IT'S YOUR BUSINESS: Business news releases Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009

Four Southwest Florida travel agents named ‘top’

Travel + Leisure unveiled its eighth annual A-List of 129 Top Travel Agents in the October issue, and four local agents were recognized.

The Betty Maclean Travel 2009 A-List travel consultants are Mary Ann Ramsey, eighth year in a row on the A-List (since inception); Betsy Patton, seventh year in a row on the A-List; Claudia Gordon, first year on the A-List; and Lois Moran, fifth year in a row on the A-List.

This list organizes the 129 agents by area of specialization and includes their years of experience, other specialties, consulting fees, and contact information.

- Contributed by Betty Maclean Travel Inc.

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Small business owners recognized

Five small-business owners who have succeeded in the face of adversity will be honored at a luncheon Thursday, Nov. 5. One nominee will win the 15th annual Southwest Florida Blue Chip Community Business Award.

The program, coordinated and sponsored by Oswald Trippe and Company, recognizes successful small businesses and shares their stories so that other entrepreneurs may benefit from their experiences.

The awards luncheon, set for 11:30 a.m., will take place at Harborside Event Center, 1375 Monroe St., Fort Myers. For information, contact Stacey Mercado at 239-985-7614 or smercado@otc1.com.

“We were thrilled to have a record number of 18 nominations this year,” says OTC’s Scott Gregory, CIC, CRM, and Blue Chip organizer. “The judges had a difficult task selecting the five finalists.”

This year’s distinguished finalists are:

David Herman and Todd Strackbein of Herman ▪ Strackbein Construction Inc. The partners worked together at Kraft Construction Co. before forming their own firm in Naples in 2006. Starting with a clean slate, they soon landed several promising contracts. As some projects entered the preconstruction phase, the real estate market crashed, prompting several key clients to leave the area, taking their projects with them. While several other construction firms closed as a result, HSC weathered the crisis with a frugal hands-on approach and a determination to exceed their customers’ expectations. The company formed strategic partnerships with other firms to pursue select projects and completed projects other contractors were unable to finish. They also secured contracts, such as the $11 million Snook Bight Yacht Club & Marina and the $3 million Keg Steakhouse & Bar. The partners spent a lot of time on job sites. They employed innovative techniques to speed the construction process and incorporated environmentally sound construction principles wherever possible. The company’s entrepreneurial spirit and emphasis on customer service has resulted in success despite the region’s economic difficulties.

Steve Eagan of In Bloom Flowers. Eagan purchased the shop in 2003. Based in the busy Daniels Crossing Shopping Center in Fort Myers, In Bloom offers fresh floral arrangements and permanent botanicals as well as coffee, candy and candy bouquets. As the economy worsened, business slowed and the owner struggled to keep the doors open and his 10 employees on the job. When the lease expired in late 2008, Eagan and the property owners couldn’t come to terms on a new lease so the store had to move. In light of the economy and the preponderance of florists around the region, he decided to downsize to a warehouse concept which would allow for a larger, less expensive space on Metro Parkway. He would then open small boutique retail locations. With a staff of accredited master designers, In Bloom distinguished itself by creating out-of-the-ordinary arrangements. Last summer, the company hired a marketing director and began an expansion plan, connecting with customers through social networking and community involvement. The efforts paid off. In Bloom gained the attention of the management of the International Design Center in Estero which needed a supplier of stylish fresh floral designs. In Bloom established an onsite showcase, catering to the interior design trade and general public.

Owner J. Robert (Bob) Long and President Matt Chambers of JRL Ventures Inc./Marine Concepts. The Cape Coral business, which specializes in design and tooling services primarily for the marine industry, thrived for more than three decades. When the economic recession sunk the marine industry, Long and Chambers acted quickly, identifying other types of businesses that could use its services, such as theme parks and aerospace companies. Then they launched full-scale marketing campaigns, attended trade shows, hired someone to make personal calls and brought prospective clients to Southwest Florida to tour their facility and enjoy the Florida lifestyle. The company also slashed operating expenses, paring down to 25 employees from 135 and cutting pay for everyone who remained. As new clients signed on, they educated employees about each industry and how to create the products they required. Meanwhile, company engineers designed two new products with commercial potential. Today, Marine Concepts is recovering and achieving record sales week after week. With 67 employees, the management plans to hire another 135 as the marine industry recovers, while continuing to serve new clients, making the firm bigger and more diverse than before.

John Trotter, vice president, of Mermaid Manufacturing of SW FL Inc. This small manufacturing firm employed 20 people, building marine air conditioning units. One large-scale customer helped the company grow from $900,000 to close to $3.2 million in revenue over two years. It also expanded from 2,000 square feet to 8,000 square feet. When Mermaid’s largest customer went back to its original supplier, the manufacturer had to act quickly to make up for the $250,000 annual loss. After downsizing the work force, the management doubled its marketing efforts, attending trade shows, advertising and using the Internet. In 2004, Mermaid Manufacturing found a new product – a climate-controlled drug cabinet used in ambulances, fire trucks and military vehicles. After partnering with the company that made the product, Mermaid eventually took over the manufacturing, obtained a patent, added five designs and quadrupled sales. As a result, the company again employs 20 people and the company’s future looks bright.

Diane Caputo of Old Monty’s Restaurant & Pizzeria. Caputo and her husband ran the restaurant in Punta Gorda for eight years before splitting up in 1991. Diane Caputo left, but when the business began to founder, she bought out her ex-husband’s share and returned to run Monty’s while also raising her two children. She gradually won back customers and revived the restaurant. In 2004, Hurricane Charley destroyed the building. When she found she also needed neck surgery, she decided it was time to leave the business. She relocated Monty’s and arranged to sell it to her general manager over time. In April 2007, he told her he was planning to close. Once again, she took control, improving customer service, food quality and the atmosphere. With the help of counselors from SCORE, she managed to get her inherited debts under control. She then launched an aggressive marketing campaign that included e-newsletters, discounts for preferred customers, local advertising and community service. Once again, she restored the business. Caputo’s eliminated her debts, has money in the bank and plans to rebuild on the site of the original restaurant.

Todd Huston, an amputee, mountain climber and world record-holding disabled athlete, will appear as this year’s keynote speaker for the award’s program.

The Southwest Florida Blue Chip Community Business Award is endorsed by the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte County Economic Development Office, Christian Chamber of Southwest Florida, City of Cape Coral Economic Development Office, Economic Development Council of Collier County, Edison State College, Englewood-Cape Haze Area Chamber of Commerce, Florida Gulf Coast University, Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, Gulfshore Business, Hodges University, Lee County Economic Development Office/Horizon Council, Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce, Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce, Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, Southwest Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, The Chamber of Southwest Florida, The Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.

- Contributed by Oswald Trippe and Co.

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Foreclosure task force is Nov. 9

The Collier County Foreclosure Task Force is conducting a free foreclosure workshop from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, at Gulf Coast High School, 7878 Shark Way.

The workshop will be lead by a wide range of experts on foreclosure-related topics. The auditorium and cafeteria will be configured “convention style” with experts located at stations divided by topics. Attendees will be encouraged to visit the topic stations of interest to them and their situation, where they will be able to speak directly to members of the expert panel.

The FTF will conduct break-out sessions in the cafeteria for specific topics. The topic stations will include experts from more than 20 local public and non-profit agencies addressing the following:

To learn more, contact Jeffrey Ahren, Pro Bono Coordinator and Development Officer with Legal Aid Service of Collier County, at 298-8130 or via e-mail at jahren@legalaid.org.

- Contributed by Collier County Foreclosure Task Force

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After all, it’s your business.

So we have added this feature to naplesnews.com called It’s Your Business.

Have news about your business to share with Southwest Florida? Send it to business@naplesnews.com and to our Business and Government Content Editor Dave Osborn at djosborn@naplesnews.com. We’ll post these on the Business page at naplesnews.com every day and will publish these as space allows in the daily Business section and Business Monday in the Naples Daily News. Start watching online daily for these postings!

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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