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So far it’s good news for 70 percent of the companies in the S&P 500 that have reported their quarterly results. Nearly three quarters of them have beat analysts’ earnings estimates. Compared to a year ago, profits for the S&P 500 were up 37 percent. In addition, sales were up 9 percent on average across all sector expect for the banking industry. Although this sounds like good news, CEOs are not celebrating yet.

“Sales are simply not keeping up with rising material costs,” Barry James, portfolio manager of James Advantage Funds, told CNNMoney. “They can’t pass off the costs to consumers yet, so profit margins are going to have to take a hit.”

Read more on CNNMoney.com.

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Small business expert Andre Taylor on how to make your company thrive in 2011.

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What happened to courtesy?

By Gene Schulist, School-Pak

I’m bummed.

This time of year we get requests from schools asking for quotes on pre-packaged school supply kits.

We take special steps to contact the school coordinator to determine what’s important to them, i.e. brand name products, bulk shipments, online ordering, home delivery, etc., and send them a simple survey they can answer and ask for a phone number contact.

In many cases they don’t send the survey back nor do they provide a phone number so a second email is sent asking for the survey. We usually decide they have a low level of interest if they don’t respond.

But what’s more frustrating is having that phone conversation, spending a number of hours preparing the quote, making sure it’s accurate, sending it back to the coordinator and then being ignored.

So what’s happened to courtesy? Am I expecting too much?  Can’t they call/text/fax/email that they either do or don’t have an interest? 

I know that we’re not the most important decision they face. But even a “thank you, not interested” would be nice.

I spoke to a vendor recently that echoed the same complaint. Her company attends tradeshows to present their products to possible and current retailers. They’re asked for samples, which they send. They’re asked for pricing, which they send. The company sends follow-up emails. But they’re ignored. That really sucks when they’ve spent up to $20,000 or more just to contact their customers and prospects. You’d think that business owners and company representatives would have some response considering, in this case, all of their costs of travel, lodging and food was paid for by the vendors in attendance.

We’ve attended a number of tradeshows in the past where the main focus of the attendees was to see how much candy they could collect, not look at product.

Someone said “That’s the cost of doing business”. I think that’s wrong. My cost of business shouldn’t include giving out free items to people who have no interest in my products.

So, if you’ve received some samples from a manufacturer, or asked someone to contact you, respond. Let them know that you’re interested or that they’re wasting their time.

My Christmas wish is that everyone follows the golden rule. It also would make a great New Year’s resolution.

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Steven Kroll, managing director at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co., talks about the U.S. deficit and economy. Kroll also speaks about the tax-cut agreement President Obama reached with Republicans, the performance of U.S. stock and bond markets, and his investment strategy. He talks with Matt Miller and Carol Massar on Bloomberg Television’s “Street Smart.” Dan Deming of Stutland Equities LLC also speaks. (Source: Bloomberg)

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Surf’s Up!

By Jim Kolettis, Mahar Manufacturing

Having been an NSSEA Mentor I am always on the lookout for new websites or helpful information that might be useful to our members. A little web surfing produced a multitude of reference & resource sites, and I want to share a few with you.

If you need information where’s the best place to go for it? A library. This week I happened upon a site called RefDesk (www.refdesk.com/). This site contains tons of links to websites on every subject. On the main page there is a pull-down search menu to help you access the appropriate reference desk. If you choose “medical”, for example, a page displays that contains links to various and sundry medical websites.

Library Spot (www.libraryspot.com/) has lots of links to just about anything you want to know (there’s even a link to RefDesk).

And here’s one that is designed specifically for government contracting – “Where In Federal Contracting?” (/www.wifcon.com/). This site contains links to anything you ever wanted to know about government contracting.

And last, but definitely not least, check out a Directory of Topic-Specific Directories called “AllWebDirectories.com (www.allwebdirectories.com/). AllWebDirectories.com is a collection of smaller directories categorized by specific topics.

These sites are fairly comprehensive – if you can’t find what you need on one of these sites you probably aren’t going to find it at all. If you need an answer to a question and you aren’t certain where to look try one of these reference sites or call an NSSEA Mentor – that’s what we’re here for.

If you don’t know who your mentor is, contact Karen Prince, NSSEA’s Director of Member Services, at kprince@nssea.org.

Good Hunting.

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By Jeff Pett, Fleetwood Group

As a manufacturer in the school furniture market, the NSSEA School Equipment Show is our biggest show each year.  We talk all year about what our plans are and what we are hoping to get out of it.  We have had a good show this year.

I think most people who are here would agree that the show seems to be smaller than last year’s show. It felt like the traffic in the aisles was way down, and the booth “footprint” felt smaller.  If you came here hoping to set up your booth and draw in new prospects, this had to have been a disappointing year.  None of that, of course, is not a good thing.  However, as a manufacturer of furniture that is too big and heavy to drag around the country showing off to your dealer-partners, we use this week to show new ideas and products while training new dealer sales people.  And this year was a bonus for us since we recently added two new sales team members, so they got to meet many of their key contacts this week.

Our top 30 dealers account for over 90 percent of our sales and most of them were here this year.  If you wandered by our booth you saw a very busy place most of the first two days.  Relationships were renewed or created, there was some “surprise and delight” new product ideas, and generally we had a great week.

One more thing that I found interesting was the number of people in the show hall “before hours.”  I don’t remember seeing so many groups taking advantage of that time for dedicated group meetings in their booths before.  And while there is some extra cost involved, it is a great way to have uninterrupted quality time with bigger groups of customers.

Hope you were in Phoenix this year, too, and that you had a great week, too!

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The School Equipment Show, which is less than a week away, is the place to be for suppliers, distributors, school planners and architects in the educational furniture, fixtures and equipment market! This year’s show, held November 17-19 at the Phoenix Convention Center, will include innovative products, engaging workshops and worthwhile networking opportunities. It is a show that can’t be missed. Will we see you in Phoenix next week?

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