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Business Trends: A Special Background Report On Trends in Industry and Finance

December 21, 1995

TEMPORARY-HELP companies stress technical over ``take-a-letter″ skills.

Manpower Inc., based in Milwaukee, says its overall U.S. business will likely keep to its moderate growth track into 1996. But it adds demand for people with information-service skills is growing by 40 percent, while the call for other technical fill-ins, such as designers and engineers, is up 25 percent to 30 percent. In New York, Tiger Information Systems Inc. is ``going bananas with demand″ for its temps, partly due to mergers and year-end projects, says James Flanders, a manager.

But weak regional economies plus pared-down full-time staffs spell less need for holiday temps in some areas. ADIA Personnel Services, Pittsburgh, notes that 10 years ago the week between Christmas and New Year’s was the busiest as companies hired fill-in secretaries and such. Now, more companies just close or run on a skeleton crew, says its John Orfanopoulos. Ditto, says Personnel Plus Inc. in Los Angeles, where business has been slow.

Other strategies that curb use of temps: cross-trained staffers who can fill in for each other and in-house temp pools.

FROM THE GRINCHES come several bits of bad news to haunt the holidays.

Failure Analysis Associates Inc. in Menlo Park, Calif., says more adults show up in emergency rooms with bone fractures during the two weeks starting Thursday than any other two-week period of the year. Winter sports play a big role, but so does decorating the Christmas tree. More stress over evergreens: 40 million households put up a tree, but over half of them will have ``great difficulty″ getting it straight, says a survey for County Line Limited in Ohio, which makes a tree stand.

Electronic Transaction Corp., Bothell, Wash., warns merchants that check fraud rises as much as 50 percent in November and December. Meanwhile, Privacy Newsletter in Philadelphia says that, to protect their privacy, people should tell only friends and colleagues about their holiday plans on a ``need to know″ basis. If it is tough to keep mum on plans, the newsletter suggests, ``be purposely vague or out-and-out lie.″

TRADITIONAL TOYS ring up sales for some smaller stores this Christmas.

The absence of a hot movie-character theme-toy this year, combined with the wish to stretch a dollar, helps propel sales of basics such as blocks, puppets and dolls. ``There’s nothing driving the consumer into the toy `supermarkets,‴ notes Stephen Sandberg, New England sales manager for Shepher Distributors Corp., Brooklyn. ``People go back to the basics,″ adds Jack Cohen, owner of S.W. Randall Toys & Gifts, Pittsburgh, where sales are up some 16 percent.

Imaginarium, a chain of 70 traditional-toy stores based in Walnut Creek, Calif., expects sales to be up 5 percent to 10 percent over 1994. A big contributor will be a new line of toys and craft kits it added this year that is expected to account for 15 percent of all revenue. Pleasant Co., Middleton, Wis., says catalog sales of its American Girls Collection dolls _ which depict girls from five periods in U.S. history and come with books _ exceed last year.

Classic board games gain, too, says Hasbro Inc. Its Parker Brothers’ Monopoly sales are up 35 percent from last year.

A `GREEN WALL’ within companies separates environmental and business staffers and is thwarting efforts to manage ``green″ issues, says consultant Arthur D. Little in Cambridge, Mass. More than seven of 10 polled environmental-issue managers cited roadblocks due to a lack of acceptance or different ``cultures.″

HAVING IT ALL? Only about 15 percent of female college graduates who got degrees around 1972 are achieving the popular goal of having both a career and a family, says Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard University. Her study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Mass., compares women’s careers with those of male counterparts and defines family as having at least one child.

THE NAME GAME was played by 1,153 companies that renamed themselves this year, up 4 percent from 1994, says Anspach Grossman Portugal Inc., a consultant in New York. Over half of the companies changed in order to reflect a merger or acquisition.

VANISHING QUARTERLIES: More interim reports give way to alternatives.

Directorship magazine in Greenwich, Conn., reports a ``significant″ number of notices lately from companies doing away with mailing all shareholders a version of the quarterly report. As the trend swells, the burden increasingly is on the holder to ask for quarterly data. Many companies now offer hot lines, earnings press releases or electronic versions. TRW Inc., Cleveland, replaces its quarterly with an 800-number service and data on its Internet page.

Winnebago Industries in Forest City, Iowa, notes reasons for change: a wish to curb costs and end distribution delays. Now, Winnebago offers to mail quarterly earnings news releases to shareholders.

In the past, Winnebago shareholders may have received reports as much as six weeks after earnings were released.

BRIEFS: To help parents keep track of their children while holiday shopping, Potomac Mills Mall in Prince William, Va., lends them dual-beeper systems; the parent’s unit beeps whenever the child wanders more than 15 feet away. . . . Budget & Credit Counseling Services Inc., New York, decorates a Christmas tree with pieces of credit cards cut up by people who went through its debt-management program.