The faces of those manning the booths at the 2013 Home Show Friday morning were relaxed, inviting, ready to talk with potential customers about their products.
But behind the facade, stories came from builders, vendors and others of just how seriously they were hit by the great recession, and how they hope – HOPE – that they’re on the road to recovery and looking at better days ahead.
One had to layoff his daughter and son-in-law, and his wife had to get a real job, as he put it. Another went 18 months without paying himself, laid off all his fulltime workers and his commission-paid sales staff and still came within 60 days of closing.
More than one now have no one other than themselves to carry on their business.
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But now is better they said.
“I think a lot of us think we weathered the worst of it,” said Matt Lillich, owner of Coastal Tinting, a window-tinting business.
Lillich said his business now is just 40 percent of where it was. He thinks people are feeling confident that at least the money they’re putting into home improvements is no longer investing in something that will lose value regardless.
Lillich said when he had fulltime employees he was the kind of boss who didn’t lay them off during the three winter months when he had little or no revenue. He had health insurance policies for them and paid half of supplemental coverage the employees
“I’m very lucky that my wife has a salaried, stable position,” he said.
Ken van Heyningen, owner of Coastal Transformations that sells skylights and custom glass doors for homes, said last year was better than the year before, but he doesn’t think that most people have enough confidence in the national economy to feel safe spending money on non-essentials.
“If they don’t need it, they’re not going to buy it if they don’t want it,” he said.
He said he’s survived on name recognition, although he added that some are surprised he’s still open.
‘People walk by the booth and say ‘You’re still in business?’ “ he said.
Lillich and van Heyningen didn’t know what to expect from the show, but were hopeful they’d pick up at least some business.
The attendees Friday morning, who appeared to be mostly retirees, were a mixed bag, with some describing themselves as lookers while others were there to spend money.
“I’m here to see who’s here and what they’ve got to convince me to buy,” said Phyllis Andriessen of Surfside Beach. She said she didn’t have anything in particular to buy at the show, but added that she’s always on the lookout for a good item at a fair price.
“I’ve been here for 20 years and it’s time to replace some things,” she said.
Donna Gartside of North Myrtle Beach said she goes to the show every year to buy hibiscus plants.
She might be enticed by other things at the landscaping and nursery booths, she said.
Monica Mally of Murrells Inlet, though, was the kind of attendee exhibitors like to see lingering at their booths.
Mally said she is shopping to replace the vinyl windows in her patio and was looking for a local contractor with good references who would give her a quality product.
“I’m definitely here to spend,” she said.
Rose Ann O’Reilly, executive vice president of the Horry Georgetown Home Builders Association that stages the show, said that while retirees make up a noticeable piece of the attendees, there are a lot of young families that come to the show as well. She said that about 8,000 people were at last year’s home show and she is expecting the same number this year.
The show continues Saturday and Sunday at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The doors open at 10 a.m. each day, closing at 6 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults.
O’Reilly said that a lot of people who attend are like Gartside and Mally, looking for things for their homes and gardens.
Van Heyningen said he’d be happy if enough of them buy his wares to pay the $1,000 that his booth cost him.
Lillich said five customers would be nice for the three days of the show, 10 would be good and 15 would be fantastic.
He said that while the recent downturn was painful for him, he learned some lessons about the future of his business. He said that now if he needs help, it will come from contract workers rather than fulltimers.
While his expectations for the show weren’t high, others said the show makes their whole year profitable.
Rick Guignon, owner of Blue Moon Nursery and Garden Center, said he expects to get five months to seven months work out of the show, as he does every year.
Unlike other exhibitors, he said he didn’t see a downturn in his business until 2010 where it stayed down for 18 months.
It began to improve last year, and unlike other years, the nursery business didn’t slow down after Thanksgiving in 2012. He’s expecting he’ll increase business by 7 percent to 12 percent in 2013. And a lot of that will be due to the home show, which he said is perfectly timed as a February extravaganza.
“People have been cooped up all winter,” he observed. “What’s the first thing you want to do?”
Spruce up the home.