Top 25 Industry Profiles for 2021 fireworks

A Look Back at 2021's Top 25 Industry Profiles

Top 25 Industry Profiles for 2021 fireworksYou probably recall thinking at the end of 2020 that things would be getting back to “normal” in 2021. Alas, that is not exactly how the year unfolded, was it? It turns out that 2021 brought its own unique set of challenges, in addition to a continuation of some of 2020’s woes. But as we head into a new year, I believe there is value in looking back at what we can learn from the rearview mirror.

To that end, let’s take a look at the Vertical IQ Industry Profiles that received the most traction in 2021, based on views:

1. Dental practices 14. Marketing consulting services
2. Physician practices 15. Commercial building contractors
3. Law firms 16. CPA practices
4. HVAC/plumbing contractors 17. Veterinary practices
5. Lessors of residential buildings 18. Engineering services
6. Full-service restaurants 19. Lessors of non-residential buildings
7. Trucking companies 20. Electrical contractors
8. Commercial brokers and property managers 21. Insurance agencies and brokerages
9. Management consulting services 22. Computer system design services
10. Residential brokers and property managers 23. Food distributors
11. Landscaping services 24. Computer programming services
12. Auto repair shops 25. Childcare centers
13. Restaurants

The fine print

Let’s examine why some of these Industry Profiles may have been particularly popular during 2021.

  • Dental practices and physician practices were near the top of this list in 2020 as well. Both, of course, continue to be heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to increased safety protocols, which can be costly, many patients continue to put off routine care or elective procedures, leading to a sharp decline in practice revenue. Practices also have struggled with worker shortages caused by the so-called “Great Resignation,” as well as illness and childcare challenges.
  • Restaurants continue to suffer from pandemic-related declines, though 2021 sales and employment did improve from 2020’s dreadful numbers. Labor shortages and supply chain issues impacted many restaurants struggling to remain afloat last year. At the same time, several federal aid programs targeting restaurants drew to a close at the end of 2021.
  • Trucking companies, along with food distributors were among those that bore the brunt of the widespread supply chain issues that plagued us in 2021. High demand converging with serious driver shortages and higher fuel prices mean transportation costs are continuing to increase rapidly for these industries, as well as the businesses they serve.
  • The real estate market was a bit of a mixed bag in 2021. Commercial property brokers and managers had a volatile year as COVID-19 cases decreased and then rose again, forcing many businesses to make difficult decisions about office space and telecommuting. Store closures did subside in 2021 (as compared to the calamitous number of closures experienced in 2020), yet another 2,900 stores were shuttered last year as of September 31, 2021. On the other hand, some residential brokers and property managers have had more business than they know what to do with. Rent and home sale prices have soared, driven in part by a low supply of available properties. An increasing number of sales fell through in 2021, however, when the home did not appraise for the sales price, preventing would-be buyers from securing their mortgage.
  • Commercial building contractors, HVAC/plumbing contractors, electrical contractors, landscapers, and engineering services are interconnected in many ways. While demand for office, religious, and lodging construction dropped precipitously in 2020/2021, investment has grown in recent years for construction and remodeling of healthcare, retail, and education space. Supply-chain delays and record high costs of multiple key building materials will continue to pressure project completion time and profitability in the near-future for these industries, however.
  • Auto repair shops, like many other industries, experienced both challenges and opportunities in 2021. The dearth of new and used vehicles, and resultant sales price increases, meant that more people had to resign themselves to repairing their existing vehicle. Additionally, people returning to work in 2021 meant more people on the roads, and thus more vehicle wear and tear…and collisions. Yet repair shops suffered from technician shortages, and supply chain issues also created headaches as many necessary parts were in short supply or unavailable.
  • Childcare centers continued to struggle in 2021 as a result of a combination of factors. While demand was still decreased by people working remotely — or in many cases leaving the workforce — an adequate supply of childcare workers remained elusive. At the same time, the cost of childcare has increased rapidly, spiking by more than 40 percent during the pandemic. This increase was necessary in part to offset the cost of wage increases and new, tougher safety guidelines.

The outlook for 2022

Just when we thought brighter days might be on the horizon in 2022, the Omicron variant swooped in to check our optimistic outlook. Though many industries do continue to struggle operationally or financially as a result of the pandemic and economic landscape, there is evidence that we are learning to co-exist with COVID-19.

The mixed bag of low unemployment, high inflation, and uncertainty around future virus variants makes crystal ball predictions for 2022 more difficult. But there are positive indicators that the U.S. economy will grow modestly this year. Here’s hoping that prediction holds.

From all of us here at Vertical IQ — we wish you a happy and healthy 2022!


Photo credit: Damir Mijailovic, Pexels

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infrastructure roadway overpass

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Could Be a Boon for Certain Industries

infrastructure roadway overpassThe $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (also called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) that passed in late November is a historic piece of legislation. It represents the largest investment in our nation’s infrastructure since FDR’s New Deal.

The top goals of the new law are to rebuild our nation’s roads and bridges, eliminate lead service lines and pipes from the water system, increase broadband access, and install new and more resilient transmission lines that are not as susceptible to the impacts of climate change and cyber-attacks. The law also invests in public transportation, rail service, airports, electric vehicle infrastructure, and climate change and environmental remediation projects, all while creating more than 700,000 good-paying jobs each year.

A big win for small businesses

Much of the law is designed to benefit small businesses, making it easier for them to do business in today’s world — increasing broadband and improving the roads and bridges they need in order to conduct business. But the law also has provisions to make it easier for smaller businesses to win highly sought-after government contracts.

For example, the legislation specifies that the Department of Transportation (DOT) should attempt to award more than $37 billion in federal contracts to smaller, often disadvantaged business contractors. What’s more, the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will strive to award at least 10 percent of their more than $370 billion in contract authority to these smaller businesses.

Industries to watch

Let’s take a look at some of the specific industries that might get a boost as a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Construction Materials Manufacturers

  • Architectural and Structural Metals Manufacturers, Steel Products Manufacturers, and Iron/Steel Mills can all expect to find new opportunities for their products with the infrastructure projects being planned under the new law. Whether it’s steel girders for bridges and overpasses, rebar for roads and buildings, or tracks for new rail lines, structural metal, iron, and steel will be even hotter commodities. However, on top of stiff competition from China, prices for raw materials used in iron and steel production have been volatile in recent years, which can create challenges for businesses within these industries.
  • Asphalt Product Manufacturers, as well as Cement and Concrete Products Manufacturers will likely see a surge in demand as infrastructure projects get underway. Contracts to pave new roads and resurface existing ones, plus concrete used for roads, overpasses, runways, water system piping, and more will be integral to the infrastructure uplift. Rising crude oil costs have hit the asphalt industry in recent months, and cement/concrete manufacturers also must contend with volatile raw materials and energy costs.
  • In addition to the concrete pipes needed to upgrade our water system and eliminate all lead pipes, the nation’s Plastic Products Manufacturers also are going to be in high demand. PVC pipe is a durable and safe choice for many water projects. But the industry is also contending with competition from China and volatile raw material costs. Construction Machinery Manufacturers likely will see demand increase, as well, but the industry faces other challenges including worker strikes, steel and rubber price increases, competition from used equipment, and semiconductor chip shortages.

Contractors and Other Support Services

  • There are countless contractors that will be called upon to enact the new infrastructure projects including Cabling Contractors, Concrete & Masonry Contractors, Electrical Contractors, Structural Steel and Precast Concrete Contractors, and more. Many of these industries are also benefiting from growth in residential and commercial construction, making demand even higher, yet they also are being impacted by supply chain issues for essential materials and labor shortages.
  • The expertise of Engineering Services firms, Utility Construction firms, and Site Prep Contractors will be integral to the successful completion of many infrastructure projects. For example, bringing broadband to a rural community requires engineering feasibility studies, creating and finalizing deployment plans after funding is approved, and overseeing the law’s $65 billion in new broadband infrastructure. Engineers and site prep contractors also will be heavily involved with $55 billion worth of lead service line replacement and water system upgrades earmarked in the law.

Specialized Service Providers

  • There are many other specialized service providers that may see their prospects increase thanks to the infrastructure bill. Industries to watch might include Environmental Consulting Services, Remediation Services, Hazardous Waste Collection and Disposal, Solar Electric Power, Water Supply and Sewage Treatment, and Commercial Equipment Rental and Leasing.

Improvements for businesses and individuals

The impacts of the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be felt across wide swaths of the economy, from small businesses that will be in contention for government contracts to businesses that will benefit from the improvements to broadband, roads, and more. These improvements also will be felt at the individual level with not only jobs creation but upgrades to water systems, public transportation, and utility system resilience.

Further government spending on infrastructure could be on the horizon as well if the $2 trillion Build Back Better plan is passed in the coming weeks.

All of the industry-related content in this post was pulled directly from the industries’ respective Industry Profile. To learn more about how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will impact these and other industries, visit

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How Industries Are Impacted by Supply, Demand and Inflation

pexels-karolina-grabowska-5632371_ inflationIt’s definitely not your imagination: Prices are going up — in some cases, rather shockingly. The most recent consumer price index (CPI) data, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Tuesday, revealed that the country’s overall CPI increased 0.9 percent in June, and that’s after rising a hearty 0.6 percent in May.

June’s increase was the largest one-month change since June 2008 when the index rose 1.0 percent. Looking at June 2021 versus year ago, prices are up 5.4 percent. That’s the largest 12-month increase we’ve seen in this county since the 5.4 percent increase for the 12-month period ending in August 2008.

Inflation hits consumers’ wallets

Are these price increases good news or bad? I suppose it depends on your perspective, but the reasons behind these increases are many. For instance, the good news is that, as vaccination rates increase, the pandemic subsides, and the economy steadily opens back up, things are returning to some degree of normalcy, creating more demand from consumers for goods and services.

But, on the other hand, the challenge this creates is that consumer demand is rising faster than some industries’ ability to respond with adequate supply. This scenario is putting pressure on suppliers and thus driving up prices.

Increased shipping costs are also a major contributing factor to these CPI increases. With fewer containers coming into the country‘s ports it means lead times for products from Asia are extended and shipping costs also go up, which are then passed along to the consumer. And it’s not just Asian goods that are feeling the pinch. Coffee and tea coming in from Brazil, for example, have seen shipping costs go up 200 to 300 percent.

Prices surging in many industries

Let’s take a look at some specific industries that are seeing notable impacts to supply and demand and thus are seeing price increases.

New vehicles

After rising 1.6 percent from April to May of this year, the CPI for new vehicles rose another 2.0 percent from May to June. That is the index’s largest one-month increase since May 1981. The index for new vehicles rose 5.3 percent over the past 12 months, which is the largest 12-month increase since the period ending January 1987.

The average new vehicle transaction price increased 1.2 percent month over month to $41,263 in May (+$493) and was up 5.4% (+$2,125) year over year. Much of this supply and demand push-pull has been created by automobile manufacturing supply chain challenges, with certain essential parts in short supply.

While prices are up over the past year, sales were just 14.5 million units in 2020, down 15 percent as compared to 2019. It was the fourth-largest annual decline since at least 1980. Several industry analysts and forecasters expect new auto sales to increase about 6.9 percent to around 15.5 million for 2021.

Used cars and trucks

With fewer people buying new cars, the supply of used vehicles also shrunk just as demand for used cars and trucks went up, creating a striking price hike. The CPI for used cars and trucks increased 45.2 percent year-over-year for June, the largest 12-month change ever reported for that index. From May to June of this year alone, prices were up 10.5 percent.

Profits also increased for many used vehicle dealers in 2020, despite lower sales volumes. The limited supply and increasing prices of new cars, coupled with economic conditions that squeezed many household budgets, led to higher demand for pre-owned vehicles. As prices went up, so too did the per-vehicle gross profit, increasing 13 percent year over year as a result.


As of July 1, 2021, all U.S. states except for Hawaii were fully reopened, according to The New York Times, and people are ready to take to the friendly skies once again. In fact, according to a spring 2021 survey by Deloitte, 40 percent of Americans plan to take a trip that includes a flight and a stay in paid lodging between Memorial Day and the end of September.

In addition, global business aviation activity in June 2021 rose 10 percent compared to June 2019, pre-pandemic, according to WingX. U.S. business aviation departures over the 2021 Fourth of July weekend were 44 percent higher than the same weekend in 2019.

As a result of this increased demand, the CPI for airline fares rose 2.7 percent from May to June; that’s after increasing 7.0 percent from April to May. Looking at year-over-year numbers for June, fares are up 24.6 percent as demand surges.


In addition to travelling, people are ready for some new additions to their wardrobes after a year in lockdown. Some clothing industry insiders report an uptick in store traffic and consumer interest in updated fashions as vaccine distribution has surpassed initial expectations. The CEO of Gap Inc. said she expects consumers to embrace “peacocking” — showing off new looks amid warmer weather and a broader reopening of the economy.

As a result, clothing and accessory store sales increased a whopping 81.3 percent in the first five months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The CPI for apparel increased 0.7 percent from May to June following a 1.2 percent rise between April and May. These numbers were particularly bolstered by increases in the prices of women’s dresses (up 5 percent in June), women’s outwear (up 2.1 percent), and infants’ and toddlers’ apparel (up 2.1 percent). Compared to June of 2020, overall apparel prices are up 4.9 percent.


The quarantines and business closures prompted by COVID-19 greatly reduced demand for oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel in most of 2020. Oversupply in the market and reduced demand from worldwide quarantines drove the U.S. spot price for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude to a low of $3.32 per barrel for the week ending April 24, 2020, down from $63 at the start of 2020.

But more people are now back behind the wheel. As measured by vehicle miles driven, travel on U.S. roads and streets increased by more than 54 percent in April 2021 compared to the same month a year earlier, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

As demand grows from more people returning to the office and taking to the roads for vacations, gasoline prices are also increasing. Gas prices averaged $3.06 on June 26, 2021, which is up from $3.03 on June 1 of this year and $2.13 a year earlier, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The gasoline CPI rose 2.5 percent in June after falling 0.7 percent in May. However, the gasoline index rose 45.1 percent since June 2020. U.S. fuel demand is expected to improve over the summer as the COVID-19 pandemic decreases in severity, the economy improves, and consumers spend their stimulus dollars.

Keeping perspective on price increases

While the latest CPI revealed that prices rose in nearly every category, there were a few outliers: medical care commodities and household furnishings did see a decrease in prices in June, for example.

But it’s also important to keep these price fluctuations in perspective. In some cases, there are indeed industries that had CPI increases that put their prices higher than they’ve been in a long time (if ever). However, on the flip side, prices on many goods and services dropped so much this time last year that, yes, they are going up, but when you look more closely, they are still lower than they were a year ago.

You can learn more about how these and other industries have been impacted by COVID-19 by visiting our free COVID-19 webpage.

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retail sales rebound; shopping bag

As States Reopen, Retail Is Looking for a Rebound

retail rebound; shopping bagSeasonally adjusted initial unemployment claims for the week ending June 12 were 412,000. That marks an increase of 37,000 from the previous week’s unrevised level, but perhaps most notably, the four-week moving average was the lowest level for initial claims since March 14, 2020 — the week pandemic shutdowns began in the U.S.  The insured unemployment rate was 2.5 percent for the week ending June 5, unchanged from the previous week’s unrevised rate.

Retail sales on the rise

One vertical that was particularly hard-hit by pandemic-related closures in 2020 was the retail sector, including clothing and accessories stores (-26.4 percent), department stores (-18.1 percent), gasoline stations (-15.9 percent), electronics and appliance stores (-14.6 percent), and furniture and home furnishings stores (-5.4 percent).

But things may finally be looking up for the retail sector. In the first four months of 2021, the retail sector saw strong gains as more of the U.S. economy reopened. In fact, all major subsectors of the retail sector saw sales rise in the first four months of 2021 (though they experienced a 1.3 percent dip in May).

Major increases included motor vehicle and parts dealers (up 44.6 percent compared to January through April 2020); sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and bookstores (+59.4 percent); clothing and clothing accessories stores (+57.7 percent), furniture and home furnishings stores (+45.3 percent), and building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers (+25.5 percent). However, year-over-year retail comparisons are skewed higher by the stay-at-home orders and nonessential retail closures that began in March and April 2020.

Retail jobs returning

As a whole, the retail sector lost more than 2 million jobs in April 2020. Among the hardest hit were clothing and clothing accessories stores; motor vehicle and parts dealers; furniture stores; sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores; and department stores.

But here again, it looks like the sector may have turned around. By August of 2020, all retail sectors had returned to positive job growth. Retail employment has since seen steady growth. Retail employment in May 2021 rose 4.6 percent over the prior month and was up 11.4 percent compared to May 2020. Retail employment in May 2021 was down less than 2 percent compared to the pre-pandemic level of February 2020.

Supply chain challenges & curbside’s appeal

Remember those empty toilet paper shelves? Early in the pandemic, grocery and drug stores, as well as mass merchandisers like Walmart, Costco, and Target, all struggled to keep products on the shelves as consumers and businesses stockpiled goods in fear of shortages. In most cases, supply chains have since stabilized as some grocers reduced hours of operation and limited quantities that a single shopper can purchase.

Stores also controlled traffic in the store to allow for social distancing. Some retailers have allowed customers to purchase in-stock merchandise online, then pick it up curbside. Industry watchers expect curbside pick-up to have a long-term effect on store-based retailer strategy even after the pandemic eases. Curbside offers a hybrid model between ecommerce and traditional retail that satisfies consumers’ desire to visit stores, and shoppers take care of the “last mile” — the delivery step that is most costly for retailers.

Reopenings don’t necessarily mean a retail rally

Thanks to dropping COVID case numbers and rising vaccination rates, all states have taken steps toward reopening, including retail establishments. But there may have been a more permanent paradigm shift created by the pandemic that retails must address.

Some analysts suggest the brick-and-mortar retail sector was actually in a downturn before coronavirus. But the past year may have accelerated the decline as more and more consumers turned to online shopping to order groceries and pick them up curbside or have them delivered. Brick-and-mortar stores could see greater declines in foot traffic after the pandemic subsides as shoppers became more comfortable with online shopping during the quarantine and liked the convenience.

In part because of this change in consumers’ shopping habits, in 2020, the retail sector suffered its worst year for bankruptcies since 2010, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Malls and retailers of luxury and nonessential products – such as clothing, jewelry, and furniture – experienced steep declines in store traffic, and a number of high-profile retailers filed for bankruptcy.

A helping hand from Uncle Sam

In mid-March, President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, which included an additional $7.25 billion in funding for PPP. The plan also allocated $15 billion for targeted EIDL advance payments for businesses in low-income communities that have no more than 300 employees and have suffered financial losses of more than 30 percent.

In addition, the American Rescue Plan Act included several provisions aimed at putting more dollars in Americans’ pockets so they have the spending power to help the economy recover. Most Americans received $1,400 stimulus checks, and the $300 supplemental unemployment benefit was extended through August 29, 2021.

The new stimulus bill also expands an existing tax credit that will give most families with children a monthly check of $300 per child. Other provisions include changes to the earned income tax credit, premium tax credit, the child and dependent care credit, and student loans.

Of course, all of this has the end result of putting more money in American’s pockets, enabling them to spend more and bolster the U.S. economy. Time will tell if these efforts will pay off for businesses in the retail sector.

Understanding the bigger economic picture

All of the retail sector information in this post came directly from Vertical IQ’s free COVID-19 website, where you can learn more about how various industries and sectors continue to be impacted by COVID-19.

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Vertical IQ’s Top Industry Profiles for Q1 2021

man at laptop with papersHere at Vertical IQ, we really dig data. That’s why our in-depth Industry Intelligence covers more than 90 percent of the businesses that comprise the U.S. economy. If you’re into facts and figures too, you might find it interesting to see which of our Industry Profiles were most popular during the first quarter of 2021. It offers a window into the industries that others are researching.

  1. Dental practices: The 136,400 dental practices in the U.S. are in the business of providing “oral health,” including hygiene or preventative care, restorative treatments, and oral surgery. Demand for dental services had been thought to be “recession-proof,” but the past recession and recent pandemic saw a drop in dental appointments and billings.
  2. Physician practices: The 212,000 physician practices in the U.S. consist of primary care and specialty practices. As a result of the pandemic, changes in revenue, employment, business practices, trade and forecasts are occurring rapidly within this industry.
  3. Trucking companies: The economic shock early in the pandemic forced a total of 3,140 out of the nation’s 109,500 trucking firms to close last year (compared to 1,100 that shut down in 2019). However strong Class 8 truck orders in January 2021 may indicate fleet operators are confident about future trucking demand.
  4. Law firms: The 163,500 law firms in the U.S. provide advocacy and advisory services to businesses, non-profit organizations, individuals, and government agencies. At least 15 of the nation’s 200 highest-grossing firms posted revenue or profit increases of more than 5 percent in 2020, and a third of internal legal departments say that they’re staffing up in preparation for a busy 2021.
  5. HVAC and plumbing contractors: Due in part to the expected surge in commercial renovations in 2021 tied to the 2020 CARES Act, 36 percent of construction contractors who responded to the first quarter U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index survey expect their revenue to increase during 2021, a jump of 11 percentage points from 25 percent in Q4 2020. Some 87 percent expect their revenue to either stay the same or increase, up from 86 percent last quarter.
  6. Restaurants: The nation’s 379,000 restaurants have been hard-hit by the pandemic. However, as of April 6, the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program, which provides restaurants and other small businesses with working capital during the pandemic, raised its cap on loans from $150,000 to $500,000 and extended the term from 6 to 24 months.
  7. Lessors of residential buildings: The nation’s 52,200 lessors of residential buildings and dwellings lease single-family homes, apartment buildings, and townhomes. While the unemployment crisis spawned by the pandemic has created challenges, hope is on the horizon for struggling residential tenants. The CDC extended the national eviction moratorium through the end of June, and the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan signed into law in March includes $26 billion for rental assistance.
  8. Residential brokers and property managers: In February, sales of previously-owned homes increased 9.1 percent year over year but decreased 6.6 percent month over month. The median existing-home price for all housing types was up 15.8 percent year over year. Housing inventory remained at a record-low of 1.03 million units at the end of February, down by 29.5 percent year-over-year – a record decline. Properties typically sold in 20 days, also a record low.
  9. Commercial brokers and property managers: The national office vacancy rate increased to 18.2 percent in Q1 2021 from 17.7 percent in Q4 2020. Additionally, the pandemic-driven acceleration of e-commerce will be a key driver of an estimated 9 percent reduction in the number of bricks-and-mortar retail stores by 2026.
  10. Management consulting services: The 73,400 management consulting firms in the U.S. assist businesses and organizations with administrative, strategic, and management-related issues. Management consulting services industry employment was unchanged year over year in February but was up 6.2 percent from the pandemic-related low of April 2020, led by strong demand from state governments.
  11. Auto repair shops: The nation’s 82,700 automobile repair shops fix cars with mechanical problems or restore a vehicle after a collision. With December traffic volumes up 44 percent compared to the lows seen in April during the lockdowns, repair shops are beginning to experience a rise in demand as driving activity continues to normalize.
  12. Landscaping services: The landscaping industry performed well amid some tough market conditions in 2020. Revenue growth in the industry returned to pre-COVID-19 levels in June then gained steam in Q3 and hit record highs in Q4. Median revenue for landscaping companies was up 32 percent in December compared to the same month in 2019.

Want this kind of in-depth analysis on hundreds of industries?

All of the industry information in this post came directly from the respective Vertical IQ Industry Profile, including our free COVID-19 webpage. Reviewing the Industry Profile prior to a sales call, or even doing a quick five-minute review of the Call Prep Sheet, gives you valuable insights and enables you to have an industry-focused conversation with your client or prospect.

Ready to get started? Contact us today for more information or a demo!

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Retail and Food Services Sales Numbers Show Promise

retail sales food services; store window withcoatsThe U.S. Census Bureau recently released their January 2021 Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services report this past week. Adjusted for seasonal variation, January sales totaled $568.2 billion, representing a 5.3 percent increase over December’s revised numbers ($539.7 billion).

Perhaps more noteworthy, however, is the fact that January’s total was 7.4 percent above January 2020. On top of this, for the three-month period of November 2020 through January 2021, total sales were up 4.6 percent versus year ago. Could these numbers be harbingers of overall economic improvements? Let’s take a closer look at some of the data…

Good month-over-month news

Across the board, the retail and food sales numbers for January 2021 were higher than in December 2020. Among the biggest movers were furniture and home furnishing stores, which were up 12 percent, electronics and appliance stores, which saw a 14.7 percent increase, and department stores, which had a whopping 23 percent increase in month-over-month sales.

A few other areas to highlight:

Retail trade

Looking at the adjusted numbers for overall retail trade, January sales were up 5.1 percent from December 2020, from $488.58 million to $513.58 million. Comparing year-over year numbers, the news is also positive. Retail sales in January were up an impressive 10.8 percent versus year ago ($463.41 million).

Non-store retailers

It seems that Americans continue to be enthusiastic online shoppers. Non-store retailer sales — i.e., online sales — were up 28.7 percent year-over-year, increasing from $68.3 million in January 2020 to $87.9 million in January of this year.

But even after the busy online shopping holiday season, this sector’s sales have continued to increase, rising 11 percent between December 2020 ($79.2 million) and January 2021.

Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and bookstores

Looks like Americans are still eager to spend money on their pastimes amid the pandemic. For January 2021, sales at sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and bookstores were up an impressive 22.5 percent year-over-year to $8.17 million, compared to $6.7 million in January 2020. They were also up 8 percent over December 2020 ($7.6 million).

Some industries better than others year-over-year

Looking at January 2021 versus January 2020 reveals a somewhat more mixed picture.

In addition to the sectors mentioned above, sales in several industries increased markedly, such as building material and garden equipment supplies dealers, which were up 19 percent, from $33.67 million in January 2020 to $40.1 million in January of this year.

Other industries, while doing better month-over-month December 2020 to January 2021, are lagging behind when compared to sales in January of last year.

  • Department stores: Down 3 percent versus January 2020
  • Electronic and appliances stores: Down 3.5 percent year-over-year for January
  • Gasoline stations: Down 7.8 percent as compared to January 2020
  • Clothing and clothing accessories stores: Down 11.1 percent for January versus last year
  • Food services and drinking places: Down 16 percent as compared to January 2020’s numbers

Improving slowly but surely

Overall, January was a good month for businesses in the retail and food services sector with all industry segments showing growth versus December 2020’s sales figures. While the news was somewhat mixed when looking at January 2021 versus 2020 numbers, the overall picture for the food and retail sector looks promising. Here’s hoping this upward trend continues!

You can learn more about how these and other industries have been impacted by COVID-19 by visiting our free COVID-19 webpage.


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Final Small Business Pulse Survey of 2020 a Mixed Bag

open sign on the door of a businessThe week 26 results from phase three of the Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey were released last week, revealing year-end 2020 data on how the pandemic is impacting small businesses.

To participate in this survey, a business must be a non-farm, single-location entity and must have receipts greater than or equal to $1,000, but 500 employees or fewer. The survey includes information for the 50 most populous metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). It captures data on:

  • > Small business operations and finances
  • > Requests and receipt of assistance
  • > Measures of overall well-being and expectations for recovery

Let’s take a look at some of the survey results from week 26, Dec. 28, 2020 through Jan. 3, 2021.

Overall, numbers are steady

The first question in the weekly survey is, “Overall, how has this business been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?” For week 26, 30.3 percent of small business respondents reported a “large negative effect.”

Throughout phase three of the survey, this number has remained within a narrow range, reaching a high of 31 percent for the week of Nov. 23 — Nov. 29 and a low of 29.7 percent for both the week of Nov. 9 — Nov. 15 and Nov. 16 — Nov. 22.

Interestingly, this number was at its highest in phase 1, week 1 of the Pulse Survey, April 26 — May 2. That week, 51.4 percent of survey respondents said the pandemic has had a “large negative effect” on their business. Since then, the figure has gradually trended down and then flattened out to the current level.

Slight improvements for hardest-hit industries

According to these latest numbers for Dec. 28, 2020 through Jan. 3, 2021, the most severely affected industry segments continue to be:

  • > Accommodation and food services (66.9 percent answering “large negative effect”)
    • – This sector was at 67.2 percent responding “large negative effect” the previous week (Dec. 21 — Dec. 27).
    • – For the last week in June (June 21 — 27), this sector was at 70.5 percent reporting a “large negative effect” from the pandemic.
  • > Arts, entertainment, and recreation (60.3 percent answering “large negative effect”)
    • – The previous week, 55.4 percent of respondents in this sector reported the pandemic has caused a “large negative effect.”
    • – In late June (June 21 — 27), however, 68.2 of survey respondents in this sector said they’d experienced a “large negative effect” from the pandemic, so overall, this number is trending downward.
  • > Educational services (56.2 percent answering “large negative effect”)
    • – This sector was at 56.9 percent responding “large negative effect” for the week of Dec. 21 — Dec. 27.
    • – The last week in June (June 21 — 27), 59.1 percent of respondents in this sector reported a “large negative effect” from the pandemic.

So, while many businesses in these and other verticals continue to struggle as a result of the pandemic, the percentage of those saying the pandemic is causing a “large negative effect” for the week does continue to gradually decrease overall.

Geographical differences

Broken out by geography, the latest survey reveals geographical differences for pandemic impacts to businesses. For the week of Dec. 28, 2020 through Jan. 3, 2021, the locations with the most respondents reporting a “large negative effect” to their business as a result of the pandemic were:

  • > Washington, D.C., where 42.7 percent of respondents note that the pandemic has had a “large negative effect” on their business.
    • – This is down from 47.6 for the week of (Dec. 21 — 27).
    • – It is also markedly down from 56.3 percent in the last week in June (June 21 — 27).
  • > New York, with 40.6 percent of respondents saying the pandemic has had a “large negative effect.”
    • – This percentage is down from 41.8 percent the previous week.
    • – It is also down from 50.7 percent of respondents saying this at the end of June.
  • > Hawaii, which had 3 percent of respondents report the pandemic has had a “large negative effect” on their business.
    • – This number is down substantially from late June when 54.2 percent of businesses said the pandemic has had a “large negative effect.”
  • > New Mexico, with 37.7 percent of respondents saying the pandemic has had a “large negative effect.”
    • – This figure is up fairly sharply from the previous week (Dec. 21 — 27) when just 31 percent of respondents in New Mexico noted a “large negative effect” from the pandemic.
    • – In late June, 33.5 percent of businesses said this.

At the state level, you can see that businesses in many (though not all) states are improving in their perception of how badly the pandemic has impacted their business.

Fluctuating revenue

One question on the survey is, “In the last week, did this business have a change in operating revenues/sales/receipts, not including any financial assistance or loans?” For the week of Dec. 28, 2020 through Jan. 3, 2021, 41.8 percent of respondents said that their revenue is down. For comparison, in the late June survey, 42. 6 percent of respondents said revenue was down.

Interestingly, the bigger change is in those reporting that revenue is up for their business. For the most recent survey, just 5.7 percent of respondents noted an increase in the business’s revenue. At the end of June (June 21 — 27), 19.7 percent of survey respondents had reported an increase in revenue.

A majority of businesses, 52.5 percent, report no change in their revenue for the most recent survey, however. Back in late June, 37.8 percent said this.

An economic snapshot

The Pulse Survey allows you to slice and dice its data in a number of ways to explore how certain locations or aspects of business have been impacted by the pandemic. As you can see from the excerpts discussed above, a large percentage of the nation’s small businesses are still struggling to deal with the challenges created by the pandemic. Overall, the picture seems to be improving when compared to June’s numbers, but substantial progress is still needed in order to return to pre-pandemic levels of prosperity.

You can learn more about how specific industries have been impacted by COVID-19 by visiting our free COVID-19 webpage.


Photo credit: Mike Petrucci, Unsplash

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