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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008 11 years ago

Coffee Talk

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+ Dust off the robes,and start foreclosingThe rise in foreclosures in Lee County has been so large that retired judges are getting called up for duty, says Lee County Clerk of Courts Charlie Green. + Entrepreneurial superstarssearch continuesTwo successful entrepreneurs in Sarasota - one being one of the most successful businessmen on the Gulf Coast - are trying to spread the build-a-business love. Local bank surprise:Free moneyMost bankers aren't fond of handing out cash on the street to total strangers.+ Golfing for charity,building a businessIf you hear a little music, a little laughter, a blue tent and beer when you pull your golf cart up to the next hole, you may have discovered a new Gulf Coast business started by Clearwater entrepreneurs Pam Delaney and Justina Hopkins.+ Tampa Bay becomesa championship hostSomewhere, maybe everywhere, there are hoteliers cheering.+ Christmas shoppingfor a cancer cureWith the holidays approaching, Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center and Mall Networks, a provider of merchant-funded loyalty shopping concepts, have come up with a way to marry shopping and fundraising for cancer research.AUGUST AUTO SALESWhat the data shows: August taxable sales of autos and accessories include the sale of new and used cars, repair shops, auto-supply stores and taxable sales at gasoline stations.Waiting in the wingsThe softer economy has touched just about every Gulf Coa

+ Dust off the robes,

and start foreclosing

The rise in foreclosures in Lee County has been so large that retired judges are getting called up for duty, says Lee County Clerk of Courts Charlie Green.

There are about 25,000 properties in some stage of foreclosure now and three judges are coming out of retirement to help with the backlog.

Currently, there are 2,400 foreclosure filings per month in Lee County and judges now only clear about half of those. When the three retired judges start hearing cases next month, the number of cases heard will swell to 4,000 to 6,000 per month. "If we can clear up the majority of these in the next four to six months, we'll be pleased," says Green.

Green says the foreclosure fever will eventually abate. His reason is simple: "We're going to run out of homes." According to RealtyTrac, one out of every 79 homes in Lee County is at some point in the foreclosure process, among the highest in the nation.

+ Entrepreneurial superstars

search continues

Two successful entrepreneurs in Sarasota - one being one of the most successful businessmen on the Gulf Coast - are trying to spread the build-a-business love.

Harvey Vengroff, co-founder of Vengroff, Williams & Associates, a Sarasota-based billion-dollar commercial debt collections agency, and Steve Morris, founder of a global company that teaches business skills to children and teenagers through summer camps and after-school programs, are the entrepreneurs on the mission.

Independent of each other, Morris and Vengroff have each long held a belief that the dearth of gazelle-like superstar companies in Greater Sarasota is disappointing, especially considering how many successful people from the business world have moved or retired in the area.

So when Morris and Vengroff met recently at a local networking event, they hatched an idea. They will put up money and expertise for budding entrepreneurial stars. It's not a venture capital operation, but instead, says Morris, it's a "bootstrap capital" program designed to get a business going.

"It's obvious this area needs small-business development," Morris tells Coffee Talk.

Vengroff, having funded several local startups over the years, is even more blunt, especially when it comes to local high schools and colleges. "Nobody teaches anyone how to run a business," Vengroff says. "They teach them how to look in the papers and find a job."

The Vengroff-Morris initiative is in its early stages. Vengroff has pledged to put up $100,000, in increments as small as $5,000 or $10,000, to entrepreneurs between 15 and 30. Vengroff says he will also donate space in office proprieties he owns near the University of South Florida-Sarasota campus.

Morris will provide counseling, training and guidance through his company, Sarasota-based YoungBiz. He will also work on business plans with the young entrepreneurs.

For more information on the program, contact Morris at (941) 379-4793 or [email protected].

+ Local bank surprise:

Free money

Most bankers aren't fond of handing out cash on the street to total strangers.

Then again, most bankers aren't fond of trying to increase deposits and market share while simultaneously trying to improve their brand image in what many are calling the toughest banking environment in decades.

Those two circumstances collided recently at Sarasota-based Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida, a sister bank of two other Florida-based Gateways. Shaun Merriman, Gateway's local president and chief executive, was seeking a way to break from the crowd to reach potential customers.

Merriman's idea: Go the way of a new retail store and hand out 'product samples.' In the case of Gateway, that meant handing out crisp new $5 bills. Gateway executives walked into several local stores next to the bank's newest branch, on the corner of Manatee Avenue West and 21st Street West in Bradenton over a few days the past month. They handed out about $150 in total, finding people in a Peaches Restaurant, a Smoothie King and a Shell gas station, among other places.

The $5 came with an invitation to the branch's recent open house, which about 400 people attended.

"People stood there in shock," Merriman says of the initial reactions. "[But] with all of the perceived unrest in the local banking industry these days, we wanted to do something that would leave an impression on the people we met. Handing someone unexpected money has a tendency to get people's attention."

The cash giveaways are part of a larger marketing initiative at Gateway to get new customers. "There's a lot of people out there looking for deposits," Merriman tells Coffee Talk

The efforts, so far at least, have been paying off. Merriman says the Manatee Avenue branch has picked up $2 million in deposits in its first 60 days. It's not a record-setter, Merriman concedes, but it's a good start, considering the market.

Merriman is just as excited about another aspect of the bank's expansion in the Sarasota-Bradenton market. The bank's third branch is primed to become the first bank in the local market to be certified under the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program, which puts buildings through a series of tests to see how environmentally-friendly it is.

The renovation project, of what was a Regions Bank branch, is costing Gateway about $500,000 - 10% more than a non-LEED project would, Merriman says.

+ Golfing for charity,

building a business

If you hear a little music, a little laughter, a blue tent and beer when you pull your golf cart up to the next hole, you may have discovered a new Gulf Coast business started by Clearwater entrepreneurs Pam Delaney and Justina Hopkins.

It's called The Party Hole, and for $5 to $10 per golfer on a par-3 hole, it runs contests with cash awards for the closest to the pin, hole in one and on-the-green shots. Some of the hole-in-hole contests fetch a prize of $1,000 to $5,000.

Along with free beer and goodies like divot tools, ball markers, snacks and rally towels, The Party Hole also contributes to a charity that the tournaments raise money for.

It is only two months old, and is the beginning of what Delaney and Hopkins hope will be an even larger golf business: Serenity Quest, a golf instruction business.

Hopkins, 37, is a pro golfer and plans to teach lessons. Delaney, 47, is a civil engineer who is studying theology on the way to becoming an ordained minister, and plans to do companion teaching on focusing and relaxation for golfers.

But for now, the pair are running The Party Hole for tournaments and for regular golfers before getting the golf school up next year.

The music doesn't seem to bother the golfers. "The response has been great," Delaney tells Coffee Talk.

The company has been at courses in Eastlake, Countryside and at Hunter's Green, among others.

+ Tampa Bay becomes

a championship host

Somewhere, maybe everywhere, there are hoteliers cheering.

Coffee Talk

A world-class arena, hotel rooms, a warm climate and a lot of activities were hard for the NCAA to ignore as the collegiate athletics association once again picked Tampa Bay to host the 2015 NCAA Division I Women's Final Four Championship.

It will be the second time the region has hosted the national event, which has grown larger and more popular each year. The Bay area played host this year. In February, it will host another Super Bowl.

"This announcement serves as tremendous validation for all of the hard work that went into the 2008 Women's Final Four," says Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission Rob Higgins. 

Just as with the 2008 Championship, the 2015 Women's Final Four will be played at Tampa's St. Pete Times Forum in downtown Tampa. But many areas, including Ybor City and the Gulf Coast beaches, benefit.

+ Christmas shopping

for a cancer cure

With the holidays approaching, Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center and Mall Networks, a provider of merchant-funded loyalty shopping concepts, have come up with a way to marry shopping and fundraising for cancer research.

Moffitt unveiled the launch of a new online shopping mall to raise money for cancer research. Consumers can visit www.ShopForCancerCures.org and make purchases from more than 600 leading online merchants. A portion of each purchase will benefit cancer research at Moffitt.

"Consumers can shop for holiday gifts while, at the same time, help raise money to fund innovative cancer research," says Dr. William S. Dalton, chief executive officer of Moffitt.

ECONOMIC SNAPSHOT

AUGUST AUTO SALES

What the data shows: August taxable sales of autos and accessories include the sale of new and used cars, repair shops, auto-supply stores and taxable sales at gasoline stations.

What it means: Taxable sales of autos and accessories began a steep decline in August as the economy deteriorated. Rising unemployment has contributed to consumers' reluctance to buy big-ticket items such as cars. Every area of the Gulf Coast had steeper declines in auto-related sales in August than the state on an annual percentage-change basis.

Forecast: Detroit's woes are now well known and the declines in car sales on the Gulf Coast are no surprise. The drops are likely to continue as long as consumer confidence remains low and the twin economic pillars of real estate and tourism don't rebound soon.

August Sales ($ in millions)

Area Auto sales %Annual chg.

Naples $48.5 ‑22.1%

Sarasota $117.8 ‑22.4%

Tampa $513.9 ‑22.6%

Fort Myers $111.1 ‑24.6%

Punta Gorda $17.6 ‑30.7%

Florida $3,637.6 ‑21.3%

Source: Florida Legislature Office of

Economic & Demographic Research

Waiting in the wings

The softer economy has touched just about every Gulf Coast business. Count Strictly Entertainment, a talent-booking business in Tampa, as one hit pretty hard.

"We used to get two to three calls a week from musicians and artists looking for work," says Pat Fenda, the founder and chief executive of the company that's been booking gigs for 25 years. "Now we get two or three a day."

Unfortunately, the bulk of the calls are for people looking for work, not potential clients.

Businesses still book entertainment for events, but some have cut the amount of entertainment in half. Others have opted for a disc jockey instead of a live band. Plus, some law firms have said music and parties are politically incorrect these days, so they have been giving their annual party money to charities, Fenda says.

Business wasn't too bad as recently as the summer, but it began heading down in August and has nearly dried up in the past three months.

Fenda has been proactive. She's partnered with an event photographer and acting coaches and teachers. She's done smaller events, responded quicker to last-minute requests and hired an outside sales person.

After posting one of its best years ever as recently as 2006, when it reached $750,000 in revenue, this year will be one of its worst ever: Sales are not likely to surpass $500,000.

"We are praying that at least the attention after the election will now go to Christmas," Fenda says. "Everybody's got their makeup in a jar, waiting."

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