BRADENTON — To survive these tough economic times, some small businesses in Manatee County are getting smarter and more creative to save on rent.
Several local business owners are cutting costs on retail or office space by relocating, shifting to an at-home business or using virtual workplace services.
These alternatives come with some challenges, but business owners say it’s a fine tradeoff for the sake of keeping their company going.
“No one has money, so obviously we cannot raise our customers’ prices,” said Nick Bucciarelli, co-owner of Pup In A Tub. “So we had to trim the fat elsewhere. That meant a smaller space, less rent.”
Bucciarelli and his brother Rick Vitale moved their dog-grooming business about three weeks ago out of the Palma Sola Shopping Center on Cortez Road to save on rent.
The move took Pup In A Tub from a 1,700-square-foot location at 7338 Cortez Road that cost about $3,000 a month to 800 square feet at 8108 Cortez Road at $750 a month.
“It was a big savings,” Vitale said. “It was a reasonable way to stay within the budget so at least you have the chance to be successful.
“Before we were losing money,” he added. “When the economy started its downturn last year, we went from profit into loss. It put us in the hole to the tune of $150,000.”
The Monogram Market, formerly at 1935 Manatee Ave. W., is another business that has had to make a location adjustment because of the decline in consumer spending.
“After evaluating the final quarter of the year, sales just weren’t what they were,” said owner Lindsey Brugos. “So I took what I did make over the holidays to move the business home.”
Brugos declined to disclose specifics regarding sales or the company’s rental costs. But she noted that The Monogram Market largely depends on October-December sales, the three main months for business.
“I think people just did the bare minimum for Christmas versus buying everybody gifts,” she said.
“A lot of families decided they weren’t exchanging gifts.”
The Monogram Market held an inventory clearance sale and closed the store Jan. 31 so Brugos could set up office in her garage.
She moved her embroidering machine and equipment to her home, and set up her Internet and phone access for her business as well.
The Monogram Market sent postcards and e-mails to customers to notify them of the move, and that the business will continue to take orders via phone and Internet but had to eliminate inventory sales.
“So far the transition has been pretty good,” Brugos said. “The business is running as usual.”
Another embroidery business owner in Bradenton, Toni Garrett, is sharing retail space with her husband’s business in order to save money.
Garrett Embroidery & Ink was paying about $1,800 a month, and facing a $200 per month increase when her lease renewal was up Oct. 1.
“It just wasn’t cost-effective,” Garrett said. “I probably would have gone under, absolutely, just based on the economy and the fact that sales have gone down.”
When Garrett’s husband, Scott, opened Fresh Market Produce at 704 Manatee Ave. E. in October, Toni moved her company in as well in an 800-square-foot office located in the former Tire Kingdom building.
“There were some spacial issue in trying to store equipment,” Garrett said.
“But it’s more cost-effective, and it’s actually helped both of us. Customers come in and shop both our businesses.”
Bernie Croghan, president of ComCenters, has seen the number of businesses wanting to cut office overhead costs increase due to the economy.
“The cost of an office is a heavy burden, so a number of our existing clients have chosen not to renew their office agreement but are retaining us for virtual services,” Croghan said. “This is their way to hang in there during the tough times.”
The ComCenters firm offers virtual workplace options at its three locations in Manatee County.
The services allow businesses to set up a phone network and messaging network with ComCenters, to schedule reservations for office and meeting space and to reserve use of audio, Web and video conferencing as needed.
A complete ComCenter virtual workplace service starts at $2,980 a month and can cost up to $3,930 a month, compared to conventional office costs of $6,398 to $7,808 a month, the company said.
The complete virtual workplace option includes a workplace suitable for two executive offices and five to seven work stations, utilities, janitorial services, telephone, Internet and messaging and common area maintenance.
Croghan estimates the ComCenters have gained 100 new clients over the past 12 months for virtual workplace services.
“Office overhead is expensive and it does not necessarily generate revenue,” Croghan said.
Amiee Corigliano, principal and marketing director for Milks & Milks, says the brokerage firm sees a 50 to 60 percent savings by using the virtual workplace services.
“Even if we weren’t facing this economy, it makes sense anyway,” Corigliano said. “We have professional staff that knows what they’re doing, and you can provide a value to your clients that might not necessarily be there if you were in one location. That’s huge not only in this marketplace, but it just makes sense monetarily to take advantage of the situation.”