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Business Outlook 2006

Coping with growth

By Times Staff Writer
Published February 19, 2006

Hernando County is going through an unprecedented period of growth. How has this growth affected your business and how are you dealing with it? What business plans do you have for 2006?

LP's Lawn Service, Spring Hill

Dominick Palmer started his lawn business a year ago, basically because of the boom in residential growth. Work has been stable, but he feels the business is too new to feel the effects of the county's growth. "I'm still in the growing process," he said.

However, Palmer has noticed a growing demand for yard cleanup. "That seems to be more desirable than the lawn care," he admits.

Palmer works alone, offering services such as mowing lawns, yard cleanup and pressure washing. This year, however, he will be taking several landscaping courses and hopes to get a landscaping license. Once he obtains the license, he will offer services such as installing river rock and mulch beds, planting, bush removal, curbing and design. He then plans to hire additional help.

"Because I've only been doing this a year, the growth really hasn't affected my business either way," Palmer said. "But once I get into the landscaping aspect, I really expect things to pick up tremendously."

Russo's Hardware, Garden Grove

Chuck Russo, owner of Russo's Hardware, is experiencing some "growing pains." A result of Hernando County's rapid growth,U.S. 41 is being widened south of Brooksville, which started earlier last year.

"It's killing us," Russo said. "Before the widening began, business was fair. But now it's terrible. We're socked in with all those orange barrels."

Russo first opened his business across from the Hernando County Airport in 1950 as the Hernando Trading Post and changed the name to Chuck Russo Hardware in 1951. Though the current construction has proved to be a hardship on the business, Russo is confident the setback is temporary. Once the roadway is complete, he is certain business will improve.

In the meantime, Russo has found a way to fight back.

Along with being a business owner, Russo is an artist who creates caricature statues of celebrities and political figures. To attract customers who no longer can see his business, Russo has put out flags with messages, or a large finger pointing toward the store, or even one of his statues. Most recently, his figure of Saddam Hussein's head has been spotted sitting atop one of the orange construction barrels in front of his store.

Sherman Hills Golf Club, Brooksville

"Sure the county is growing, but these new residents must be fishermen," said Kent Curley, owner of Sherman Hills Golf Club, east of Interstate 75.

Curley, who built and opened the golf course east of Brooksville in January 1993, said his business has been steady, but that he has seen a decline in the number of tourists visiting the course. However, that could be the residual effects of the hurricanes of the past two years. "I've heard that from different sources," he said.

Curley said his business has remained good mainly because of a loyal customer base, which he credits to course superintendent Gary Spaulding and golf pro Reggie Ridlon.

During the past year, the golf course has been given a bit of a facelift. There were some problems with greens earlier last year that have been corrected; facilities have been improved, and renovations of bunkers have been completed. Also, in January, a new GPS system was installed on all the golf carts.

"The GPS system helps golfers identify how far they are from certain areas," Curley said. "It helps speed up play."

Plans are also in the works to rebuild some of the greens and the driving range tee.

Overall, the course "looks the best it has in a long time," he said.

Creative Environmental Solutions, Brooksville

"The entire Southeast is booming," said Creative Environmental Solutions owner George Foster. "so this continuing growth (in the county) just increases our backlog."

CES is a consulting firm offering services such as mineral exploration, wetland mitigation, environmental permitting and contamination assessments.

The majority of its work is for developers and mining companies throughout the Southeastern United States. "As their business increases, ours naturally grows as well," Foster said.

Foster started the company in 1994 with two other partners. The business now has two partners and 30 employees. Foster anticipates adding another three or four professionals this year.

Divine Design Floral, Brooksville

Divine Design is a new business that opened last summer in anticipation that the continuing growth in Hernando County would be a key to success.

"It is going well so far," said co-owner Lisa Peeler. "We've already done quite a few weddings and receptions."

The boutique offers fresh and silk floral arrangements for all occasions and events in Brooksville and Spring Hill, including receptions, parties, weddings and funerals. It also offers plants, dried flower arrangements, European dish gardens, customized gift baskets and wedding rentals, such as candelabras.

Divine Design is a three-woman operation that includes Peeler, co-owner Jennifer Looper and floral designer Kim Yoder, who has more than 20 years of experience. They have a fully operational Web site at Plans for this year include participating in the Atlanta Mart this summer, a trade show in Atlanta.

"There we will be able to share and get new ideas," Peeler said. "We like to think of ourselves as three designing women taking it up a notch."

Turfinator Inc. Lawn and Pest Management, Spring Hill

With the growth Hernando County is experiencing, Turfinator owner Marty McMahon says business can't help but grow.

"If you can't grow now, you might as well give up," said McMahon.

The only thing McMahon says business owners should be careful of is not to grow too fast. When that happens, sometimes the quality of work suffers.

"I just try to keep up with the quality. The rest will take care of itself," he said.

McMahon has owned his Spring Hill business for five years. The only setback he has seen is that in the past two years or so there has been a big increase in problems with chinch bugs. This year, he plans to use new chemicals to battle the pests.

"It's been tough since homeowners have been restricted on what chemicals they can buy," McMahon said. "But chemicals are slowly improving." He plans to use new products recently introduced by the industry to rid lawns of pests.

McMahon also expects business to "explode" in the next few months - more because of the spring and summer season than the growth. He currently has three employees, but may considering adding on this year.

Exit Success Realty Inc., Spring Hill

Home sales in Hernando County grew tremendously about three years ago for Exit Success Realty. With that growth came "price increases at a level that I have never seen before, and I have been in the real estate business since 1976," said owner/broker Dan Richard.

What came next was an instant seller's market, he said. Home prices doubled. Lots that were once $8,000 were selling for $60,000. Investors bought homes and lots only to turn around and sell at much higher prices.

"We as a company realized this was an opportunity for phenomenal growth," Richard said. In the past three years, Exit has grown from one office with 20 agents to four offices with more than 175 agents.

In November, Richard and his agents have seen a definite slowdown and a halt to the increasing prices. Richard said forecasts say 2006 is going to be a very good year, but a little slower than the last several. "My January sales prove this to be true," he said. "I believe this is a good thing, as we have already made it difficult for some people to be able to afford a home."

However, business remains steady, and Exit Realty plans to open a fifth office in Brooksville this year, then a sixth office in Weeki Wachee.

[Last modified February 19, 2006, 01:08:19]

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