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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Aug. 4, 2006 12 years ago

Coffee Talk

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D'Alessandro deal may spell new opportunitiesMorgan Stanley still raising money for Babcock RanchFounder of SKY Sotheby's to depart?Ideal time to pick up speedAir conditioning business keeps on humming Pasco invites you to the 'Land of Opportunity'Group takes startup capital to the bank Bank bug takes a bite out of Charlotte County Condo project finds an elusive gem: BuyersNew Radiation Therapy COO quits after five monthsFast Lane Clothing Co. profiled in this week's Review is a finalist for the Tampa Chamber of Commerce's 2006 Small Business of the Year award.HSN's huggable hanger sells 100 million unitsChico's is 'heard on the street'The CEO of Pinellas County-based startup ForeclosuresDaily.com will serve hamburgers Aug. 12 to the firm's customers.Business investment grows, sales tax figures show

Coffee Talk

+ D'Alessandro deal may spell new opportunities

Rivals to Fort Myers commercial real estate brokerage D'Alessandro & Woodyard speculated last week they might be able to steal away business from the well-entrenched firm after it announced a venture with Naples developer Gates McVey. But Coffee Talk suspects they'll probably have to work hard to do that.

The commercial real estate brokerage firm has been renamed Gates D'Alessandro & Woodyard LLC. Partners Frank D'Alessandro and Tom Woodyard own 50% of the venture and Gates McVey President and CEO Todd Gates owns the other 50%. D'Alessandro declined to elaborate on the structure of the deal. "We're not publicly held," he says, "so I'm not going to go into the details."

However, D'Alessandro says he polled his builder and developer customers before he created the venture with Gates and says he doesn't expect to lose their business. He says it's no different from a law firm that works with multiple developers; each client's business is confidential. Customers can choose whether to work with the commercial brokerage firm alone or with a full range of services that Gates McVey provides, including development and construction.

A Done Deal

Morgan Stanley still raising money for Babcock Ranch

The Morgan Stanley real estate fund that will buy Babcock Ranch in partnership with West Palm Beach developer Syd Kitson has raised about one-third of the funds it's seeking.

According to recent filings, Morgan Stanley has raised $405 million and is seeking $1.5 billion. The minimum investment is $1 million and is restricted to wealthy individuals and institutions. It started raising money in March.

Kitson and Morgan Stanley sold 74,000 acres of the ranch to the state and Lee County for a total of $350 million for environmental preservation and plan to develop the remaining 17,000 acres for a residential community; the deal with state was made official July 31. The land straddles Lee and Charlotte counties.

+ Founder of SKY Sotheby's to depart?

The talk percolating in Sarasota is that Brandyn Herbold, co-founder two years ago of the Sarasota real estate firm, SKY Sotheby's International Realty, is heading to Minnesota to open an office there.

Herbold and a spokeswoman for the firm said the talk is false.

Herbold acknowledged she has been traveling, for personal and business reasons, but says she intends to remain a full-time Florida resident and has no intention of leaving the Sarasota agency. She added that as the head of a real estate firm in a competitive market one of her responsibilities is to "grow the footprint of the business" in other places. She declined to elaborate on where those places will be.

Herbold, a former associate with Sarasota-based Michael Saunders & Co., founded SKY Sotheby's in 2004, along with Chad Roffers, who also had worked at Michael Saunders. The firm had a 1.3% market share last year, making it the eighth biggest firm in its area in terms of volume, according to analysis by Coldwell Banker.

+ Ideal time to pick up speed

With the recent $16 million infusion by H.I.G. Capital, plans are on track for Ideal Image Development Inc. to open 26 company-owned stores by year's end, says Ideal Image CEO Dean Akers.

The CEO says he'd be naïve not to be concerned about how the escalating price of gasoline will affect consumers' discretionary spending on services such as permanent hair removal, but sales are still up company-wide, he says. And each location only needs 500 laser hair removal clients a year to be profitable.

Plus, Ideal Image has captured only 8% market share of a highly fragmented $2.5 billion industry, Akers says, adding, "We might have to run a little faster if the economy flattens."

Ideal Image held its first board meeting last week with its two new directors, Craig Burson and Brian Schwartz of H.I.G. Capital. Akers says the meeting went well and the pair of venture capitalists offered great advice.

"That's why we chose that firm," Akers says. "We had a lot of offers."

Ideal Image's board now includes Akers, Burson, Schwartz and the company's founders, Rick Mikles and Joe Acebal.

+ Air conditioning business keeps on humming

The tidbits of good news in the real estate industry occasionally trickle down to the businesses that are made, or lost, by the fortunes of home builders. One segment continuing to prosper is air conditioning repair and installation, and not jut because of steamy summer temperatures.

Take Bradenton-based Southern Comfort Heating & Cooling. The firm, which the Review profiled April 7, had its first $1 million-plus revenue month in May; it's since raised 2006 revenue projections to $9.6 million, up from $9.3 million.

General Manager Danny Marshall also tells Coffee Talk the company is doing two large projects involving new construction built by Taylor Woodrow. It's enough "presales to keep us busy for at least a year with no additional sales."

+ Pasco invites you to the 'Land of Opportunity'

Pasco County economic development officials hope to attract new businesses with its new $47,000 advertising campaign that highlights the area as the "Land of Opportunity."

In recent years, more businesses and residents have relocated to the northern neighbor of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in search of lower land prices and less congestion.

The Pasco Economic Development Council contends the county is the first in the Tampa Bay area to identify employment center locations to ensure a balance of residential and business growth. Coffee Talk wonders what exactly that means.

Meanwhile, county officials have recently butted heads with the Pasco Building Association over Pasco's newly adopted comprehensive growth management plan that builders and developers say is "anti-growth."

+ Group takes startup capital to the bank

The group behind Insignia Bank, a Sarasota startup, have raised $25 million to capitalize their new venture. The total is just about $8 million more than the $17.2 million minimum initially sought by the founders, a list that includes banking veteran Charles Brown, Tim Clarke, founder of the advertising agency bearing his name and a pair of well known Realtors in the Sarasota market: Lee DeLieto, who focuses on commercial real estate with Michael Saunders & Co. and Cheryl Loeffler, who works in the residential market with Prudential Palms Realty.

The money was raised over six weeks.

+ Bank bug takes a bite out of Charlotte County

As evidenced by the previous item, starting up a community bank has been trendy in the Sarasota-Manatee market for the last seven years, a spell that's continuing through 2006.

Now the bug to start up a bank has bitten a pair of veteran Charlotte County bankers.

Mike Ezzell and George Cline hope to open the National Bank of Southwest Florida later this year or early next year. The organizing group behind the effort began offering stock last month.

Naturally, Coffee Talk asked Ezzell, the president and CEO of the operation, what his bank will offer that the other start-ups won't, as new banks executives tend to have similar company lines, including how they will provide better customer service and give the community an old-time bank feel with new modern technology.

Ezzell's plan is on par with that, with one caveat: The market in Port Charlotte isn't as oversaturated with competitors, he says. The bank would actually be the only one in the area with a Port Charlotte headquarters. "We've seen the bigger banks come in and take over [local] banks and customer service suffers," Ezzell tells Coffee Talk. "This is a niche for us."

Ezzell has been a banker in Charlotte County 19 years and Cline for the last eight years. The duo was part of a group that founded Tarpon Coast National Bank, a Port Charlotte community bank that was bought by an Illinois-based bank last year.

+ Condo project finds an elusive gem: Buyers

Coffee Talk just loves those news nuggets of people defying the supposedly down real estate market. Last week it was Morrison Homes sales agent Virginia Arnold who sold 45 townhomes in one Tampa community the first six months of 2006. .

This week, it's the news that the more than 150 condos at City Place at Pineapple Square in downtown Sarasota are selling fast that's defying the gloomy market.

The condos in the ambitious yet-to-be built project won't be ready until at least 2008, but an agent with Sarasota-based Michael Saunders & Co. has already begun moving names from an initial online list to a new official waiting list.

The Pineapple Square project, developed by Issac Group Holdings, has the potential to reshape a chunk of downtown Sarasota if it goes up as planned. Possible stores and restaurants include Morton's Steakhouse, P.F. Chang's and Brooks Brothers.

The condos on the waiting list for this phase of the project range in price from $400,000 to $900,000. The cost will only increase after every 20 reservations, says Kirsten Suss, who is handling the project for Michael Saunders.

Still, with regular news that the condo market in Southwest Florida is dying a slow death, even the most optimistic of agents tend to expresse some relief when things seem to be OK.

"We were really surprised by all of the people who wanted one of these," Suss says, "but it's such an exciting project and it is really going to change the face of Sarasota."

+ New Radiation Therapy COO quits after five months

Patricia Gondolfo resigned five months after she was hired as the chief operating officer of Fort Myers-based Radiation Therapy Services.

In a securities filing July 25, the largest operator of radiation therapy centers in the country says it will pay Gondolfo $500,000. However, she will not be eligible to receive 4,895 shares of restricted common stock she was previously awarded. The award was recently valued at about $135,000. No word from the company as to why Gondolfo resigned and she could not be reached for comment. Gondolfo most recently was chief financial officer at Mount Kisco Medical Group in New York. She joined Radiation Therapy Services in March.

+ Recognizing super businesses

Fast Lane Clothing Co. profiled in this week's Review on page 6, is a finalist for the Tampa Chamber of Commerce's 2006 Small Business of the Year award.

In the five- to 20-employee category, Fast Lane is up against Dale Carnegie Training Tampa Bay, Florida Auto Group of Tampa Bay Inc., Web site design firm Magnetic and Mills Paskert Divers PA.

Finalists in the 21- to 50-employee category are Alpha-Omega Title, Bayshore Solutions, The Melting Pot Restaurants Inc., The Omnia Group Inc. and Vertical IT Solutions.

In the category for companies with 51 to 250 employees, the finalists are Flooring America, Genesis Group, Gulf Tile, Home Discovery Real Estate Services Corp. and Modular Mailing Systems Inc.

The three finalists for outstanding leaders are Wit Ostrenko of MOSI and Kids In Charge!, Glen Peak of PeakBiety Branding + Advertising and attorney Jeanne T. Tate of Jeanne T. Tate PA.

Winners of the Chamber's 26th annual awards ceremony will be honored at a Sept. 22 dinner at the Tampa Convention Center, 333 S. Franklin Street, Tampa.

+ HSN's huggable hanger sells 100 million units

St. Petersburg-based television retailer HSN and inventor Joy Mangano hit a major milestone on July 30: The network sold its 100 millionth huggable hanger. Introduced in 2000, the lightweight, ultra-slim hanger has become a blockbuster for HSN and HSN.com and is now the retailer's best-selling item.

Rob Gruen, executive vice president of merchandising for HSN, called Mangano the epitome of the entrepreneurial spirit of HSN. Mangano also introduced the Miracle Mop, the Jewel Kit, the Piatto Bakery Box, the Clothes It All luggage system and the Handy Hook Mirror.

HSN could certainly use more killer products like the huggable hanger. In its second quarter filing, HSN's parent company, IAC/InterActive Corp., reported a net income drop of 91%, to $53.6 million from $618.1 million in the second quarter last year. Diluted earnings per share also fell 91%, from $1.77 last quarter to $0.17 for second quarter of 2006. Company officials attribute much of the fall to an overall decline in HSN revenue performance in the Home Hard Goods and Health & Beauty categories and higher rates of product returns.

+ Chico's is 'heard on the street'

When a company is the subject of The Wall Street Journal's "Heard on the Street" column, investors can usually expect the stock to swing up or down sharply.

But Fort Myers-based women's retailer Chico's FAS didn't move much after the company's recent poor stock performance was featured in the widely read column on July 28. The stock moved up 3.4% that day to close at $22.64.

The stock is down about 55% from its 52-week high of $49.40 after disappointing sales at stores opened more than one year. The company expects sales to pick up again as it expands other brands, such as White House | Black Market.

+ Flippin' burgers with the boss

The CEO of Pinellas County-based startup ForeclosuresDaily.com will serve hamburgers Aug. 12 to the firm's customers. It's the company's way of thanking customers and also giving them a chance to see its Largo headquarters, 12600 Belcher Road, since most of them never visit the office, says ForeclosuresDaily President Mike Kane.

The 2-year-old firm, whose goal is to become the No. 1 national provider of information, training and resources for real estate investors, will serve food from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Kane will also give tours of the building. ForeclosuresDaily now covers 34 Florida counties and seven North Carolina counties. It's a division of Quantum Resource Group LLC.

By the Numbers

Business investment grows, sales tax figures show

Business investment in Southwest Florida grew at a healthy pace in May versus the same month a year ago, the latest figures from the state sales tax collections show.

Business-investment taxable sales include those from store and office equipment providers, computer shops, machine shops and hotel and restaurant suppliers, among others. Statewide, business investment rose 12.7% to $5.8 billion in May versus the same month in 2005. Business investment was particularly strong in Punta Gorda (up 22.1%), Sarasota (18%) and Naples (14.2%), figures show.

Meanwhile, building investment showed strength in some areas and weakness in others. Building investment includes sales by building contractors, heating and air conditioning, insulation, lumber and building suppliers, and roofing contractors. Although statewide building investment sales rose 42.1% in May to $2.9 billion, Naples, Punta Gorda and Sarasota showed declines. Naples fared worst with a 16.1% drop. In Southwest Florida, Fort Myers showed the strongest building investment sales with a 32.2% increase in May over the same month a year ago.

Fort Myers experienced the largest percentage gain in tourism sales in Southwest Florida, with an increase of 13.4%. Tampa also saw a double-digit percentage increase in tourism sales, with a 10.6% increase. Punta Gorda was slowest, with a 1.2% rise. Tourism sales include hotels, restaurants, liquor stores, gift shops, admissions, rentals and jewelry stores. Statewide, tourism sales rose 8.2% to $5.3 billion in May.

Consumer non-durable sales were particularly strong in Fort Myers and Naples. Consumer non-durable sales rose 11.4% in Fort Myers and 10.2% in Naples. These include sales from supermarkets, department stores, bookstores, florists and nurseries, among others. Sales rose 10.3% statewide.

Finally, car salesmen were probably disappointed in Punta Gorda in May. Auto sales there dropped nearly 17% for the month while auto sales in other Southwest Florida areas were stagnant. Statewide, auto sales rose 3.4%, to $5.1 billion.

Index of

TOTAL Autos & Consumer Tourism & Consumer Building Business retail

INVESTMENT Accessories Durables Recreation Nondurables Investment Investment activity

Fort Myers 1,055.2 198.4 84.1 179.4 254.7 130.0 208.6 328.9

% change 10.3% 3% -4.7% 13.4% 11.4% 32.2% 9.3% 6.2%

Lakeland 681 147.3 36.5 85.6 170.8 53 187.8 214.5

% change 12.4% 6.6% 24.9% 9% 8.5% -15.2% 33.7% 5.2%

Naples 548.4 75.2 56.7 113.1 148 64.8 90.7 354.6

% change 3.6% -1.4% 6.4% 3.6% 10.2% -16.1% 14.2% 2.9%

Punta Gorda 201.1 30.8 23.3 26.5 61 30.1 29.3 318.3

% change 0.2% -16.9% -1.2% 1.2% 3.2% -1.5% 22.1% -4.6%

Sarasota/Bradenton 976.7 180.9 80.5 165.3 268.5 88.7 192.8 249.1

% change 5.4% -1.8% -1.8% 6.8% 6.4% -1.4% 18% 3.2%

Tampa 3,727.2 729.5 274.9 636.4 1,027.8 292.4 766.3 234.3

% change 7% 1.6% 6.9% 10.6% 7% 4.2% 10.6% 4.7%

STATEWIDE 29,390.4 5,112.2 2,328.8 5,316.8 7,885.6 2,949.1 5,797.9 268.7

% change 11.3% 3.4% 6.7% 8.2% 10.3% 42.1% 12.7% 5.2%

Preliminary, as of July 21, 2006; source: Florida Bureau of Economic Research

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