, designed to track trends in local business sentiment over time. This survey was presented to a random sample of MerchantCircle members between February 9th and February 16th, 2010. 11,013 completed responses came in during this period and there were no incentives offered to complete the survey. 

State of the U.S. Economy: a mixed bag
  • 27.8% of local merchants surveyed said today's economy is "somewhat" or "significantly" improved

  • 30.7% of local merchants surveyed said today's economy is "about the same"

  • 41.5% of local merchants surveyed said today's economy is "somewhat" or "much" weaker

Sales revenue expectations: local merchants are optimistic
  • Nearly 50% of local merchants surveyed expect sales revenues to "somewhat" or "significantly" improve over the next three months.  This represents a 23% increase over our Q4 2009 survey results (39.9% responded this way in Q4 2009)

  • 17.3% of local merchants surveyed expect sales revenues to decline "somewhat" or "significantly".

Marketing expectations: investment expected to remain flat
  • 46.3% of local merchants surveyed expect their marketing expenditures to remain flat over the next three months

  • 29.2% of local merchants surveyed expect to increase marketing spend (up 2.6% nominally from Q4 2009)

  • 24.5% of local merchants surveyed expect to cut marketing investment (down 1.2% nominally from Q4 2009)

Hiring expectations: headcount inching up
  • 17.1% of local merchants surveyed expect to increase headcount over the next three months.  This represents a 16% increase over Q4 2009 responses (14.7% responded this way in Q4 2009).

  • 11.5% local merchants surveyed expect to reduce headcount over the next three months.  This represents a 17% decrease versus Q4 2009 responses (13.4% responded this way in Q4 2009).

What do you think?  Stay tuned for more insights as we dive into the data.  

In the meantime, if you're interested in survey data broken out by state, business category or business size, please email darren [at]

MerchantCircle Marketing

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Local Business Owners Getting Better with Age?

The intrepid Greg Sterling recently posted a summary of stats drawn from a recent NY Times article.  This stat really stood out: "the number of self-employed people ages 55 to 64 is soaring...climbing 52 percent from 2000 to 2007."  

Our most recent analysis of MerchantCircle's local business members reveals interesting demographic data about our members:

Broken out by age:

Broken out by gender:

MerchantCircle members -- what do you think?  Are local business owners "getting older"?  I prefer the term "aged to perfection".


Monday, March 1, 2010

Sense of Urgency in our Business

If you are like me, you've seen quite few of those posters that talk about corporate principles... lofty ideals printed across a background of blue skies...clouds ... birds... you get the idea...

For most of us these things really make us cynical about the touch feely side of things... especially when in most cases they are the farthest thing from what is really going on in a business... people don't really work that way, right? Right.

So I joined this company a few months ago and spent the first several weeks trying to figure out what did matter to the people that worked there. I asked them to tell me what was important to them and I observed what they did (which we all know is much more telling about the character of a business and its employees). Finally, I got what it meant to be a part of MerchantCircle!

They begged me not to try to put it on a poster...and I promised I wouldn't do that... so I decided to talk about it as a series of blogs instead - so here goes...

Merchant Circle is about a 24/7 Sense of explained in the words of one of our employees as he describes a colleague:

    "From her first day at MerchantCircle, she hit the ground running. G immediately dove into three main issues and took action creating new product flows, testing them and pushing marketing initiatives to support the existing products. With limited resources and time, she seamlessly worked with the team to execute and implement these strategies. She pressed the team with a sense of urgency and commitment, backed up with hard analysis and because of her efforts, we were able to meet an important revenue milestone."

Small business merchants understand what 'sense of urgency' means. It's not a poster or a slogan. They live it every day. They know that without it, small businesses do not thrive and grow. And because it's part of MerchantCircle's DNA, we are the perfect partner for the small business merchants we serve.