In recovery? Entrepreneurs getting back to business in Southwest Florida

Lexey Swall/Staff
Jared Gruett drives a motorized bike used to make deliveries to businesses and customers nearby his restaurant, Valento's Pizza and Hoagies, on Tuesday in Naples. Gruett and his wife, Sara Gruett, opened moved to Naples from Minneapolis last year and opened their business in November on Ninth Street South. The Gruett's are among several small-business owners and big-name companies that have sprouted up up around Southwest Florida in recent months.

Photo by LEXEY SWALL // Buy this photo

Lexey Swall/Staff Jared Gruett drives a motorized bike used to make deliveries to businesses and customers nearby his restaurant, Valento's Pizza and Hoagies, on Tuesday in Naples. Gruett and his wife, Sara Gruett, opened moved to Naples from Minneapolis last year and opened their business in November on Ninth Street South. The Gruett's are among several small-business owners and big-name companies that have sprouted up up around Southwest Florida in recent months.

— After vacationing in Naples for six years, Sara and Jared Gruett began searching last summer for a home and a place to start a business in Collier County.

By August, the couple had sold their Minneapolis-based towing and impounds company and headed south to open a pizza parlor. Although they had no restaurant experience, the Gruetts had confidence the national economy was on an uptick and the feeling they were the right people to fill a local niche.

"We knew about the seasonal business but we thought ours was something that people year-round would visit," Sara Gruett said of Valento's Pizza and Hoagies, a Midwestern-style eatery that opened in November on Ninth Street South. "Pizza is something that the average family is going to be eating once a week or once a month."

Like the Gruetts, small-business owners and big-name companies alike have come to Southwest Florida in recent months, betting that consumers are ready once again to pull out their wallets and put money back into the local economy.

After the U.S. economy took a nose-dive at the end of 2007, many businesses folded, or survived by laying off workers. In 2009, there were 32,000 fewer new for-profit corporations in Florida than there were in 2007, according to the Secretary of State's office.

But in 2011, the number of those new filings — while not back up to pre-recession levels — increased for the second year in a row.

Among the 109,000-plus new business entities was Gabby Abbey's, a Marco Island boutique that opened Thanksgiving weekend. First-time business owner Denise Goldman said the timing seemed right to open when an acquaintance told her about the empty storefront toward the beginning of season.

"It seemed like a good opportunity, and I had some money," said Goldman, who had wanted to open a store after working in New York City's garment district several years ago. "It's still a learning experience for us, but season was good for us."

While Goldman has "some concerns" about Collier's economic outlook, she said she hopes to stay afloat by stocking the shop with merchandise that appeals to budget-strapped customers.

"What I tried to do, and what I think I'm succeeding at, is keeping prices as low as possible," she said. "I think, 'How do I feel about prices when I go into a shop?'"

In a Chamber survey of 201 Naples-area business owners late last year, 41 percent said they believed the economy was improving, 46 percent said it was holding steady and 13 percent said it was in decline. Two-thirds of the optimists planned to hire more workers.

In a Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce survey of 201 Naples-area business owners late last year, 41 percent said they believed the economy was improving, 46 percent said it was holding steady and 13 percent said it was in decline. Two-thirds of the optimists planned to hire more workers.

"People are looking to spend money," said Marci-Nicole Seamples, vice president of communications for the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. "We had a strong tourist season, and we've seen an increase in members joining (the chamber), back up to numbers from before the recession."

About six years ago when he started with the Chamber, Don Neer, director of new member services, said about 90 percent of new members were new businesses. In 2008, there were 2,178 members, a record high for the Chamber.

"Then when we started the recession, it's what I call a third, a third, a third," he said — a third of new members were new businesses, a third were owners who were coming back after having been out of business and the last third were businesses that had been around for some time but had never been a member of the Chamber.

"All of a sudden, they were saying, 'Help!'" Neer said.

Still, more than 400 businesses dropped their Chamber membership during the three-year period from 2007 to 2010. Of them, more than 250 went out of business or relocated, Neer said.

In the past six to eight months, however, new businesses are once again taking a larger piece of the pie, he said. At the end of April, the Chamber had about 1,800 members — 63 more members than it did in June 2011.

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"Many of those members that had dropped us have joined back with us," Neer said. "It gives us a good feeling that those who left because of economic woes are now finding themselves in better financial position."

Although no one group seems to keep a tally of new businesses versus those that have closed, some economists say conditions appear to be getting better for local entrepreneurs and business owners.

"Consumer confidence has gone up, the stock market has come up, demand for goods and services are up," said Gary Jackson, director of the Regional Economic Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero. "It's tough to open in a slow recovery … but we're seeing opportunities, and that's a good sign."

Although it's a small increase, Bonita Springs city officials issued permits for 40 new businesses in the first quarter of 2012, compared with 30 for the first quarter of last year.

And while they're not all new, 43 businesses joined the Bonita Springs Chamber of Commerce in January, February and March of this year.

Business owner Michelle S. Brown joined in January after opening Alternative Natural Healthcare, an acupuncture and homeopathic medicines clinic, in September.

"I think the economy is pretty sluggish, but people that are ill are willing to spend money on health care," Brown said. "People have always had discretionary money to spend — it just depends what they spend the money on."

Jackson, the FGCU director, advised that business owners could improve their chances for success by studying the competition and finding gaps.

"To me as an economist, it's all about finding unserved needs or demands or new technology to help people," he said.

This is part of an 8-day Daily News series, "In Recovery?" about whether Southwest Florida's economy is rebounding. Tomorrow: Buying luxury items and automobiles.

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 32

joeblow writes:

Please stop writing false information.

cozyboy writes:

Thank God only 3 parts left to this 8 part monstrosity. How about someone reviewing the Tom Petty concert from last night already?

Here4Now writes:

in response to joeblow:

Please stop writing false information.

This is a joke. Especially the day after Naples Tomato closes. Especially after the daily string of restaurant closings the last week or so. Never, ever, have I seen an area chamber of commerce/real estate market/business district SO IN DENIAL, and so eager to spread lies.

Here4Now writes:

Tell it to the employees of Naples Tomato, and Latitudes, and Sam Sneads and ......

This article is an insult to ANYONE with an IQ over 80.

BobinNaples writes:

Please stop writing that the economy is improving. Any mention of things improving gets the tea party nuts all crazy. They hate when anyone is anything but miserable.

BobinNaples writes:

in response to Here4Now:

This is a joke. Especially the day after Naples Tomato closes. Especially after the daily string of restaurant closings the last week or so. Never, ever, have I seen an area chamber of commerce/real estate market/business district SO IN DENIAL, and so eager to spread lies.

LOL! Because Naples Tomato was one of the leading economic indicators.

ljfroloff writes:

Wow - Restaurant competition in Naples is a *#@$^&*! I guess that's all these people need to know to whine about the economy!

Those that have lived in Naples for a while can tell you, it's blasted tough to run a restaurant here; because it's SEASONAL, and the locals won't support $30 a plate places.

But if blissful ignorance allows you think it reflects the economy, then don't let me stop you.

mr_1_term_proposition writes:

in response to Here4Now:

Tell it to the employees of Naples Tomato, and Latitudes, and Sam Sneads and ......

This article is an insult to ANYONE with an IQ over 80.

We can all rest assured now that we know you weren't insulted.

Here4Now writes:

Did my comment SOUND like I wasn't insulted?

Moron

Hindsight writes:

First article, 100 school employees cut in Collier County. Third article, 50 school employees cut in Lee County. Fourth article, 25% of employees cut at Clerks Office. In the middle is a story about how great things are under Obama's watch. Who the H@#$ writes this BS. At least start the story with Once Upon a Time!!

forge198 writes:

in response to Here4Now:

Tell it to the employees of Naples Tomato, and Latitudes, and Sam Sneads and ......

This article is an insult to ANYONE with an IQ over 80.

Well said, I'm a recent college grad, went to high school here in Naples... yea, definitely not much to come back to. Once again, thank you Naples Daily Snooze for your lack of research, questionable ethics, and awful reporting.

forge198 writes:

in response to BobinNaples:

Please stop writing that the economy is improving. Any mention of things improving gets the tea party nuts all crazy. They hate when anyone is anything but miserable.

No, its whiny liberals like you who just hate when we're right... and correct.

BobinNaples writes:

in response to Hindsight:

First article, 100 school employees cut in Collier County. Third article, 50 school employees cut in Lee County. Fourth article, 25% of employees cut at Clerks Office. In the middle is a story about how great things are under Obama's watch. Who the H@#$ writes this BS. At least start the story with Once Upon a Time!!

... and the next article is about how two 40+ million dollar homes just sold in Naples.

BobinNaples writes:

in response to BobinNaples:

... and the next article is about how two 40+ million dollar homes just sold in Naples.

... and you know what that means - those new owners will be hiring.

Hindsight writes:

in response to BobinNaples:

... and the next article is about how two 40+ million dollar homes just sold in Naples.

Thanks for your keen response Bobinobamaslap, George Soros and Barney Frank now have new homes.

BobinNaples writes:

in response to Hindsight:

Thanks for your keen response Bobinobamaslap, George Soros and Barney Frank now have new homes.

Rumor has it, it was the Koch Brothers who bought.

mr_1_term_proposition writes:

in response to Here4Now:

Did my comment SOUND like I wasn't insulted?

Moron

Not only did it sound like......it reeked of you begging for government assistance .......let it go lady....we know obama hasn't gave you you mansion, your healthcare, your free gas, etc ........let it go.

Hindsight writes:

We can keep fighting Democrat and Rep like they want us to or we can face facts. Lennar homes borrowed 17 billion to build Terra Verda. The bank said pay back the 17 billion. Lennar said we can't until you put people in these home and loan them the money. The banks said fine send people who can walk and chew bubble gum in and we will loan them the money or we get fired for loaning you the 17 billion.

Here4Now writes:

in response to mr_1_term_proposition:

Not only did it sound like......it reeked of you begging for government assistance .......let it go lady....we know obama hasn't gave you you mansion, your healthcare, your free gas, etc ........let it go.

???

Wow

I repeat, MORON

John_Galt writes:

The ONLY way to help small businesses is to get the government OFF our backs!

Democrats won't do that. Republicans won't do that.

VOTE LIBERTARIAN!

http://www.CollierLP.com
http://electRICHTER.com

Ruger writes:

in response to SoldierStrong:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Come on now, it's all part of the CHANGE!

We wouldn't be 'changing' if we recovered from our recession like we have in the past, Right?

gingergirl writes:

Entrepreneurship is on the rise among baby boomers who have become displaced from their jobs. For many, it' the time to pursue their passion. Small business is alive and well if you can find your niche. Many take their severance or retirement pay to finance their business as taking a home equity loan or bank financing is virtually non-existent. Expansion by using cash flow is slower but guess what, no bank loan with interest to pay back. You can get free help from the SBDC at FGCU on virtually any aspect of business from start-up to accounting. Check them out.

TheyPavedParadise2 writes:

in response to gingergirl:

Entrepreneurship is on the rise among baby boomers who have become displaced from their jobs. For many, it' the time to pursue their passion. Small business is alive and well if you can find your niche. Many take their severance or retirement pay to finance their business as taking a home equity loan or bank financing is virtually non-existent. Expansion by using cash flow is slower but guess what, no bank loan with interest to pay back. You can get free help from the SBDC at FGCU on virtually any aspect of business from start-up to accounting. Check them out.

You were doing good until expansion.

Unless you are in a business incubator and have lots of help and experience in your industry, your chances of surviving are only an average of 50% past 5 years.

The key word here is experience. Expansion by cash flow is extremely difficult especially in hi volume lower margin business such as wholesaling.

Even with commercial real estate depressed, people with no experience have a slim to none chance of getting a loan for a facility, infrastructure or inventory.

Insurance costs are getting prohibitive and taxes on small business are rising.

Local governments are charging ad valorem taxes on any inventory or assets. Collier County does this. Could be hundreds or thousands depending on what you own or have on the books.

Don't hesitate to ask for free help, but don't be surprised what they offer you.

Remember, the people who are actually running your government have little or no experience running a business. That is why we are in the current financial shape.

Contrary to the news you read here, businesses are still closing or moving to Lee County or elsewhere where people actually act like they want them. Lee is offering incentives and is very creative.

Optimism is good, but realism will keep people from wasting their savings and becoming a statistic.

juanproblem writes:

Valento's Pizza, Went there hopeing to get a good grinder, Subway puts more meat on the sub than they do, Way over priced for what you get

Carrot_Stick writes:

I do not care about small business owners down here. One business took $16,000 from us and left town. The law doesn't protect us from crooks even when their is a contract.

To finish the incompleted work, two addition businesses tried ripping us off (even after explaining our bad experience with the first).

I do not know about restaurant owners, but I know the construction sector of business owners down here will lie and cheat to make money. They do poor quality work using cheap material after charging you for high quality craftsmanship.

I do not feel sorry for any of you scum. There is a special place in hell for all of you.

There are too many restaurants and too many small business owners in Florida. We need to replace them with larger manufacturing jobs that Florida can be proud of. The kind of jobs where we actually produce and export a product. The game of business owners taking advantage of hardworking individuals needs to end.

TheyPavedParadise2 writes:

in response to Carrot_Stick:

I do not care about small business owners down here. One business took $16,000 from us and left town. The law doesn't protect us from crooks even when their is a contract.

To finish the incompleted work, two addition businesses tried ripping us off (even after explaining our bad experience with the first).

I do not know about restaurant owners, but I know the construction sector of business owners down here will lie and cheat to make money. They do poor quality work using cheap material after charging you for high quality craftsmanship.

I do not feel sorry for any of you scum. There is a special place in hell for all of you.

There are too many restaurants and too many small business owners in Florida. We need to replace them with larger manufacturing jobs that Florida can be proud of. The kind of jobs where we actually produce and export a product. The game of business owners taking advantage of hardworking individuals needs to end.

That will teach you to do your homework and use reputable companies.
So let me get this straight. We should add large manufacturing plants to get more jobs, pollute the environment and have more people commuting to work. This would make us proud.
If what we have isn't ideal for your lifestyle, maybe you should move to a major metropolitan area with big factories. Tampa, or Jacksonville.
Maybe back where you came from.

samsam writes:

miss the snowbirds? things will be better in january.

napleschik writes:

LOL.

Ironbutterfly writes:

in response to cozyboy:

Thank God only 3 parts left to this 8 part monstrosity. How about someone reviewing the Tom Petty concert from last night already?

I never knew I loved Tom Petty till last night, he rocked.

Ironbutterfly writes:

in response to Carrot_Stick:

I do not care about small business owners down here. One business took $16,000 from us and left town. The law doesn't protect us from crooks even when their is a contract.

To finish the incompleted work, two addition businesses tried ripping us off (even after explaining our bad experience with the first).

I do not know about restaurant owners, but I know the construction sector of business owners down here will lie and cheat to make money. They do poor quality work using cheap material after charging you for high quality craftsmanship.

I do not feel sorry for any of you scum. There is a special place in hell for all of you.

There are too many restaurants and too many small business owners in Florida. We need to replace them with larger manufacturing jobs that Florida can be proud of. The kind of jobs where we actually produce and export a product. The game of business owners taking advantage of hardworking individuals needs to end.

If you have hired a licensed general contractor are protected, there's a fund set up in the state of Florida to protect you. It's called the Homeowners Construction Recovery Fund. If you hired an unlicensed person, you're not covered.
People think they're saving money without a license GC or permit, but if you had a permit check it out, a portion of every permit goes to this fund,
There are some good honest contractors out there who are trying to weather this economy, make sure you check their license and insurance.

PizzaGuy writes:

@juanproblem
OOOUCCH!
I wish you would have said something to us right away! I hope you give us the chance to change your opinion of us. I know that our build specs for a hoagie contain 50% more meat by weight than Subway Subs. Your sandwich must have been made incorrectly. We don't slice the meet razor thin and we use only high quality meats. Stop by or call, ask for Jared. I'll take care of you. Thank you.

lSTlLLSPEAKFORGOD writes:

in response to columbia:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

This is a better recovery than we would be having if George Goofus Bush was still in office !! We would be about to fall into depression if it werent for PRES Obama and YOU know it ! Thank him and all the generous tourists that come and visit from up north and provide you with your precious tip DOLLARS every winter !!!

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