Building staff morale

In order for your staff to be motivated, they need to have a relationship with their leader. It is easy to forget just how important this detail is, but your staff needs to see you occasionally if they are going to feel good about working at your company.

Capelouto Pest Control is one of the best managed firms in Tallahassee, and I have written many columns about their excellent approach to business. About three weeks ago, I had breakfast with the firm’s co-owner, Grant Capelouto, and his brother, Raymond. While we were eating and discussing the business, Grant mentioned Honeybun Monday. I did a double take because I had no clue what he was talking about.

After explaining that on Honeybun Monday the owners serve honeybuns, juice and energy bars to all the service technicians as they are leaving to start their rounds, Grant asked me if I would like to come see how it worked. I jumped at the opportunity even though I had to be there at 7 a.m. We agreed that the next Monday I would come and experience Honeybun Monday.

When I arrived at Capelouto Pest Control the next Monday morning, both Grant and Raymond were out setting up the food table. As the technicians left the yard in their trucks, either Grant or Raymond walked up to each vehicle and asked the driver what they would like. As they walked back to the table, they engaged each technician in small talk about their family or some other non-business topic.

It was clear to see how much the technicians enjoyed being served by the owners of the business. They all left with a giant smile on their faces.

It takes Grant and Raymond Capelouto less than 20 minutes to commit to Honeybun Monday every week, and it costs less than $25 to implement. The benefits they receive in terms of morale and motivation far outweigh these costs.

When I was doing a lot of traveling for work, I made it a point to call and speak with each of my direct reports at least once a week. I just knew they needed to hear from me.

It is vital that entrepreneurs and managers get out of their offices and interact with their staff on a regular basis. Being too busy is not a valid excuse. Taking a few minutes to talk and joke with your staff is important because it reinforces why they are working for you.

Now go out and make sure you have a plan in place to stay connected with your staff.

You can do this!

Dr. Osteryoung is the director of outreach for the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at The Florida State University. He can be reached by e-mail at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

Food stamp eligibility in Florida

As of November, 43.6 million Americans, or more than 14 percent of the population, collected food stamps to purchase groceries as tough economic times continued. The number of recipients was up 0.9 percent from October, according to a recent report of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Compared to a year ago, the number of people receiving food stamps was up 14.2 percent.

Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the government’s anti-hunger initiative helping Americans maintain a nutritionally adequate diet. More than 75 percent of food stamp participants are in families with children, while nearly one-third are elderly or have disabilities.

The federal government pays the full cost of food stamp benefits and splits the cost of administering the program with the states, which independently operate SNAP. For the most part, food stamp eligibility rules and benefit levels are uniform across the nation.

Coming in at number three behind Texas and California, 2,994,413 people or 15.9 percent of Floridians are benefiting from food stamps, an increase of 3 percent over the prior year.

Most households received $20 to $24 per person per month. Signed into law in February 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act temporarily boosted food stamp benefits by 13.6 percent.

Following unemployment insurance, SNAP is the most responsive federal program providing assistance during economic downturns. Since the start of the recession, food stamp participation has increased by 12.2 million people – a jump of nearly 44 percent. Because of benefit increases that were part of the 2009 economic recovery legislation, SNAP delivered $4.3 billion in additional economic stimulus relief during fiscal year 2009.

Who Is eligible for the SNAP program?

Unlike most benefit programs that are restricted to particular categories of people, SNAP is available to almost all households with low incomes. To qualify for food stamps, a household must meet three criteria:

•Its total monthly income must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line, or roughly $1,980 (about $23,800 a year) for a three-person family in fiscal year 2010.

•Its net income, or income after deductions are applied for items such as high housing costs and child care, must be less than or equal to the poverty line.

•Its assets must fall below certain limits: households without an elderly member must have assets less than $2,000 while those with an elderly or disabled member must have assets not exceeding $3,000.

Some people are not eligible for food stamps regardless of income or need. Noncitizens without a qualified status and those convicted of drug trafficking are not eligible for food stamp benefits. Individuals who have broken SNAP rules on purpose or who are wanted on felony charges are also ineligible.

What are the household benefits?

SNAP households receive their benefits on electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards, which can be used only to purchase food. The average household receives approximately $133 a month (or $4 a day) for each household member.

The SNAP formula targets benefits according to need. Very poor households receive more food stamps than households closer to the poverty line since they need more assistance in maintaining an adequate diet.

Benefits are based on the “Thrifty Food Plan,” a low-cost but nutritionally adequate diet established by USDA. The benefit formula assumes that families will spend 30 percent of their net income on food. A family with no income receives the maximum $526 benefit amount, which usually covers the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan. In another example, a family of three with $600 in net monthly income would receive the maximum benefit minus 30 percent of its net income for a total of $346.

How do people apply?

In Florida, the Department of Children and Families is responsible for eligibility determination and case management of food stamps, temporary cash assistance and Medicaid assistance through the SNAP program. Visit the ACCESS Florida Program at www.dcf.state.fl.us/programs/access, to determine eligibility.

Although a face-to-face interview may be required to document identity, eligibility, immigration status, household composition, income, resources, and deductable expenses, an initial online application can be processed at www.myflorida.com/accessflorida.

For those without Internet access, applications can be submitted at a Department of Children and Families ACCESS Florida Customer Service Center or any of its community partners.

Desh Bazaar gives new meaning to ‘country’ store

SPRING HILL –
The shop on the end cap of the Village Plaza appears to be a small storefront. Inside, customers discover a cross-continental bevy of grocery items from India to the Caribbean.

Desh Bazaar Indian Grocery specializes in spices and many other grocery items from India, Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica and other Caribbean countries.

Shop owner Sita “Janki” Ramrattan and her husband, Pundit Ramdeo “Ram” Ramrattan, said they add new items weekly to the store’s eclectic collection. “We’re a continental, multi-cultural store,” said Ram. “We also order anything a customer needs if we don’t have it.”

The Ramrattans purchased the former Sita West Indian Grocery with the goal of expanding its inventory and offering healthy international grocery items. They opened Desh Bazaar on September 17.

Ram said the bazaar is “like a country store.” It carries fresh produce; refrigerated or frozen meat, fish, and poultry; New Zealand Anchor cheese; chutneys, relishes, and garlic pastes; cooking oils; besan (gram flour); chakki fresh atta (stone ground flour); 25 types of curry powder; 10 varieties of rice including Zafarani basmati; chow mein noodles; canned Jamaican mackerel; dried fruits; canned coconut milk; Guyana cream soda and Jamaican ginger beer soda; snacks; and refrigerated items including garlic, Golden Ray butter, green plantains and Solo sodas.

They have crackers from Trinidad and Jamaica, Jamaican Tastee brand cheese spread, and Double Deuce and Grace canned callaloo.

Their “fire shelf” includes Jamaican hot ketchup, calypso sauce, pepper sauces and other hot spices.

Jamaican customer Vincent Lewis buys a lot of oxtail and said it’s often expensive and full of fat. He was delighted to learn Desh Bazaar has quality oxtail for $4.50 per pound.

“I don’t eat a lot of salt,” Lewis said. “I like natural foods. The kind of stuff you can buy here won’t give you cancer. There’s no chemicals or preservatives.”

Lewis thinks the new Desh Bazaar “has a whole lot more to offer, with better quality. It’s bright and clean, open on Saturdays, and the proprietors treat you with courtesy. I’ll be back next week to do my shopping for Christmas dinner.”

Janki gave him cookies for his daughters. “We like to give cookies to the children,” she said. “They are always welcome here.”

Customer Durga Reddy stops by frequently to purchase snacks, yogurt and produce. “I like this store very much. It is well maintained,” she said.

Ram said they keep produce prices as low as possible. Three pounds of onions is $1.69. Red onions are 89 cents per pound; Spanish yellow onions, 49 cents per pound. Japanese sweet potatoes are $1.29 per pound. Cauliflower is $1 a head; cabbage, 99 cents; jumbo tomatoes, 99 cents a pound; cucumbers, four for $1.

“We maintain a quick turnaround on our produce and are extremely picky about its quality,” added Ram. “Yucca goes fast, as many customers are aware of its health benefits.”

Bins of loose dal (beans) are sold by the pound. “My grandfather lived to be 104, and was never sick,” said Ram. “He ate dal every day.”

Cases of whole wheat and Tandoori stone-ground naan (flatbread) on the front counter are big sellers. “We sell easily three cases a week, so it’s always fresh,” Ram said.

“Curry” is a generic term for a mixture of different spices. Ram often advises customers on what types of curry goes best with different meat, fish, poultry or vegetables.

Janki and Ram keep a display on their sales counter describing health benefits of tumeric and curcumin, two common curry ingredients. It suggests benefits of eating curry may include reducing joint inflammation and helping protect against cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Individual cultures create their own spice mixtures to suit indigenous tastes. “Curry can be different colors depending on the weather conditions where it was grown, or how it’s mixed in the mill,” said Ram.

He explained the store carries different types of curry that are produced in the east, west, north and south of India.

New store items include a “hot and spicy” curry powder specially designed for cooking with duck or goat, and a stone-ground garam masala (blend of ground spices). “Using stone to prepare curry gives it a better taste than using a metal mill,” Ram stated.

Desh Bazaar inventories Patak’s curry (popular in the U.K.), Laxmi, Eastern and Lalah’s brands, madras curry, Chief and Guyanese Pride madras curries, and also inventories the higher-end Maywah brand.

They also carry whole and ground single spices for those who want to grind their own mixtures. A hard-to-find roasted, ground cumin seed or “jeera” sells for $2.29 for a 3 ounce package.

Other popular items include Jamaican Solomon Gundy smoked herring pate; canned Jamaican Ackee fruit; Tetley Masala tea; Tops brand Jamaican herbal teas; Nanak brand ghee (clarified butter); Walkerswood traditional Jamaican jerk seasoning; cassava sauce; Matouk’s tomato ketchup; and their “heat and eat” boxes of Paneer Makhani, Baingan Bharta and Aloo Chole.

Shelving behind the sales counter contains tonics, vitamins, oils and cosmetics like India fingernail polish in ornate bottles. Indian and Jamaican movies can be rented for $2/day or purchased for $4.99 each. They plan to add Indian bangle bracelets, skirts and tops.

The Ramrattans get great satisfaction from helping the less fortunate in their community. They donate goods and money to those in need, and believe the healthy foods they sell are a way to help others avoid disease and live healthier lives.

Ram’s eclectic knowledge of foods comes from his family and his travels – he loves to cook and learned everything he could from his mother, grandmother, and any other cooks who would teach him. He came to Spring Hill via New York, and before that, Trinidad where his parents had emigrated to.

The Ramrattans love Spring Hill. “My son is going to grow up here,” Ram said. “I want people to know who I am, and who my family is. We get to know our neighbors and customers. It’s rewarding to answer customer’s questions and to hear that our products make them feel good. We help people any way we can.”

To celebrate Christmas, Desh Bazaar will have a customer appreciation day this Thursday, December 23, with freshly prepared Indian dishes for customers to sample.

Desh Bazaar is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

BIZ AT A GLANCE

Name: Desh Bazaar Indian Grocery

Location: 10509 Spring Hill Drive (the Village Plaza), Spring Hill

Telephone: (352) 666-0101

Jody Bowes writes regularly for Hernando Today. She lives in Spring Hill and can be contacted at JBowesHernando@aol.com.

Grasshopper infestation gives local farmers anxiety

RIDGE MANOR –
A recent infestation of American grasshoppers is creating a problem for local farmers.

Stacey Strickland, county extension director and agriculture agent, said he is trying to help farmers maintain their crops with the recent grasshopper infestation that has mostly taken place off Power Line Road near State Road 50 heading east.

Strickland said the grasshoppers have swarmed in the thousands and are eating hay and other crops.
He said American grasshoppers are drawn to dry weather but since this summer has not been a very dry one, he is unsure why the grasshoppers have grouped to that certain area.

According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, American grasshoppers are found throughout North America, mostly in the Southern states, and can be found as far south as Mexico and the Bahamas.

Adult grasshoppers settle in trees and shrubs but prefer ground cover when laying eggs in nearby crops and can damage more than just hay.

Outbreaks can occur in corn, tobacco, vegetable fields and many other fields near grasshopper roosting sites. Even baby grasshoppers, or nymphs, can walk to nearby fields and deposit eggs.

In three to four weeks, nymphs make their way to the surface and reach adulthood after five or six stages, reaching between 39 to 42 millimeters for the males and 48 to 55 millimeters for the females.

When the final stage is complete, nymphs change from a green color to reddish brown with a yellow stripe down the torso.

American grasshoppers exist throughout the year due to two hatching periods, one from April to May and another from August to September.

There are several ways to manage American grasshoppers. Birds and blister beetle larvae are known to consume grasshopper eggs. Cultivation and weed management help destroy grasshopper eggs and kill small nymphs. Also, there are certain insecticides that kill grasshoppers, but it is easier when they are young.

Strickland plans to survey the land around Power Line Road next week to get an idea of just how many American grasshoppers there actually are and how badly they will affect the crops. Strickland said he is bringing in John Capinera, head of the entomology department at the University of Florida, for extra help.

Strickland said he plans to measure the grasshopper population using two methods. One is to walk the area and try to count the number of grasshoppers that leap or fly, which he said is no easy task.

Another method is to sweep the area with a net to determine the high and low density areas.

Reporter Hayley Mathis can be reached at 352-544-5225 or hmathis@hernandotoday.com

This Felony’s means no offense

SPRING HILL –
They’re out to prove it’s not a crime to open a profitable business in a tough economy, nor an offense to turn your first-ever restaurant venture into a franchise.

At noon today Felony’s Bar & Grill hosts a ribbon cutting ceremony at their Forest Oaks Boulevard establishment.

Owners Susan Alascia and Nikki Cucciniello opened Felony’s in April with the slogan, “So good it’s a crime.” It was the realization of a dream of more than 10 years in the making. The women wanted to create a truly unique atmosphere, something fresh and fun.

“We want Felony’s customers to think of us as an upbeat place, with great food and drink,” said General Manager Chris Morgan. “Everything we put into it was to make it that way. A lot of thought has gone into every little detail.

“We get a lot of families, and on sports nights it’s been standing room only. When people leave smiling and tell you they’ll be back, and when they come back with more people, you know you’re on the right track.”

From the first, Alascia and Cucciniello also intended it to become a franchise. Based on some recent inquiries, it’s possible that dream could become a reality. They’re already scouting for new locations.

The two women designed every detail, including attire for their young, all-female wait staff: A yellow tank top under a blue and black short-sleeved jacket, black belted short-shorts, black sneakers, a pair of handcuffs and a “police” hat.

Morgan said Felony’s two assistant managers, Dustyn Crabb and Brittany Miles, “helped tremendously in designing the bar menu and drink list” which includes frozen specialty drinks, cocktails, wine and a large selection of specialty imported beer.

The wait staff all profess to be happy members of the Felony’s family. Shantell Rosado of Spring Hill said she “really smiles” while she works, and her patrons notice her genuine happiness.

“We all pull together to help the place out,” she added.

Pat and Tim Wohlfiel from Hudson brought their friend Carol Carbuck from Cleveland for wings to what they thought was still Beef ‘O’ Brady’s restaurant.

“We decided to try it anyway,” said Wohlfiel. “It was great. We would definitely come back.”

The Wohlfiels said Felony’s “bent over backwards” to create a special order of wings that was “pretty close to what we used to get at Beefs.”

Jail bars greet customers at the reception desk. A lifelike statue of a shady looking character in a white three-piece suit and hat sits just inside the door, watching the activity at the bar. More jail bars are mounted atop the wall dividing the bar and restaurant sections.

Felony’s is brightly lit with tabletops of shiny metal. The walls are decorated with an entertaining collection of artwork-like caricatures of the owners and their spouses, criminal-themed comics and framed mug shots that dish the dirt on famous celebs who’ve been “busted” for crimes and misdemeanors.

A life-size replica of the electric chair sits next to a neon sign announcing “loan” that rests atop a shark tank with a backdrop of Alcatraz prison. Chalk outlines of murder victims designate the men’s and women’s restrooms.

In the banquet room, cellblock photos form a panorama along the top half of three walls. The bottom half of the walls is covered in sheets of diamond-patterned aluminum, adding brightness with an industrial feel.

Spring Hill contractor Larry Morelli hand built Felony’s bar and the replica electric chair. He also coordinated, mounted and hung all the graphics.

“Nikki and Susan would get an idea, tell Larry, and he’d get it done,” said Morgan. “He’s very talented and deserves a lot of credit for all the work he did for us.”

Felony’s patrons vary in age from 3-month-old infants to senior citizens. Singles and couples frequent the bar side; families with young children, small groups and retirees fill the restaurant and banquet room.

Morgan and the kitchen staff put in a lot of time testing new menu items. “We sell lots of wings and burgers, but have a huge menu,” said Morgan. “We only use top-grade Angus beef in everything.”

Breakfast is served all day and includes $3.99 “breakfast slammers;” a $6.49 “stool pigeon omelet” and $2.99 “juvenile breakfasts.”

Lunch and dinner items, accompanied by wine suggestions, include “The Felonies,” “Saladtary Confinement,” “Commissary Soups,” “Sides,” “Juveniles,” “Misdemeanors,” “The Slammers,” “The Conspiracies” and “Guilty Pleasures.”

At $44.99, the most eye-catching menu item is the “Jail Break,” about five pounds of New York strip steak grilled with provolone, mushrooms, onions, peppers and horseradish sauce on an oversized bun. It’s served with a large order of fries and large soda. If you eat everything within 45 minutes, it’s free – and you get a Felony’s T-shirt.

Those who try it must do so inside a special “cell” at the front of the restaurant. To-date there have been no successful contenders, although customer Melissa McCaffrey said her boyfriend plans to take-up the challenge.

Felony’s current entertainment includes Wednesday night karaoke with DJ “Krazy Dave.” Thursday is bike night with “DJ Dave Martini” from 6-9 p.m.; a live band, “Save the Radio,” starts at 10 p.m.

Morgan also hosts a sports talk show on local radio station WWJB that airs Saturdays at 9 a.m. The station plans to air an interview with Morgan about Felony’s in the near future.

Felony’s is open Sunday through Tuesday form 7 a.m. to midnight, and Wednesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. until 2 a.m.

BIZ AT A GLANCE

Name: Felony’s Bar & Grill

Location: 7285 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill

Telephone: 352-666-1831

Jody Bowes writes regularly for Hernando Today. She lives in Spring Hill and can be contacted at JBowesHernando@aol.com.

Florida’s first go-kart track reopens

It took three months of pressure washing, fixing, replacing, remodeling and restocking. The new owners of Fun and Wheels Amusements on County Line Road replaced concrete flooring with tile and carpet, black and white paint with bright colors, and defective apparatus with new or repaired equipment.

The renovated amusement center features the only go-karts in Hernando or Pasco counties, computerized batting cages, an 18-hole mini-golf course, arcade, children’s play house and inflatables.

Like the original owners, the new venue is family-run. In 1973 Jimmy Rodgers, his son Von and their wives opened Florida’s first-ever licensed go-kart track. Thirty-seven years later, Tedd Juanis, his son-in-law Brian Chambe and their wives Barbara and Debbie saw an opportunity to resurrect what they felt was a much-needed amusement center in Hernando County.

“There was so much potential here,” said Brian. “I used to come here all the time as a kid. The place had fallen into disrepair and was almost never open.”

“When we discovered it was for sale,” added Tedd, “We knew it was the right opportunity at the right time.”

Brian does repairs and maintenance and operates the go-karts and batting cages. Juanis manages the finances, runs the arcade and does whatever else is needed.

Barbara and Debbie say they are the “creative brains behind the outfit.” Debbie created the website, makes flyers and does advertising. Barbara chooses decor, color schemes, schedules events, and adds creative flair to the buildings and grounds.

The tire-ringed, one-fifth-mile (1,000 foot) go-kart track is as wide as a full-size roadway. Powered by Honda engines, the single and double-rider karts can reach speeds up to 25 mph. “These are not kiddie karts,” cautioned Brian. “The corners of our track tilt up like on a real race track.”

Fun and Wheels has five different batting cages: three baseball (40, 60 or 80 mph) and two softball (slow pitch and fast pitch), all run by computer. Tedd explained, “No more coin-operated models. Customers just buy time.”

The arcade doubles as the center of operations. Computers activate batting cages, send music throughout the campus, and track amusement sales. Arcade games range from the most modern to a vintage Ms. Pac-Man. Games work via tokens, many giving tickets that players redeem for prizes.

A party area is available for birthdays and other events. Soft drinks are sold on site, and Beef O’Bradys, which is within walking distance, delivers food as needed.

Beside the arcade sits a child-size picnic table, playhouse and bubble machine, favorite respites of the Chambe children: Madison, age 8; Jasmine, age 5 and Brendon, age 3. Adult-sized picnic tables offer a spot to watch children play or dine on take-out from Beef’s.

The mini-golf course is “very Victorian,” according to Tedd: “It’s quaint and speaks to the history of this place.” The 18 brightly-bordered holes snake around stately old trees and bushes. A small pond and lighthouse sit at the center. “It looks great with the lighthouse lit-up,” he added. “This place really comes alive at night.”

Easily spotted from the road, an 18-foot inflatable double-lane waterslide and changing assortment of bounce houses round-out the amusements. Fun and Wheels partners with Spring Hill’s Big Top Bouncers ( www.bigtopbouncers.com) to offer inflatable moonwalks, wet slides, obstacle courses, boxing, jousting, bungee games, dunk tanks, snow cones, cotton candy, spin art and other activities both onsite and for rent.

“They’re the biggest and best, that’s why we have them,” stated Tedd. “They’re the most experienced with inflatable amusements, and they are great people to work with.”

Like the Chambes, Big Top Bouncers owner/operators Debbie and Curtis Henderson also have three children: 12-year-old twins Kaitlyn and Kimberly, and 15-year-old son Sean who works in the family business. “We’re all like one big family,” stated Debbie.

As business increases and time permits, Fun and Wheels would like to add to their amusement venue by creating a paintball park. They are looking to partner with a paintball company and welcome all inquiries.

Upcoming special events will include an Oktoberfest with vendors in the front acreage plus haunted go-karts, mini-golf and hayrides. “We meet so many people who tell us they used to come here when they were kids,” stated Tedd. “It’s great to be able to earn a living being outdoors, making new friends and seeing so many people having a good time right here in Hernando County.”

All amusement prices are posted on their website. Go-karts are $5.50 for five minutes or $10 for 10 minutes. Batting cages start at $7.50; Mini-golf is $4; Inflatables cost $3 for 20 minutes or $8 for two hours (add $2 for waterslide). Birthday parties are $10 per child and include a go-kart ride, round of mini-golf, arcade tokens, 30 minutes of inclusive batting cage time for the group, and use of the party room for three hours. Food and drink are $2 extra; $3 extra for inflatable play.

Fun and Wheels is open Tuesday through Thursday from noon to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Strurday from noon to 11:30 p.m.; Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. (closed Monday).

BIZ AT A GLANCE

Name: Fun and Wheels Amusements, Inc.

Location: 9227 County Line Road, Spring Hill

Tel: 352-686-0361

Email: Tedd@funandwheels.net

Website: www.funandwheels.net

Jody Bowes writes regularly for Hernando Today. She lives in Spring Hill and can be contacted at JBowesHernando@aol.com.

Accuform is progressive inside and out

The Pasco-Hernando Workforce Board voted Accuform Signs the “best place to work in Hernando County in 2009.”

Accuform manufactures signs for many different industrial applications, primarily relating to workplace safety. Their primary markets are manufacturing, mining and utilities.

Marketing Director Brad Montgomery explained, “We make products that are visible to workers on a daily basis. They identify hazardous workplace conditions, help employees understand company policies, or help people exit buildings in emergency situations.

“Locally you might see our products posted in the Brooksville rock quarry or Walmart distribution center. Internationally you could find them on a military base in Afghanistan or a ship transporting goods between Asia and North America.”

Accuform opened in New Port Richey in 1976. Wayne and his older brother David Johnson, president, took control of the business when their parents retired several years ago.

Wayne handles the sales, marketing, and IT technical side while Dave’s forte is manufacturing, operations and engineering. Rounding out the current management team is Customer Care Director John Murphy and Marketing Director Montgomery.

Accuform moved to Brooksville in the 1980s. In 2003 they relocated their manufacturing to a 67,500-square-foot facility in the Airport Industrial Park. Their original 11,000-square-foot Brooksville building is still used for warehouse space.

The sign saga is still in the making. The company continues to grow despite tough economic factors.

They just hired their first bi-lingual customer service rep and first full-time design engineer. They hired two new people in April and seven in March.

Johnson says they are already outgrowing their current location and have purchased 20 acres off Edward R. Noll Drive where they someday plan to build a consolidated 150,000-square-foot facility.

“Hernando County is a great place to own a business,” stated Johnson. “It’s convenient, an easy commute, easy to recruit to and we have a good supply chain.”

He added that while others in their industry had sales down 30 percent in 2009, their sales remained flat. During the 2001 recession they were up 1 percent when the market was down 20 percent.

How does a business do well in tough times? For Accuform it’s a combination of drive, determination and “leap of faith” marketing that calls for putting the hammer down with aggressive sales and marketing campaigns, and a manufacturing push. “We capitalize on gaining market share,” stated Johnson.

Montgomery explained: “Where many of our competitors pulled back to weather the storm, we essentially did the opposite. We viewed the downturn as an opportunity. We know the market eventually returns, if sometimes different. We saw the opportunity to build a foundation for the future.

“It was our hope we would have done enough hard work so we would stand ready the moment the market turned. This involved employee training, investment in new printing technologies and increased spending in marketing and other key factors.

“From our view the market is turning and the hard work of each Accuform employee is coming to fruition. But, we understand this isn’t the time to celebrate or relax; it’s actually a time to work even harder.”

Nobody at Accuform seems to mind working harder. Their manufacturing environment includes many progressive programs to train, monitor, and assist their 218 employees with work, health, family and environment-related matters.

Company values are displayed on almost every wall.

Environmental awareness is promoted through “Earth Day” contests and other events. They’re on a quest to be completely paperless. Wall-mounted or standing monitors allow workers to view needed information and update job status.

There’s a “wellness center” with exercise equipment and monthly $10 haircuts. The cafeteria features subsidized hot food (meals cost $2.50), 25-cent sodas, a salad bar, healthy snacks and something less common: Laptops so manufacturing employees can check e-mail or surf the Internet.

Laptops in a training room help new hires and current employees do required and optional training, including learning new software programs.

Customer service representative Sonja Osborne leads the “Accuform Angels” who raise funds for charities throughout the year.

Digitron operator Jesse Ovaitte recently donated a weeks’ paycheck to cancer research by purchasing 218 purple bracelets and giving one to every employee.

Johnson highlighted an intern success story. “We hired a new employee, Mike Miller, right out of Nature Coast high school as an intern to help our IT manager.

We sent him to school in California for robotics. He just programmed our very first robot. We’ve been able to secure talent from local schools. There’s a lot of potential in some of our interns.”

They’ve transitioned their traditional screen and offset print processes to an efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly digital process.

Accuform doesn’t see any slowdown in the near future. The rest of 2010 will see more new product development, a focus on new product launches and services. They will continue to purchase new equipment to support their many efforts.

“We’re running more than one shift now, and are close to starting a third,” commented Johnson. As of this printing Accuform has five new openings in their production areas. Contact them for details on application requirements.

Accuform hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Ordering and information is available 24/7 on their website.

BIZ AT A GLANCE

Name: Accuform Manufacturing

Location: 16228 Flight Path Drive, Brooksville

Telephone: 352-799-5434 or 800-237-1001

Website: www.accuform .com

E-mail: customerservice@accuform.com

Rogers’ Christmas House is closed

BROOKSVILLE –
Rogers’ Christmas House Village, long considered the biggest tourism magnet in Brooksville, has closed its doors.
Christmas House sold to owners of Saxon Manor

Owner George Rodriguez confirmed the closing when contacted over the phone Friday afternoon, but declined to comment further. He said he was still discussing the matter with his attorney.

“It’s very distressing news,” said Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn. “Rogers’ has been one of the greatest businesses our community has ever known.”

The business is famous for its vast inventory of Christmas ornaments and collectibles. It ran into financial difficulty not long after its original owner, Margaret Ghiotto Rogers, sold it to Donna Jones in January 2006.

Jones filed for bankruptcy and Rodriguez, who was the general manager for more than three decades, took over the business in 2008 and sought to buy the property from Rogers’ relatives.

George Weiland Rogers, of Brooksville, remains principle owner.

“Of course I’d hate to see it close, yes,” he said when contacted over the phone Friday. “Am I surprised? No.”

Rogers said the store closed because the insurance policy on the property was canceled due to lack of payments. Rogers said the business also was having difficulty paying the power company.

A spokeswoman with Progress Energy could not discuss whether the company had turned off the power. Such matters are confidential, she said.

The business has been closed since Thursday afternoon, Rogers said.

Rodriguez is still telling friends and neighbors he plans to reopen soon.

“We certainly hope he can do that,” said Tricia Bechtelheimer, who owns a shop across the street. “He seems to have plans to hopefully be reopened by next week. He wants to get his financial situation worked out.”

It wasn’t the first time Rogers’ Christmas House, located at 103 S. Saxon Ave. in downtown Brooksville, was forced to shut its doors.

When Jones ran the business, she delegated many of the day-to-day affairs to her sister and her husband. In early 2007, while Jones was hospitalized, the couple reviewed the finances and closed the store.

An irate Jones fired her sister and reopened the business. She filed for bankruptcy less than a year later.

Rumors of the store’s closing have since dogged the Christmas-themed store. Rodriguez told Hernando Today earlier this year it was an ongoing challenge to get banks to grant him a loan or to find investors.

He continued to put on a brave face and assure customers and suppliers that he was going to purchase the property and the business would be solvent again.

“I don’t know what his intent is right now,” said Rogers. “He owns the inventory and I’m sure he wants to get rid of it somehow.”

In December, Rodriguez signed an agreement giving 49 percent of ownership of the business to Matthew Senge, who also had plans to purchase the property.

Senge was arrested Jan. 27 on an outstanding warrant out of Alabama, where he failed to appear for court for a theft by deception charge, authorities said.

Rogers said he and his family did not want to take over the business after Jones foreclosed on it. They thought they had found a worthy businesswoman to run it, but after she failed, it seemed too far gone for them to resuscitate it.

“I for one did not want to take all of that on at that point,” Rogers said. “We would have been starting pretty much from zero.”

Reporter Tony Holt can be reached at 352-544-5283 or wholt@hernandotoday.com.

Rollerland is on the fast track

BROOKSVILLE –
You’ve probably seen the “very-70s” road sign in front of Rainbow Rollerland on West Jefferson Street. This Brooksville icon has survived since the mid-1970s and, according to owners Leonard and Colleen DiGiovanni, things are looking up once again.

“Last year was really tough,” admitted Leonard. “But come January first, things started to turn around. We see business coming back.”

Roller skating has been an American pastime since the first rink opened in Rhode Island in 1863.

Present-day enthusiasts strap on skates for recreation, competitive sports and transportation. The two basic skate types are “quads” (two wheels in front, two in back) or “inline” (two-to-five wheels in a single line).

At Rainbow Rollerland, young beginners mainly use quads, which the DiGiovannis modify so the wheels don’t turn too fast. Most youngsters and teens prefer inlines while many parents, according to Leonard, “Like to knock the mold off their old Riddell speed skates and have some fun.”

He added the rink plays “all kinds of music” and takes requests via request sheets.

He said they keep prices reasonable and find things so far have “worked out no matter what.”

The DiGiovannis purchased the rink in 1999.

Colleen manages the daily activities, Leonard maintains the property and daughter Jennifer Goff is coach and resident DJ. Rainbow Rollerland is the only rink in Hernando County.

Colleen and Leonard said the rink is a place where families can have good clean fun for a small amount of money.

“You’ve got to use your imagination today in Hernando County,” said Leonard. “There’s a lot of unemployment, money is tight and families need to find outlets for entertainment at low cost.”

Sundays after 5:30 p.m. admission is only $1, and nonskating parents get in free. Sunday is the only night they charge $1 for renting skates. All other times rental is free. For those in the know, their rentals are called “brownies.” (Yes, they’re all brown.)

The DiGiovannis keep careful watch over the crowd and don’t allow “hanky-panky.” If you start trouble, you’re out.

They want their rink to be a place where parents can interact with children and where everyone has fun.

“We get people from age 2 to those in their 80s,” said Leonard.

The rink offers birthday party packages and hosts schools and other groups who organize skate nights.

For birthday parties, an $8 or $9 fee per guest (depending on the day and time) includes skating, games, reserved seating, house skates, pizza, drink, ice cream, snow cones, balloons, setup, a host to serve and cleanup, and the birthday child gets his or her name on the outside marquee, a T-shirt or glow necklace and a free pass. Parties must include at least six children and all transactions are cash only.

In addition to recreational skating, the rink is home to a speed-skating team coached by Goff. The Team is USARS (USA Roller Sports) sanctioned and participates in all sanctioned meets in Florida and surrounding areas.

Rollerland speed skaters range in age from 4 to mid-20s. They practice for two hours, three days a week.

Goff and her husband Shane have both competed in speed skating championships. Their two children, Thomas, 13, and Joshua, 14, are also members of the team.

Leonard added, “We also get a lot of world-class skaters in here to practice. In the past two months we’ve had skaters from Sweden, China, Yugoslavia, Columbia and France.”

Goff also team-coaches with world-renowned speed skating coach Renee Hildebrand. Hildebrand is the coach of Team Florida, based in Tampa.

In the entrance a display case includes a sampling of trophies and nostalgic skating memorabilia, some donated by customers.

Inside, the obvious color theme is red, yellow and blue. The yellow walls have the same red and blue swirls (ending in a giant skate, of course) that are on their road sign. The colors reflect off the highly-polished rink.

The snack bar/party area has red, yellow and blue stools and benches. More red benches stand back-to-back in front of the skate rental counter. Blue benches face the pool tables and air hockey game.

Bright red lockers let you store valuables while practicing your skating artistry or reliving your disco days.

Streamers and colored laser lights accent the music, and there’s that thing no rink should be without, the giant disco ball.

The pro shop carries the latest skates, outfits, accessories and gifts. It is reminiscent of earlier days: It’s lit with black lights for that glow-in-the-dark shopping experience.

The long DJ booth window offers a commanding view of the action while discs spin, keeping skaters’ adrenaline pumping and entertaining game players, partygoers and spectators.

Rainbow Rollerland is open Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday plus other times by reservation. Call for specific times and prices.

Biz at a glance:

Name: Rainbow Rollerland

Location: 1125 W. Jefferson St., Brooksville

Telephone: 352-796-0040

E-mail: Leonard4Colleen@earthlink.net

Website: skaterainbowrollerland.com

Hours: :Tuesday: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Thursday: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. by reservation (for private parties/admission $3)
Friday: 7 to 11 p.m. usually (admission $6); occasionally they have all-night skates (7 p.m. to 7 a.m. – admission $15)
Saturday: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (admission $3.50); 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. (admission $3.50); 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. (admission $6)
Sunday: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. (admission $3.50); 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (after 5:30 p.m. $1 admission)

MetLife Bank plans reverse mortgage seminar

SPRING HILL –
MetLife Bank. N.A. announced that it will conduct a free Reverse Mortgage seminar on Thursday, June 11th. at 10 am and again at 2 p.m. at the Spring Hill IHOP, which is located at 3636 Commerical Way. Springhill, FL.

Reverse mortgages can be a useful financial tool for people aged 62 and older looking to remain in their house through retirement. Interested parties and family members are encouraged to attend the informal event, which will be conducted by local MetLife Bank Reverse Mortgage representatives: Jeni Barrett. Chris Bruser & Bill Mantooth.

The seminar is designed to inform those who are considering whether or not a Reverse Mortgage is a good fit for their retirement needs and wants. Reverse mortgages can enable many Americans to live comfortably in their homes during their retirement years. Topics will include the benefits of reverse mortgages, what the requirements are, and the associated costs. Private individual and family consultations will be available.

For additional information, about the event or reverse mortgages. contact Jeni Barrett at 813-507-4477 or Bill Mantooth at 727-687-9716.