Another Small Retailer Beats Expectations

Another one of the retailers we’ve been tracking through the holiday season exceeded expectations. David Sasson of Overstock Art, an online retailer of replica oil paintings based in Wichita, Kan., told me Tuesday that he had just finished the best week in his company’s eight-year history, with sales more than double his previous record week.

“I don’t know if you can tell from my voice how tired I am,” he said. “We’ve been working around the clock for the last few days,” including Saturday and Sunday.

Overstock Art has seen consistent sales growth since August, including several months at 60% above 2008 levels. Sasson is projecting 2009 sales will top $4 million. He credits increased spending on search advertising and strong customer service that has brought repeat customers back, along with discounts as high as 35% or 40%. Demand outstripped Sasson’s expectations, and Overstock Art even ran out of some paintings they try to always keep in stock, like replicas of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.

Some small business owners aren’t sure whether better-than-expected holiday sales mean a recovery is near. Sasson says he thinks the downturn isn’t affecting Overstock anymore. He’s wary about inflation (as an importer his costs go up if the dollar loses value). He also wonders what will happen to spending if the stock market drops again and people are feeling less wealthy. But overall, Sasson feels what a lot of small business owners haven’t felt for a long time: Optimistic. “I see around my company so much positive energy. It’s not something quantifiable,” he says. “Things are a lot more positive.”

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