Business executives in central Virginia are feeling more confident about their sales and hiring plans over the next six months than they were late last year, a recent survey of local business leaders shows.
About 72% of CEOs think their businesses will see improved sales over the next six months, according to a survey jointly conducted earlier this month by the Virginia Council of CEOs and the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business.
That’s up from 46% who felt that way in the last three months of 2020.
About 64% of the CEOs said they expect to do more hiring in the next six months, up from 52% in a survey conducted late in 2020.
Yet only 8% said they will require employees to get vaccinated before returning to in-person work.
A majority — 61% — said they will not require employees to get vaccinated, and 31% said it is still unclear if they will require vaccinations.
About 44% of the CEOs surveyed said they expect to increase capital spending in the next six months, up from just 24% who felt that way in the last survey late in 2020.
“I think there is some pent-up demand, and so I am confident in the next six months,” said Sam Stone, president of Stone’s Office Equipment, a Henrico County-based company that employs 25 people and sells and services office equipment such as copiers, printers and commercial displays.
Stone, who runs the 51-year-old family business with his sister and brother-in-law, said business was somewhat slow from last April to October, when it started to pick up again.
“There was a different feel to this [downturn] than a usual slowdown such as a recession,” he said. “You felt like it was going to bounce back as soon as people got confidence to get back to work, whereas in a recession you really just don’t know when that is going to happen.”
Stone said he is watching closely whether, and when, businesses decide to bring employees back to offices, or whether they shift to a more hybrid model of having people work at home sometimes and work at the office sometimes.
“A lot of companies we have talked with here are almost like 50-50 on it,” he said. “They are going to wait until the end of summer to see how vaccinations go and the spread [of COVID-19] before they make a decision to come back.”
The growing optimism indicates that federal economic stimulus has helped, said Scot McRoberts, executive director of the Virginia Council of CEOs.
“The main challenge for these CEOs now is acquiring the workforce to support this rapid recovery and growth,” McRoberts said.
Compared to their pre-COVID expectations, 33% of CEOs reported that their revenue in the first three months of 2021 was “much better than expected” while only 10% reported first-quarter 2021 revenue as “much worse than expected.
About 57% reported revenue was “about as expected.”
“We are optimistic but cautious,” said David Aschheim, who owns 10 franchise Sola Salon Studios locations in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas. The locations provide rented space for cosmetology professionals such as hairstylists.
After being shut down for eight weeks last spring, the studios reopened in late May 2020. Occupancy rates have recovered, but Aschheim said there was some “turmoil” in late 2020 as some tenants who had been struggling got out of the business.
“The bad went worse and the good went better. The ones that were struggling with business had more difficulties and the ones that were strong saw a pickup in their business,” Aschheim said.
Customers still seem to be waiting for longer periods between getting haircuts or other services, he said, but his outlook for the next six months is mostly optimistic.
Sixty-one CEOs responded to the most recent survey, which was administered April 8-15. Multiple industries are represented in the sample, including professional services, health care, information technology and finance.
The average company whose CEO responded to this survey had about $18 million in revenue for the most recent 12-month period. The average employment was 71 workers.