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Top companies.

Condoms, cut flowers, computer software, orange juice, insurance, speedboats, open-heart surgery, Gulf-front condominiums, flight recorders, highways, trailers, lounge chairs, ultrasonic sensors, burgers, beer, windows, newspapers and glass refrigerator doors -- that's just a sampling of what you can buy from the biggest private companies in Sarasota and Manatee. Some have been here for generations; execs of others are still gaping at the palm trees and asking for haddock instead of mullet in the local fish markets. Some serve customers only in Southwest Florida, while others fill orders from as far away as Australia or Japan. They range from traditional manufacturers to suppliers of sophisticated high-tech services, and they hire people from unskilled workers to physics whizzes. But they all have one thing in common: in this year of economic blahs and electioneering bombast, they managed to ring up sales of at least $10 million -- and most rang up much, much more.

Last year the number of companies on our listing plunged from 95 to 58. The recession pushed many of those off the list (and several into bankruptcy), but we're happy to report that things seem to have stabilized in 1992. In all, 63 companies made the list this year, and the word from their CEOs seems to be that 1992 was the year when the recession stopped being a novelty and became a reality they learned to handle.

Some industries found it easier than others. Construction seemed to be the hardest hit; the executives we talked to described it in terms from "depressed" to "devastated." They pointed the finger at causes from private lending freezes, shrinking public budgets and past over-building to what Steve LeCroy of Forest Products eloquently decried as, "the media and mindset of the consumer." Still, several noted that Hurricane Andrew was blowing new life into their business, and that pent-up demand for expansion could fuel a powerful 1993.

Real estate development varied. Developers dependent on mature buyers said they'd been socked by slow home sales up North; others, such as Chris Coviello of The Plantation Golf & Country Club, reported that the drop in interest rates was squeezing retirees' incomes and slowing sales. Out on Longboat, however, Steve Parker said Arvida's sales never slackened at all, in part because of an infusion of foreign buyers; and he happily predicted that "1993 will be a banner year."

Most of our companies in health care reported stable or even increased sales, but they pointed out that they're not immune from the economic ills of their customers. Accordingly, insurance-service providers such as FEISCO and RISCORP noted drops in premiums from some companies; and spokesmen for Doctors Hospital and HCA Blake agreed that consumers are scheduling less elective surgery and cutting back visits to physicians.

In the general malaise, most equipment manufacturers seemed satisfied just to hold their own; producers and purveyors of consumer goods varied. Marty O'Brien of C&D Fruits and Vegetables said health-conscious consumers gobbled up more fresh produce than ever; but they bought fewer cut flowers and plants for their businesses, said Walter Preston of Manatee Fruit Co. They were also cautious about buying new appliances, reported Vernon DeSears -- or new clothes, said Steve Knopick of Bealls.

Those were the overall trends, but they were certainly not the last word on an individual company's bottom line. Companies that creatively reacted to those trends were able to stay healthy even in a sickly climate. In talking to the leaders of those companies, we noticed that whatever their industry, the same winning strategies stood out.

In the face of shrinking demand, these companies sought out new markets. Dooley & Mack, for example, pursued more retail renovations when new construction slowed down; they also went where the business was, opening offices in areas such as El Paso and Miami. At Kanes Furniture, Ed Kalin reported tapping some brand-new niche markets successfully. When Murf Klauber saw that many regulars at the Colony were cutting back their visits from four a year to two or less, he went after Europeans. Drawn by the cheap dollar, they jolted sales up by 27 percent in six months.

A number of other companies reported strong foreign markets, and executives seemed positively jubilant over free-trade agreements. Robert Winsler of Commercial Refrigerator Door, who looks for a rise in Pacific Rim and Mexican business, says, "Businesses on both sides of the border are already behaving as if it's all ratified."

Many companies also made sure they had more to offer their customers, from value-added tie-ins to brand-new products. The folks out at the Sarasota Kennel Club, for example, coping with brutal competition from the lottery, beefed up their live dog races by broadcasting horse races that customers could bet on, too.

Another key strategy was helping customers cut costs. Electro Corp. spent money -- upgrading its facilities and equipment -- to save on production costs. Kellogg & Kimsey kept streamlining communication between builder and architect to save money, increase quality and speed up construction; and Eastland Investments (formerly Gulfland Homes) worked closely with contractors to save costs per square foot.

Fewer, harder-working employees helped keep those costs down, too. As layoffs and closing made headlines everywhere, most firms found employees eager to keep their jobs and anxious to boost the company's bottom line.

A few words about how our list is compiled. We interview privately owned businesses that are headquartered here or are self-contained divisions of larger companies; branch offices of companies headquartered elsewhere are not included. (We also exclude banks, real estate brokerages, auto dealerships and other businesses whose sales figures are difficult to compare with most other companies.)

Companies are asked to report their gross annual revenues for the most recent year, then ranked according to those sales. We know there are other measures of a company's size -- and better measures of its quality -- but gross revenues seem to provide the single best indicator for our listing. We usually accept reported figures as accurate; if they differ considerably from the assessments of industry experts and financiers, we may choose to omit a company altogether. When companies prefer not to report their sales, we estimate, using a variety of sources. All estimated figures are marked as such. Previous year's revenues are noted in parentheses.

Every year, we work closely with economic development experts, bankers and various financial sources to identify companies that might qualify for our list. We're committed to producing the most accurate and comprehensive listing possible, and we're proud that so many readers and businesses tell us they've come to rely on our ranking as a year-round source. However, we realize that we may have overlooked some qualified companies, and we welcome your suggestions of names to consider for next year's ranking.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Clubhouse Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:tabular data only; Sarasota and Manatee County Florida
Author:Daniel, Pam; Williams, Binnie
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Article Type:Directory
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:1114
Previous Article:The Quay.
Next Article:Success in Sarasota: why Sarasota keeps making economic development headlines.
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