Mark Becker, Hyatt Regency Sarasota
Region: The job and housing outlooks are two areas Mark Becker constantly mines for data, and he worries about what he sees going into 2012. “Like everyone else, I'm concerned about the economy in the short-term,” says Becker. “You just can't have unemployment levels like this and be successful in any industry.” Still, Becker isn't convinced government's response to unemployment has helped make things much better. “I'm not sure the emphasis is on the right areas,” Becker says.
Industry: A challenge that still looms over the hospitality industry, says Becker, is the AIG effect, when companies scale back on conferences and events to avoid the perception of over-spending in a recession. Another industry-wide challenge, says Becker, one that started to creep up in 2010, is the reality that groups are booking events much closer to the actual dates. That leaves little room for marketing and other long-term sales initiatives. The Sarasota hospitality industry, meanwhile, will look to keep on plugging the top beach score it received earlier this year for Siesta Key Beach. Says Becker: “There is no doubt that the No. 1 beach ranking gave us a lift this summer.”
Business: Becker says the good news is 2011 has been a great year from an occupancy standpoint for the Hyatt. “It was actually one of the best years in our history,” says Becker. The not-so-good news, however, is room rates are still down somewhat from previous years. Becker projects leisure bookings will be up slightly in 2012, while corporate events will likely be flat. Those projections, he says, are closely connected to the larger economy. “We've got a lot of assets here,” says Becker. “Now we need to make sure the consumer has the financial wherewithal to come see us.”
Molly Jackson, New Balance, Fleet Feet, Molly's!
Region: Molly Jackson, involved in several local business groups, charities and nonprofits, says the pain of high unemployment levels is highly visible in the community. Still, she takes some solace in the fact that the Sarasota-Bradenton region isn't like some other larger Southeast cities, such as Charlotte, N.C., which is tied tightly to the banking industry. Plus, Jackson, like many other entrepreneurs, is tired of being gloomy. “Maybe I'm too optimistic,” she says, “but I think (the economy) will change faster than we went down.”
Industry: The specialty retail industry has clearly been challenged by the recession, Jackson says. Competition in price points from big-box chains and online stores are the biggest foe. But Jackson believes a specialty retailer can combat that competition both through service and product inventory. “I think this is the time for specialty retailers to shine,” says Jackson. “I see less and less people willing to shop for an item on the Internet that we carry.”
Business: Molly and David Jackson own a New Balance store in Sarasota and Manatee counties. The couple has also recently begun to grow in other areas. Last year the Jacksons opened Molly's, a women's shoes and accessories boutique, and more recently the couple bought Fleet Feet Sports Sarasota. “We feel like Fleet Feet could really expand our portfolio,” Molly Jackson says. Fleet Feet, like New Balance, is a specialty retail chain — an industry Jackson says has growth potential, despite the economic challenges. In fact, Molly Jackson projects more physical growth for the company in 2012, possibly in Orlando. She has scouted locations there, and could eventually open more than one store in the Central Florida area.
Tab Hunter, The Surfin' Plumbers
Region: Tab Hunter, a former executive with Clockwork Home Services in Sarasota, thinks 2012 will be better than 2011. He realizes, though, the improvement bar for many industries and sectors is low. “It's not happy times again,” says Hunter, but “we do see signs of improvement.” Just like many of his fellow entrepreneurs, Hunter says the jobs market will be key to a sustained rebound. “I don't think we're out of it yet,” says Hunter.
Industry: Hunter says the decline in home values has boosted the plumbing and home service repair industries. He projects that trend will continue in 2012, because many homeowners will look to repair and upgrade, not buy new homes. He says many customers say just that to his plumbers in the field, that they would rather fix what they have. Says Hunter: “I feel like there is some momentum in our business.”
Business: Hunter says The Surfin' Plumbers concept, which uses the surfing theme in everything from its trucks to marketing to how staff answers the phone, has been a big hit. That's why the firm grew annual revenues more than 250% this year, from $700,000 in 2010 to $2.5 million in 2011. Hunter says next year will be good, too. “We won't be able to sustain that kind of growth,” he says, “but we will be busy.”
Taylor Collins, Professional Benefits
Region: The job market and its potential rebound will likely be a concern for most of 2012, says Taylor Collins, who specializes in executive and professional benefits and group insurance programs. The firm has several clients in the medical industry, mostly doctor's practices, and Collins says that segment of the economy could have a solid 2012. “I do see growth in the medical field,” says Collins. “Everyone seems to think that's a field with staying power.”
Industry: The transformation of the health care industry will likely continue in 2012, says Collins, no matter what happens with the federal health care bill. For example, she says insurance carriers will still look to squeeze clients on rates, mostly to create a cushion to whatever changes come from legislation and regulations. Another trend in health insurance, says Collins, is that big firms could look to go from commission to fee-based business models, a move Aetna has already done in certain areas.
Business: Professional Benefits, with clients from individuals to companies to associations, has found a niche in combining insurance services with wealth management services. Insurance has been in the lead in past years. But in 2011, and likely in 2012, the wealth management business has moved to the forefront of the 10-employee firm. Wealth management, says Collins, is up 10% in 2011 over 2010. “That area is doing amazing,” adds Collins. Professional Benefits still plans to maintain a presence in the health and life insurance industries, says Collins. The firm hopes to pick up more medical and health care industry clients in 2012.
Rick Kimsey, Doctors Express
Region: An issue that looms for the economy, says Rick Kimsey, past unemployment rates, is investment money that hasn't been invested. An entrepreneur who previously ran companies and divisions in the cable and mobile phone industries, Kimsey says the culprit for that delay is uncertainty — the catchphrase for many economic projections. And the uncertainty, says Kimsey, stems from failed federal government decisions. “The current economic policy this government is doing isn't working,” Kimsey says. “It seems like all they want to do is more of the same thing and expect different results. It's mind-boggling.”
Industry: The urgent care industry, says Kimsey, is ripe for expansion, both in the amount of physical centers and how the industry operates. “The industry is really fragmented,” says Kimsey. “There is no cohesive brand out there right now.” The federal health care bill, says Kimsey, could be an advantage for the industry in that the legislation forces more people to go to a doctor's office. He says an efficiently run urgent care practice can capitalize off that shift.
Business: Kimsey is confident Doctors Express could become the brand leader for the industry. The challenge, he says, is and has been financing. He would like to open five or six Doctors Express locations in Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties in 2012. But seeking bank financing has largely been a source of rejections. “Banks are skittish,” says Kimsey, mostly because the concept is new and unproven. Kimsey has spoken with several private equity groups in New York for alternative financing, and he hopes to have some backers by early next year. “Once these capital constraints are freed up,” says Kimsey, “you will hear great things from Doctors Express.”