450px-Cincinnati-procter-and-gamble-headquartersMost people I met this week said that things were going to get worse before they got better. Knowing this, some were optimistic about the prospects for their businesses. This is because they had cut costs where possible and put up prices where possible.

Miles and miles away in Cincinatti, Ohio, in the headquarters of Procter & Gamble (pictured, left), which makes everything from Pampers nappies to Pringles crisps and Duracell batteries to Gillette shaving foam, the strategy of cutting costs and pushing up prices had helped it report better than expected sales.

However, its chief financial officer, Jon Moeller, says that the big question is whether the market will grow or not – “And you can take both sides of the argument.” His concern is that unemployment is still going up.

For local shops in the UK, local employment is a key driver of how optimistic you can be.

Howard Davies, writing in Management Today, complains that he cannot find a builder to refurbish his east wing. “I thought builders would be badly hit, but down in darkest Dorset that does not seem to be the case,” he writes. “If you can find a builder prepared to come down your drive he will… tell you what the price will be.”

From this, you might assume that retailers in darkest Dorset are finding sales holding up. My local paper, the Henley Standard, has declared the recession over this week as most of the empty shops in the town have been filled. We shall see!

Talking last week to Pravin Chauhan, a prominent local retailer in the midlands. he reported that many colleagues he had visited are haemorrhaging sales.

Which has me wondering how many opinion formers live in prosperous areas and how many live in areas that are suffering. This two-paced economy makes it hard for retailers to plan ahead and you really need good advice from your wholesalers on how the local economy is faring.

When P&G is telling you that there are two sides to every story, it means no-one really knows. In order to be confident about your business, you need to be firm on costs and look to protect margins.