Follow the Bu$ine$$ Boom!
Feature by Kristine Nickel
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Follow the Bu$ine$$ Boom!
Top 10 business opportunities in Southwest Florida's growing market.
It's not your same old Sarasota and Manatee. As the past year of accelerating development—now a whopping $2 billion worth—has demonstrated, the times, they are a-changin'. And that's a refrain very familiar to the most likely candidates for our new urban and suburban pioneers, the baby boomers.
“I think we're going to see a lot of baby boomers. Remember, the first boomers turn 60 next year,” says Sarasota marketing consultant Paulette Kish. “They are entering the point in time when they are deciding how much longer they want to work. They will come into one of the largest inheritances in history; plus, they have considerable personal wealth and savings. That's a recipe for second and third homes. That also has considerable implications for the kinds of services and products they want to have available.”
Sounds like a scenario custom-made for our region. Instinct tells us there's money to be made supporting the new boomer landscape, but we wondered: Just what kinds of businesses will prove profitable? So we polished off the crystal ball and asked several experts just what their prognostications were. Here's their list of the top 10 business opportunities the new Sarasota-Manatee will attract and support.
“Retail is driven by rooftops,” says Kathy Baylis, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County. “And the type of retail is driven by the prices of the homes.” Baylis points to the Sarasota Quay and the Isaac brothers' Pineapple Square developments as Sarasota projects that will cater to new residents with pricey home furnishings and apparel boutiques specializing in one-of-a-kind items. And that's good for the entire community, she contends. While not all of us can afford to live in the high-end communities close to upscale retail, we can still take advantage of the amenities. Like Baylis says, “Although I can't afford to live downtown, I can shop there and pretend I'm rich.”
HOMOGENIZATION: THE CHAIN RETAILERS
Whole Foods might just be the tip of the iceberg (and we're not talking lettuce). “Having Whole Foods in place downtown will bring in retail,” says David Brain, associate professor of sociology at New College of Florida. “And the pattern of retail will change the pattern of downtown living.” Charles Alario, president of American Business Brokerage in Sarasota, agrees: “Chain retailers have the survivability. They can afford to subsidize the staff and overhead over the slow months. Unfortunately, big chain operations hurt local business owners because the dollars leave the area, but that's my bias.”
Take it from another relatively small resort city that big money put on the map, Petoskey, Mich. Carlin Smith, the executive director of the Petoskey Chamber of Commerce, recounts his town's experience: “High-end real estate puts you on the radar of the big retail guys, and the locals benefit from having those kinds of services. The key is to find the balance between what's home-grown and what's homogenized.”
ENTREPRENEURS WHO OFFER BUSINESS SERVICES
More than 10 million Americans operate home offices, increasingly from secondary residences, according to national market research firm IDC. “This is a generation who already has begun leveraging their professional equity to start second careers, consulting with old connections while they move to new, more desirable places,” says Kish. “They need an infrastructure to support that-office services, computer services, part-time administrative assistants.”
Baylis agrees: “There is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs who meet these needs. Home offices are very important, and that can touch everything from high-tech to construction.”
“Our second-home residents absolutely demand the finest healthcare services,” says Petoskey's Smith. “For a city of 6,000, Petoskey has an incredibly sophisticated level of healthcare providers, recognized throughout the Midwest. It's our part-time residents who require it and support it.”
The basics are de rigueur, but the extras have to pass muster as well. “We need to keep on top of the latest innovations in anti-aging,” says Eppard. Indeed, a second (or third) home is also a good hide-out for recovering from that little cosmetic surgery procedure. Anyone need a lift?
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
“There is a huge niche for a caterer to specialize in very small, highly innovative parties,” says Sarasota's king of catering, Philip Mancini, co-owner of Michael's On East. “Entertaining at home is as important as ever, and indications are that this crowd will want high-end. We're talking a single waiter per guest kind of thing.” Says Eppard, “The food thing is huge. Whether it's a chic café or a personal chef, we'll need to have services that rival what these people had in their cities of origin.”
Kish sees a slightly different opportunity. “No one has cracked the code on providing a quality, healthful offering that fills the gap between takeout, which is rarely nutritious, and the expense of a home chef. The super wealthy might have home chefs, but people with million-dollar condos probably watch their everyday food budget,” she explains. “And nutrition is very important on a day-in, day-out basis.”
On everyone's Top 10 lists, personal services run the gamut. “I envision a virtual business in buildings where you send an e-mail to have errands run or summon an aesthetician to come up to do a manicure or style hair,” says Baylis. A concierge-type service—“opening” the condo for arriving owners—is another personal service on the radar screen. “In our communities,” observes Michigander Smith, “the concierge takes care of cottages, houses and condos. Everything from the plumbing to making sure there are fresh flowers and milk in the fridge.”
Kish sees this as an extension of how the recent resident has always lived. “People get in patterns,” she says. “If you always had a massage therapist visit your home for a massage, chances are that will be high on your list of priorities to find a therapist who makes house calls. If not, chances are you'll have other concerns that take precedence.”
All those downtown condos and big new homes in Lakewood Ranch need decorating, whether by an interior designer or by the homeowner with help from a great shop not too far away. “Interior designers will benefit. No doubt about that,” says Eppard. “It will be huge.”
Baylis sees a boon for the arts community in general. “Typically, people in higher income brackets do attend art and cultural venues more than people with less disposable income,” she says. “It has also been my experience that people moving into an area will want to have local art in their homes.”
“I see the arts as benefiting because they already exist,” says Alario. “The art venues, like the theaters and the opera, will not have to start up, just take in more patrons. They're positioned well.” For a community that already has the fourth-highest attendance in the United States at cultural events, that's a prediction that could reinforce Sarasota's claim as a cultural capital.
AVENUES FOR CONNECTIVITY
“Connection is extremely important,” says Manatee County realtor Renee Eppard. And that bodes well for private clubs, philanthropic organizations and institutions of higher learning. “Especially in condos where you don't have a golf course or tennis courts that provide a meeting place for neighbors. Socialization is key and a business that can create a way for people to connect will be important.” Kish says, “I see a huge role here for philanthropy. It provides a way to get connected while appealing to people's altruism.”
Kish also speculates that our institutions of higher learning have enormous opportunities. “This is the anti-aging crowd who crave ways to keep their minds agile almost as much as physical activity. I suspect art appreciation, theology, history—subjects that connect people to the past and delve into the larger questions of life—will be very appealing. What won't be appealing is sitting in an uncomfortable wood chair in a classroom.” New College, take note: Can you get The Ritz get to provide hall passes?
No, we're not talking about putting bicycles on the front bumper of SCAT and MCAT buses. Although some think the parking situation has been overblown in the media: “The fact that parking is frustrating doesn't make it a crisis,” says New College professor Brain. Others, however, think that even if adequate parking were available, pulling your car out of the condo garage to run errands around downtown will be a huge hassle. “What we need is a car service, like when you go to Manhattan and you hire a town car to make sure you make all of your appointments,” says Eppard. “Nothing as ostentatious as a limo, but a car service.”
Brain has a different slant on the situation. “A mobile valet service would be very useful,” he offers. “I was just in Pasadena, [Calif.], and you can valet your car on street corners in downtown with what appeared to be a city-sponsored valet service operating out of a kiosk, sort of like a hot dog stand. It was very welcome.”
A GREAT CLEANING LADY
“If you could put together a cleaning service with energetic, value-added employees, you could make a killing,” exclaims Eppard. “Everyone I know is always looking for great household help.”
Kish concurs. “The value-add is having the extras; someone who can see what needs to be accomplished, who can call the florist for fresh flowers for the guest room.”
Our Panel of Prognosticators
Charles Alario, president of American Business Brokerage, is a cautious futurist. “We really don't know how long the residents of the newly built condominiums will live here,” he says. “That is more important than who moves here, because the 'how many months during the year' really creates more economic impact.”
Kathy Baylis, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, sees downtown development as a plus for the entire community. “I think our 'new' downtown will draw people who don't live downtown. It's like the chicken and the egg. The real estate brings the amenities and the amenities bring the locals downtown.”
David Brain, associate professor of sociology, New College of Florida, says there's a lack of up-to-date local demographics, which make predictions difficult. “The clear indication is that people are buying these units on spec,” he says. “Who the ultimate residents will be is still up in the air, although I think we could see more younger than older.”
Renee Eppard, RE/MAX realtor and co-owner of Florida Coast Development, sees our downtowns as a huge magnet for the entire community. “Most of the people I see moving here are baby boomers. Regardless of where they decide to live, they want a cosmopolitan mix of amenities that downtown will offer.”
Philip Mancini, co-owner of Michael's On East, is amazed at the level of catering services currently in demand with no end in sight. “This is exciting, but I'm concerned about where we will recruit the service people we will need. And the issue of affordable housing has to be seriously addressed.”
Paulette Kish, president of New Horizon, a marketing consulting firm that specializes in consumer's attitudes and behaviors and business growth opportunities, reminds would-be entrepreneurs to stay focused. “With any product, you have to be able to answer the question, 'What problem is this product solving?'”
Carlin Smith, executive director of the Petoskey Chamber of Commerce, suggests that a distinction be made between being a second-home resort community and a tourist destination. “These people are invested and add so much to the economy. We're talking about many more dollars than someone walking around with an ice cream cone. This economic contribution is at a whole different level.”