Skip to main content
Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Aug. 17, 2007 14 years ago

Coffee Talk

Share
Sarasota company hopes to shine in India: Sarasota-based cartridge valve manufacturer Sun Hydraulics has a good grip on at least six global markets, from Korea to Germany.Lee County: Anotherday, another tax: Not a week goes by in Lee County that county government doesn't dream up another tax on builders.Cold storage creates trifecta for Sarasota warehouse: The latest tenant for the Meridian Distribution Center, a 950,000-square-foot warehouse facility on Clark Road in south Sarasota, is especially apropos, given the sweltering Gulf Coast summerAnother public company going private: First, there was Outback Steakhouse. Now, St. Petersburg-based Catalina Marketing is headed to the private companies club.Nightline dumbs down Ave Maria: Ave Maria, the new town being built in eastern Collier County around the newest Catholic university, has been getting lots of national publicity lately opening to new residents, students and faculty.Good guys sometimes lose: Ethical companies don't always win, even when their employees do the right thing.Call the sign shop, again: MacDill Federal Credit Union, an institution of sorts in the Tampa area financial services industry, is changing its name to Grow Financial Federal Credit Union.Kottkamp bashes Hometown Democracy: Gov. Charlie Crist has been notably absent from the raging debate over the Hometown Democracy movement that seeks to put every major land-use change in Florida on the ba

Coffee Talk

+ Sarasota company hopes to shine in India

Sarasota-based cartridge valve manufacturer Sun Hydraulics has a good grip on at least six global markets, from Korea to Germany. But India - and its population of more than one billion people - barely registers a peep in company sales.

Allen Carlson, Sun president and chief executive officer, said as much in a recent conference call with investors and analysts. "It doesn't even approach material reporting," adds Sun spokesman Rich Arter. "It's insignificant."

Carlson and other Sun executives hope to rectify that situation by following its own international playbook it devised for success abroad: Finding a local guru to run a foreign market.

In India, Sun hopes, that guru is Rajasherkar Reddy, an India native who had been working in sales for Sun's distributor in the United Arab Emirates. Reddy, who approached Sun about the idea of returning home to work, plans on opening a sales office in Bangalore by the end of September. Sun products will be shipped to India as Reddy develops new contacts and ultimately, executives' hope, contracts.

Arter says the company has been in India in some form for more than 10 years, yet consistent sales have been slow to non-existent. In countries such as England, Germany and France, Arter says, Sun saw more long-term success when it hired locals to run the business, as opposed to importing Americans. And in Korea, Sun bought a company run by locals when it wanted to get into that market.

Carlson and other Sun executives were talking about taking just that route for India when Reddy approached them about his own plans to move back home. "We'd been trying to figure out what to do," Arter tells Coffee Talk, "and this kind of just fell into our lap."

If the past 12 months are a reasonable barometer, the results will be pretty good. Sun, publicly traded on the NYSE under the ticker SNHY, has had a strong year. Income and sales, for example, were up 36% and 18%, respectively, for Sun's second quarter, the company reported in its Aug. 8 earnings statement. It had net income of $6 million or 36 cents a share in the second quarter of 2007, compared to $4.3 million or 26 cents a share in the second quarter last year. It had 2007 second quarter sales of $43.4 million.

+ Lee County: Another

day, another tax

Not a week goes by in Lee County that county government doesn't dream up another tax on builders. This comes even as some have labeled Lee as the worst housing market in Florida, including Orlando economist Hank Fishkind.

Lee County commissioners are exploring raising the fees builders have to pay for permission to build more homes than is currently allowable. They're considering tripling the fee to $40,000 per home, says Michael Reitmann, executive vice president of the Lee Building Industry Association.

In theory, the extra money raised would end up in the county's affordable-housing program. But in reality, it's hard to imagine any builder in today's depressed market paying that amount.

"If it passes, no one will use it," Reitmann says. "They're totally out of sync."

Memo to Lee County's commissioners: It's not 2005 anymore.

+ Cold storage creates trifecta for Sarasota warehouse

The latest tenant for the Meridian Distribution Center, a 950,000-square-foot warehouse facility on Clark Road in south Sarasota, is especially apropos, given the sweltering Gulf Coast summer: Rilon Management, a Cocoa-based freezer and cold storage firm, has agreed to lease 80,000 square feet in the facility, a former Winn-Dixie warehouse.

Some parts of the Rilon section will be as low as 19 degrees below zero, says Steve Kossoff, a Tampa-based commercial real estate broker who runs Meridian Development Group. Rilon, which has customers in Florida and Georgia, also intends to run a logistics and refrigerated transportation division from the center.

Rilon is the third company to sign a lease for space in the mammoth building, marking the last leg of a triple success story in the property for Kossoff. As previously reported in Coffee Talk, doubts and snickers initially followed Kossoff after he bought the building and 60 surrounding acres on Palmer Ranch in Sarasota County in 2006 for $30 million.

The building had been deserted since 2004 when Kossoff bought it, for starters. And he would go on to spend $400,000 on consulting and legal fees, as well as wait out more than a year of governmental permitting.

In May, Bradenton-based retailer Beall's became the first company to sign a lease in the building, taking 200,000 square feet. That deal was followed by Dayville, Ct.-based organic grocery distribution firm United Natural Foods, which signed a deal last month to lease 400,000 square feet of space for an organic food distribution center.

Kossoff is looking better every day, at least better than the snickering critics.

+ Another public

company going private

First, there was Outback Steakhouse. Now, St. Petersburg-based Catalina Marketing is headed to the private companies club.

Catalina shareholders Aug. 13 approved a private buyout for $32.50 a share in cash. The company said shareholders voted 69% of its outstanding shares in favor of the merger with investment group Hellman & Friedman of San Francisco.

The $1.7 billion buyout is expected to close this fall. Coffee Talk is betting Catalina will remain in St. Petersburg because of its established business base.

+ Nightline dumbs

down Ave Maria

Ave Maria, the new town being built in eastern Collier County around the newest Catholic university, has been getting lots of national publicity lately opening to new residents, students and faculty.

The latest media outlet asking really dumb questions: ABC's Nightline.

Nightline asked Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, the man funding the new university, what he thought about critics who called Ave Maria the "Disney World for Catholics."

Monaghan's response was spot-on: "I think it's nonsense."

The next stupid question went to Blake Gable at development firm Barron Collier. Can a gay couple buy a house at Ave Maria? Nightline asked.

Gable's response: No problem. "It's America in 2007."

Coffee Talk says Monaghan and Gable deserve a pat on the back for enduring these kinds of questions. Meanwhile, some journalists may need to go back to school.

+ Good guys

sometimes lose

Ethical companies don't always win, even when their employees do the right thing. Homebanc Mortgage Corp., an Atlanta-based mortgage lender with operations in Southwest Florida, was the first recipient of an ethics award in 2006 from the Uncommon Friends Foundation, a Fort Myers-based organization that promotes ethical and moral values with corporate leaders.

But Homebanc filed for bankruptcy protection on Aug. 10, a victim of the mortgage-loan crisis. The company was lauded for its ethical behavior in an industry where ethical lapses have occurred frequently.

In the current crisis, Homebanc's fine reputation wasn't enough to save it.

+ Call the sign shop, again

MacDill Federal Credit Union, an institution of sorts in the Tampa area financial services industry, is changing its name to Grow Financial Federal Credit Union.

Pardon? Yes, that's the new name because its growth has expanded its membership beyond just military customers. Grow Financial has $1.9 billion in assets and serves employees of more than 1,100 companies.

Taking on a new name isn't brand new among credit unions. Achieva Credit Union used to be known as Pinellas County Teachers Credit Union three years ago.

The trend is logical, but is there value in an original name that goes beyond a definition - a name that has local value?

+ Kottkamp bashes

Hometown Democracy

Gov. Charlie Crist has been notably absent from the raging debate over the Hometown Democracy movement that seeks to put every major land-use change in Florida on the ballot.

But Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp called the movement an "inefficient way to move forward." Elected officials are in the best position to make land-use decisions, he says.

Kottkamp noted that he hasn't discussed the issue with Crist, who has disappointed some Republicans with his populist tactics and insurance-industry bashing.

+ Health Management Associates deepens bench

Health Management Associates, the hospital company that has been grappling with an increase in uninsured patients, has deepened its management ranks in Naples.

Burke Whitman, the company's newly promoted president and CEO, told the Review in July that he planned to add more top-level managers at its headquarters. This is somewhat of a departure from a company that has traditionally been very decentralized and allowed each hospital to operate independently.

Whitman recently appointed Lisa Gore as senior vice president of clinical affairs and Douglas Browning as vice president of operations finance and division chief financial officer. Both Gore and Browning come from Triad Hospitals, an HMA competitor where Whitman was formerly chief financial officer.

+ Getting green to

get state business

Starting Jan. 1, Gov. Charlie Crist is requiring Florida hotels and resorts interested in hosting state employee meetings and conferences be enrolled in the state's green lodging program.

That means the hotels will have to cut water and electricity use and generate less waste. So far, only 30 Florida hotels qualify, including the Sirata Beach Resort and the TradeWinds Island Resorts in St. Pete Beach and Sutherland Crossing Resort in Crystal Beach, which is north Pinellas County.

Coffee Talk wonders if there might be bigger picture thinking on the environment.

Home sales agent singing

satisfying songs from 2004

Coffee Talk is well aware that the news items here and there of strong residential real estate sales isn't a true signal the market slump is on the mend. It will take more than that to end a slide this deep.

Still, it's reassuring to see someone, somewhere is actually selling homes.

Like Karen McKenna Hessler, a sales associate with Lakewood Ranch-based Neal Communities. As of Aug. 15, Hessler had sold 23 new homes, all in communities within the Lakewood Ranch Country Club. The total sales volume for the homes was just over $10.8 million and the average sale price for the homes was $540,000.

Hessler sold 15 homes all of 2006 and was in the mid 20s in 2005. In 2004, she sold 39 homes.

Neal Communities president Pat Neal and others in the company credit Hessler's constantly bright and cheery attitude, combined with her attention to detail, as a catalyst for her strong sales showing. For example, her regular follow-ups with a potential buyer from Dubai led to one of four recent sales to a foreign buyer. The others were from Canada, Denmark and England.

Hessler has also developed good relationships with local Realtors over 15 years of selling new homes in the area, including the last six with Neal Communities. Those relationships led to another 11 sales this year.

But the market doldrums have actually served as an asset for Hessler, too. In response to slow sales of the past 18 months, Neal Communities has lowered prices company-wide for many homes and the company also instituted a delayed closing option, where home buyers can lock in a price for a year before officially closing on the home.

Those changes, Hessler tells Coffee Talk, have had the biggest impact on her sales.

Clarification

An article about Fort Myers-based Vision Homes USA in last week's edition of the Review failed to include the words "USA" when referring to the company's name. As it turns out, seven other active corporations in Florida use Vision Homes in their names, including Sarasota-based Vision Homes of SW, FL Inc.; Fort Myers-based Vision Homes LLC; Lutz-based Vision Homes of Hillsborough Inc.; and Vision Homes of Sarasota LLC, according to the Florida Division of Corporations. We regret any confusion.

Related Stories

Advertisement