Limos, lipstick and funerals: reading the economic trends

Signs that the economy is gaining positive traction may be found in some unusual but telling places.Mike Campbell, general manager of Grace Limo, said business has picked up nearly 20 percent from last year.“We have a hand in the corporate world as well as the social, and from what we’ve seen, our corporate business is up 17 percent from last year,” he said.He said he’s seen “a big jump” in business spending.“A year ago, companies just weren’t going out and doing big group meetings. Now, a lot of companies are bringing in 20, 50, 70 people for large-scale trainings,” said Campbell.As for weddings, proms and other social engagements – not so much.“People really aren’t comfortable spending that kind of money right now for a social event,” he said.The so-called “lipstick index” has been a rather interesting economic indicator since September 11th, when Leonard Lauder, chairman of cosmetics firm Estee Lauder, noticed lipstick sales skyrocketing after the crisis. Cosmetics, it seems, may be a bellwether indicator. Providing a relief valve for pent-up demand, many women will make a minor splurge on a make-up, particularly something small like mascara, foundation or lipstick, when the economy goes south.“Women are coming in to improve their appearance, not only because the job market is so competitive, but also because women are so stressed right now, they need to sneak a little something for themselves, like lipstick or eye shadow,” said Kriss Soterion, owner of Kriss Cosmetics in Manchester.While the lipstick trend Soterion is seeing at her studio might seem a bit like the groundhog seeing his winter-lengthening shadow, Soterion has also seen an upsurge in her wholesale business.“We’re getting Kriss Cosmetics into salons, and have just launched our 13th account,” said Soterion. “Business owners are having a little more cash flow and have been inspired to offer something new to customers,” she said. “The consumer is starting to come back.”Business is brisk at George’s Apparel, a gentlemen’s haberdashery in Manchester, as well.“We’ve been extremely busy,” said sales consultant Steve Gagnon. “We’ve been selling not just suits, but sport coats as well for interviews.”He said the color choices have largely been conservative in dark navy and charcoal as well as subtle pinstripes, which can be the case in a down economy — Forbes magazine also found that color trends become much more subdued when economic times are tough.

‘The Dye Jones’A trend that’s been watched by economic and hair salon professionals alike is the “Dye Jones Index.” Trips to the colorist at the salon can be among the first things jettisoned when cutting back on expenses.Not according to Christy DeLangie, marketing director for Manchester salon Not So Plain Jane’s.“It’s been interesting for us. We were thinking our color business would have fallen back, but it’s actually remained very steady,” she said.DeLangie said women may be going longer between colorings, say every six to seven weeks instead of every four or five, to try and save money.“You need to feel good about yourself,” she said, especially if looking for a new job.Funeral homes are also seeing some trends that are being shaped by the economy.“People are definitely scaling down on funerals, making them less elaborate,” said Buddy Phaneuf, funeral director and owner of Phaneuf Funeral Homes. “However, funeral customs are changing, which could also account for some of the scaling back.”What has increased as a result of the strained economy is the number of calls Phaneuf said he’s getting to the Cremation Society for financial assistance.“Cities and towns typically provide $750 for cremation assistance for those who do not have the means, and we honor that,” said Phaneuf. – CINDY KIBBE