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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Nov. 14, 2008 11 years ago

Coffee Talk

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+ The first change:A run on gunsBusiness has soared in the past month and a half at Shoot Straight, a chain of Florida gun shops in Tampa, Casselberry and Apopka.+ The list no onewants to be onCoStar Group, the firm that tracks commercial real estate on the Gulf Coast, recently highlighted a list of the largest problem loans in the country.+ Global construction firmlikes local marketA Portuguese-based international construction giant is entering the Gulf Coast market - and thanks to the industry slump it's doing so at a heavy discount, by buying a $100 million Manatee County company for $33.7 million. + New retailers stillstream to the Gulf CoastIt may turn out to be a dreadful holiday shopping season, but that doesn't mean new retailers have given up on the Gulf Coast.+ Entrepreneur findsright market, right timeJohn Barry had no idea how clairvoyant he was three years ago when he set out to launch his own global bonds information business from Sarasota.+ Hurricane Charleynot ancient historyIt's been four years since Hurricane Charley blew through the Gulf Coast, but we are reminded of its lingering impacts on so many businesses even today. + Rebuilt, rebranded, reborn,renamed ChappellRobertsThe transfer of ownership and authority at Tampa's Roberts Communications finished going full circle this month.+ Going green goesthe world of GoogleJust when you thought you'd heard everything

Coffee Talk

+ The first change:

A run on guns

Business has soared in the past month and a half at Shoot Straight, a chain of Florida gun shops in Tampa, Casselberry and Apopka.

Part of the reason: President-elect Barack Obama's statements on the Second Amendment and limiting gun ownership.

And, more recently, an anniversary sale.

"September was abysmally slow, but October began with a bang and it's been busy ever since," part-owner Scott Patrick tells Coffee Talk.

There was a noticeable bump in sales after the election as well, Patrick says.

One of those customers was sports shootist Steve Dahlquist, a financial advisor for Stanford Group Co. in Longboat Key. Dahlquist arrived at Shoot Straight in Tampa at 2:30 p.m. on a recent Wednesday and got the last spot in the parking lot.

"Guys in the parking lot said because of the Obama factor, they were stocking up," Dahlquist told Coffee Talk.

Sen. Obama has talked about limits on assault rifles, but those aren't the only things selling at Shoot Straight. Revolvers and ammo are moving more quickly, too.

"It's been crazy busy," Patrick says. "We're way up on everything."

Patrick explains the frenzy as a combination of people afraid of a weapons ban and "a general uneasiness" in the country. The chain also spent $30,000 advertising its anniversary sale recently. But sales picked up weeks before then.

Besides the store, Shoot Straight has a shooting range and does 42 gun shows a year across Florida.

Judging from recent customer comments, about 25% to 30% have openly said they are worried about a gun ban, Patrick says. It has been tough to keep guns in stock lately, especially assault rifles. They sell for about $1,100 to $2,000. Handguns average about $400.

+ The list no one

wants to be on

CoStar Group, the firm that tracks commercial real estate on the Gulf Coast, recently highlighted a list of the largest problem loans in the country.

Quoting data on commercial mortgage-backed securities from Fitch Ratings, CoStar recently published the list of the 10 largest delinquent loans. These are loans that are 60 days or more delinquent in addition to those that are nonperforming.

And, no surprise, two of these loans are for Gulf Coast projects. They're both in Fort Myers. The first one is a $30.1-million loan for the Beach Club and Viridian Lake Apartments, a 637-unit complex. The other is College Club, a $27-million loan secured by a 504-bed student housing facility near Florida Gulf Coast University.

Bankers say privately that the pain from the housing markets is starting to spread to commercial properties. Expect more of the same in 2009 if the economy doesn't recover fast.

+ Global construction firm

likes local market

A Portuguese-based international construction giant is entering the Gulf Coast market - and thanks to the industry slump it's doing so at a heavy discount, by buying a $100 million Manatee County company for $33.7 million.

The deal marks the second time the Soares da Costa Group, a publicly traded Porto, Portugal-based firm, is getting in on Florida during tough times. The last major purchase the company made in the Sunshine State was during another recession-like period in 1994, when it bought a Miami-based company that has since been renamed Soares Da Costa America.

Soares da Costa's latest purchase is of Palmetto-based Prince Contracting, a 25-year-old firm that made its name on civic construction projects, such as highways, site infrastructure and golf courses.

Prince was listed on Inc. Magazine's annual list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the country earlier this year; it grew revenues 34% in 2007, for example, from $88 million in 2006 to $118 million in 2007. The company, with projects in Tampa, Jacksonville and Orlando in addition to the Sarasota-Bradenton market, also fared well in the Review's top rankings: It was named the eighth largest contractor on the Gulf Coast in March and it placed 99th on the Review's 2008 list of the top 500 revenue companies on the Gulf Coast, published in June.

But just like most of its construction industry brethren, Prince's revenues dipped in 2008, as it expects to finish the year around $100 million in revenues, President John Watson says. The company's employee base is to about 275, down from a peak of about 500 a few years ago.

That partially explains how Soares da Costa, a $700 million company (in U.S. dollars), was able to buy Prince for the $33.7 million price tag. The new owners, through Palmetto and its Miami office, plan to grow Prince's presence in public-private partnerships, an area the parent company considers ripe for growth as the construction industry turmoil lingers.

Watson, a 10-year veteran executive of Prince who was promoted to president only a few months ago, says the deal wasn't only a good one for Soares da Costa. Prince's founder, Chester Prince, was looking to retire by the end of 2008, as was Jimmy Walker, another longtime Prince executive. Says Watson: "This was a good mechanism for them to retire, but allow the company to keep going."

The Soares Da Costa Group is traded on the NYSE Euronext exchange, under the symbol S.COSTA. The company was founded in 1918 and was ranked 96th in Engineering News Record's 2008 list of the largest contractors in the world.

+ New retailers still

stream to the Gulf Coast

It may turn out to be a dreadful holiday shopping season, but that doesn't mean new retailers have given up on the Gulf Coast.

Rod Castan, an executive with Miami-based Courtelis Co., a retail developer, says two new supermarkets are coming to the region: Aldi and Trader Joe's.

Wellness-oriented stores such as PGA Golf Supercenter, L.A. Fitness and health-food store Sprouts Market are also expanding. And so are quick-serve restaurants, such as chicken purveyors Chick-fil-A and Pollo Campero, a chain from Guatemala. At the Coastland Center mall in Naples, Subway is the strongest tenant, with sales up 30% this year.

Bowling is back. A company called Lucky Strike is scouting for locations. IPic, which combines bowling, dining and movies, is also a new retailer that's expanding. That's in addition to the value-oriented stores that are doing well, such as TJ Maxx and Big Lots.

+ Entrepreneur finds

right market, right time

John Barry had no idea how clairvoyant he was three years ago when he set out to launch his own global bonds information business from Sarasota.

Much like the products he was going to sell data on, Barry thought it would be a nice tidy little business. Maybe it would even be a good break from his job running the bonds division for the Gulf Coast branches of Philadelphia-based Sovereign Bank.

Then came the market and credit crisis of September-October. It was a seismic blow that turned his company, www.bonds.com, from sleepy to shot out of a cannon-like growth. Indeed, in October the company reported $250,000 in revenues - a little more than 25% of the company's annual revenues for the year.

Barry is projecting much greater growth next year, especially as the bond market, and the fixed income results it provides investors, grows in prominence. He says $10 million in 2009 revenues isn't a far-off projection.

"People are getting pushed toward us because of what's going on in the market," Barry tells Coffee Talk. "People are saying 'I'm done [with market fluctuations.] I'm just going to make 6% or 8% going forward.'"

Barry's company uses a no-subscription business model to create an online trading platform, called BondStation, where individual investors and institutions can set up an account to buy and sell more than 25,000 bonds available on the marketplace. The company also helps banks underwrite CDs and works with hospitals and municipalities in managing fixed income portfolios.

Bonds.com has taken a few twists and turns since Barry founded it in Sarasota in 2005. It took two and a half years to get the Internet platform running to the point where Barry thought it was ready to be introduced to the marketplace. And in 2007 he decided the employee pool in Sarasota wasn't large enough for him to find the best sales force, so he moved to the state's east coast, relocating in Boca Raton.

Since moving bonds.com across the state, Barry has completed a reverse merger with another company. The new entity is now traded over the counter under the ticker symbol BDCG. In addition to a late-year revenue push, the company is growing its physical presence too, including reopening an office in Sarasota and adding another location in Naples.

Barry also recently opened offices in Chicago and San Diego; other offices in New York and northern California are pending.

+ Hurricane Charley

not ancient history

It's been four years since Hurricane Charley blew through the Gulf Coast, but we are reminded of its lingering impacts on so many businesses even today.

Consider that two of the five companies recognized at the Florida Blue Chip Community Business Awards in Fort Myers recently recounted how the hurricane nearly ruined them. The awards, which are sponsored by Fort Myers insurance brokerage Oswald Trippe & Co., recognize small companies that have overcome adversity.

Kim and Gerard Campanella's bicycle store was destroyed by Charley and they only just reopened it in September 2007 because of problems with contractors. But a helpful supplier assisted them in eventually reopening their store, which is more successful today than before the hurricane.

Kristine and Bill Wishard's offices that housed their condominium-management business in Punta Gorda also was destroyed by the hurricane. One way their firm recovered was to rely on the Internet for transactions.

+ Rebuilt, rebranded, reborn,

renamed ChappellRoberts

The transfer of ownership and authority at Tampa's Roberts Communications finished going full circle this month.

As part of its yearlong mega-rebranding project, a six-year succession plan and its 30th anniversary, the Tampa marketing firm added President Colleen Chappell's name to the company name.

The firm is now called ChappellRoberts, a nod to Chappell, who has been running the agency and is now also the sole owner of the Ybor City firm.

The new name, with two-color logo, also picks up on a popular national political theme: Change. The lowercase tagline under the logo reads: We create change. The word "change" is upside down.

The new name also retains the name of founder, chairwoman and well-liked Tampa Bay PR icon Deanne Roberts, who will remain at the agency and lead its issues-management practice. Roberts and Chappell were the only owners.

"My job is not protecting Deanne's 30-year legacy," Chappell told Coffee Talk. "It's growing it."

Roberts founded the agency in 1978 as a public relations firm. She bought an advertising agency in the early 1990s to become one of the first integrated agencies in the market.

In 2002, as part of her succession plan, Roberts recruited the energetic Chappell, who, in her role of executive vice president, doubled the size of the firm in employees and revenues the past six years. The agency now has a staff of 25 specializing in branding, advertising, marketing and public relations.

Prior to joining the firm, Chappell was statewide director of advertising, marketing and business sales with Verizon Wireless.

+ Going green goes

the world of Google

Just when you thought you'd heard everything that Gulf Coast businesses are doing to "go green," including building energy-efficient hotels and offices, there's another application.

Silicon Advantage Inc., a seven-year-old Tampa Web development company, is now offering green Web hosting.

To do its part for energy-savings, Silicon offers clients the ability to host the sites it designs for them in a secure, out-of-state, weather-friendly data center that is 100% powered by renewable solar and wind energy. And the hosting fee is actually less going green. Silicon's dedicated site costs clients $20 a month. The green hosting starts at $8 a month.

ECONOMIC SNAPSHOT

What the data shows: The index of retail activity is constructed to measure personal consumption and it combines the categories of autos, consumer durables, tourism and consumer non-durables. The index's base equaled 100 in 1988. For example, an index of 300 today would have taxable sales equal to three times the base period in 1988, or a 200% increase.

What it means: August retail sales in every area of the Gulf Coast fell more on a percentage basis than the state as a whole. Fort Myers and Punta, areas hardest hit by the real-estate downturn, suffered double-digit percentage drops.

Forecast: The August retail sales were a precursor to September and October sales, which were recently reported as mostly dismal. The key for the holiday season will be spending by visitors. Rising unemployment rates on the Gulf Coast means residents won't be spending as much as they did last year. Sales of big-ticket items such as cars and furniture are likely to suffer the most.

August retail index

Area Index of activity %Annual chg.

Tampa 213.8 ‑6.9%

Naples 311.0 ‑8.5%

Sarasota 217.9 ‑9.4%

Fort Myers 284.1 ‑10.3%

Punta Gorda 262.9 ‑11.9%

Florida 247 -5.9%

Source: Florida Legislature Office of

Economic & Demographic Research

All-pro running back,

all-literary success

Tampa Bay Buccaneer all-pro running back and Florida State University standout Warrick Dunn has been scoring in an off-the-field business recently.

Dunn has been selling thousands of his new autobiography, "Running for My Life: My Journey in the Game of Football and Beyond," while visiting bookstores in Tallahassee, Baton Rouge and most recently, Tampa. In some cases, his first-day book sales tied with some editions of the Harry Potter series. Dunn's book also got 1.3 million hits from a "Today Show" feature on the running back.

Dunn lives in Tampa, where his foundation is based. He has helped 78 single parents and 205 dependents buy their first homes. He gives down payment assistance after they have completed their part of the first-time home-buying experience through a non-profit like Habitat for Humanity. Then he furnishes the homes.

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