Local retailers say 2011 will be ‘great year’

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Some retailers based in or with a large presence in Manatee County have expansion plans for 2011, saying they believe recent sales gains portend more business in the new year.

Those plans include opening new stores, renovating existing sites and expanding marketing and franchising efforts, officials from Bealls, Dollar General and Shapes Total Fitness told more than 150 people at a commercial real estate forum sponsored by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

“I think 2011 will be a great year,” Shapes President Vince Julien said, echoing others on the panel.

Fueling their enthusiasm: Higher retail sales, with November’s tally up 5.8 percent from the previous year, the council said. It expects holiday retail sales to gain 3 percent to 4 percent over 2009 levels.

While the retail climate is improving, Bradenton-based Bealls still plans to grow modestly, said Jim Simpson, vice president. That means adding one or two new locations a year and “refreshing the interiors of our stores,” he said.

But Simpson said the company has bigger plans for its outlets, which operate under the Bealls and Burkes names.

Plans call for opening 16 outlets in February and March, with another 35 expected to open in the fall. Those new stores will be in the 20,000- to 30,000-square-foot range, three times larger than the typical existing stores.

Another 15 outlet stores will be renovated next summer as well, Simpson said.

“I judge years by how much fun I’m having,” he said. “I’m having fun.”

At Shapes, consumer demand for personal training services is outpacing growth in memberships -- partly because the former costs less than the latter, Julien said.

“People are willing to spend less and get less right now,” he said.

The health club also is looking to expand beyond its 13 locations in four Tampa Bay-area counties by franchising on a national basis, Julien said.

Dollar General Corp. plans to add nearly three dozen namesake stores next year in its South Florida region, which includes Manatee, said Kevin Gromosaik, its real estate manager. The discounter also has seen sales increase, especially from more-affluent shoppers, he said.

Residential sales also are improving in Lakewood Ranch, with 2010 year-to-date sales already 55 percent higher than all of 2009 said Brian Kennelly, president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial Realty.

Homebuyers are opting for smaller homes in a bow to the Great Recession, but “still want the amenities” such as granite countertops, he said.

“We believe we’ll have a modest increase in 2011,” Kennelly said. “Of course, we’re a conservative company by nature.”

But Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch plans to venture into some new territory next year by targeting the Baby Boomer market, he said.