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Retail Bright Spot: Rent-to-Own Chains

For one, these stores - which lease furniture, electronics, and appliances through weekly or monthly contracts - are already in the business of catering to consumers who are tight on cash.

"The customer base they serve doesn't really boom and bust like the general economy," says Stifel Nicolaus analyst John Baugh. "This customer lives in a constant recession."

And thanks to their recession-friendly policies - no credit checks and flexible, short-term transactions - chain operators like Aaron Rents (RNT) and Rent-a-Center (RCII) can expect to see that customer base grow in downturns. Consumers with ruined credit or those on a tightening budget can still pick up a high-definition television or sofa set for a fraction of the price, then return it if they are short on cash the next pay period.

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