This is the sixth day of a series of stories in a Daily News 8-day Special Report: "In Recovery?" looking at whether the economy is rebounding in Southwest Florida.
NAPLES — Impulse, luxury buys are back.
At least for those in Collier County who can afford a Jaguar, Rolls-Royce, yacht or 7 carat heart-shaped diamond.
"It's not a need, it's a want," said Jason Reidel, general manager of Jaguar of Naples. "No one needs an expensive automobile. People buy it because we sell the best."
Naples high-end car dealerships, boat retailers and jewelers say that for the first time since businesses first felt the economy falter in 2008, demand spiked for their luxury products this season. First quarter sales in 2012 were up 20 percent to 30 percent from the same time last year.
Businesses say the increased demand mostly comes from seasonal residents. But luxury retailers anticipate seasonal sales will carry them through the year, even without big-ticket buys from year-round business owners. The year-round local business helped many businesses survive in Southwest Florida before the recession.
Before the recession, Phil Osborne, owner of Naples Boat Mart, said he sold boats 12 months out of the year. Today, year-round purchases from small business owners in town have yet to return, he said.
"That's who got hurt," he said of small business owners. "They can't participate in the economy until their own businesses turn back around."
Even without that customer, Osborne boasts that 2012 sales already are ahead of 2011. And 2011 wasn't a bad year for his business — sales rebounded 35 percent compared to 2008 and 2009.
"Business is definitely back," he said. "People with higher income levels are participating in boat purchases."
He said it's just a matter of time before that trickles down to the year-round business owner's buying habits.
But even his wealthier customers are more cautious now, he said. More customers make impulse purchases around $50,000. Before the economy crashed, more people bought on the higher end of his inventory that ranges from $15,000 to $550,000.
"Just because someone is worth $100 million doesn't mean they buy a $2 million boat," he said.
At his luxury car dealership, Reidel said he has sold around 270 cars since the start of the year. He wouldn't provide exact figures but he said it's a significant increase from last year.
His brands include Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Maserati. The price of a Jaguar at Reidel's dealership can range from $50,000 to $90,000. A Rolls-Royce can go for around $300,000.
He said he's fortunate to do business in an affluent area. But he also said his business has become less seasonal "as people scale back their lifestyle."
"Before the market had a correction, people had two or three homes," he said. "People are simplifying their lives and spending more time in one location."
Reidel doesn't necessarily attribute more business to a better economy but to more people wanting to live in "a clean, pristine, sunny environment" like Naples. He said as more people buy real estate here, more people will make high-end purchases.
Florida Gulf Coast University economics professor Gary Jackson said the shoreline location of Naples makes it stronger economically compared to other areas in the country. More recreational activities, like boating, increase high-end sales.
January taxable sales on consumer durables, which includes boats, is up 8.8 percent over 2011 in Naples, according to data from the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research. In Fort Myers, it is up 5.4 percent. Tourism and recreation sales, including the sale of jewelry, is up 4.9 percent in Naples and 10.6 percent in Fort Myers.
"Those luxury goods are things you could put off," Jackson said. "But consumers are feeling better about the economy."
Jarred Kaplan, managing partner of Provident Jewelry, which has two stores on Fifth Avenue South, said tourists and seasonal residents aren't waiting to buy expensive items. He sees a distinctive difference in 2012 sales compared to sales the past three years.
So far in 2012, Provident Jewelry has made sales of Buccellati jewelry for $150,000. The stores sold diamonds for nearly $300,000. Overall, sales are up 20 percent to 30 percent from a year ago at this time.
"People feel things have solidified and are on their way up," he said. "That is translating into big sales."
Store manager Scott Suchy of Provident Jewelry's 766 Fifth Avenue S. store is seeing consistent buys from Midwesterners, Canadians, Germans and Italians. He's hoping that with the end of season, summer will bring travelers from east coast cities like Jupiter, Miami and Palm Beach.
Right now, he is in the "wait and see period" to determine if business stays steady after the seasonal residents leave.
Jackson predicts it will take a few years of recovery before the region's economy is back to normal but he said retailers who have made it this far should survive.
"If they've made it through the worst recession since the Great Depression," he said, "they'll be able to make it through the summer."
This is part of an 8-day Daily News series, "In Recovery?" about whether Southwest Florida's economy is rebounding. Tomorrow: Retail.