By Allison Pinkerton

In 2006, some folks thought Venice’s economy went belly up like a fish at red tide. Construction companies went bankrupt, and the skeletons of unfinished buildings haunted roads in the area. The stream of tourists seemed to slow to a trickle. Many businesses struggled like they were caught in a riptide. Although they may have been a bit battered, some made it to shore and are now on their way to recovery, if not serious growth. How did they do it? They’ll tell you success came from focusing on customers. Here are some of their stories.

Jim Kuhlman

Florida Shores Bank looked at the community as a whole. President and CEO Jim Kuhlman attributes the bank’s success to two things: focusing on local customers and avoiding bad loans. He said people used to trust big banks to keep their money safe, and now they look to the little guys. And Florida Shores Bank was the only local bank with headquarters in Venice. “It just felt like the community needed us,” Kuhlman said.

Rod Hershberger

PGT focused on service. When CEO Rod Hershberger saw the economic downturn coming, he thought of his customers: what would they need to remain successful, and how could PGT best serve all their diverse needs? When PGT opened in 1980, an interview question for new hires was, “Will you be able to get along with all the customers?” In 2011, that same “old school” customer focus helped PGT grow in a way that gave a boost not just to its customers, but our entire community.

Barry Wolfson

Tervis offered quality product and expanded distribution. The company famous for decorated drinkware recently began selling its lifetime-guaranteed products across the state and the country in stores like Bealls and Bed Bath & Beyond. Barry Wolfson, Tervis CEO, believes that customers continue to buy Tervis products when money is tight because of their high quality and great value. Introducing colorful new designs and partnering with the likes of Disney, Coke®, NFL, NBA, MLB and others didn’t hurt, either.

Jess Fronckowiak

J2 Solutions stayed close to the customer. Jess Fronckowiak is president of J2 Solutions, a local construction company that remodels homes. In 2006 and 2007, J2 had a backlog of jobs while other construction companies struggled. In 2008, when the backlog disappeared, panic set in but didn’t last for long. Jess says J2 has stayed busy because they treat houses like homes and believe that knowing your customer is key. “Know their dogs’ names, too,” Jess advises. The formula apparently works. This year, J2 got its first million-dollar project.

Trent Young

Captain’s Landing found new customers. Trent Young, who co-owns the men’s clothing store with his brother, Troy, stayed calm when he saw the economy nosedive. The Young brothers didn’t change their business plan; they didn’t slash prices; they stayed true to their customers and their product. They also launched a successful e-commerce site for the store in 2008, and report that their internet business has increased sales by “a big chunk.” Last November, they remodeled and expanded their space on Venice Avenue.

Sandra Pridemore

Pridemore Associates, a CPA firm, guided clients into the future. Owner Sandra Pridemore says she survived the downturn through planning—not just churning out the usual tax returns and spreadsheets. She says people plan more when money is tight. Today, she works with clients to anticipate spending and manage debt. The planning seems to help. “I think my clients are now cautiously optimistic about the future,” she said. “They’re planning for change.”

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