by Susan Burns
IN HIGH GEAR
Victor Young owns three auto dealerships: Lamborghini Sarasota, BMW of Sarasota and a Wesley Chapel Mini Cooper in Tampa, so the affluent car buyer makes up the bulk of his business. The last five years have been “interesting,” he says. He opened his Lamborghini dealership in June 2009 in the throes of the recession. Fortunately, his customer base was national and that kept the doors open. But even through 2012, customers with the money to buy a $300,000 Lamborghini (the cars start at $240,000 and go to $1.5 million and more) were sensitive to the economic pain most Americans were suffering and told him, “I have the money, but it just wouldn’t be right.”
Those days are over. His local customers (90 percent of his business is in West Florida and 75 percent of that is in Sarasota) are back, buoyed by rising business and stock portfolios. “They’ve decided to reward themselves,” he says.
Through August 2014, Young’s dealerships had sold 2,000-plus new and used cars. “Business is great. Best year since 2008,” Young says, adding that Lamborghini sales are up 32 percent this year over 2013. Most of his Lamborghini orders are $300,000-plus and his best seller is the $525,000 Aventador Roadster. “There’s a two-year waiting list for the 2014 Huracan, and our order bank is full,” he says.
Young’s BMW sales are up 23 percent year over year. And for both brands, buyers are getting younger. Young says far from being retired, his clients, many in the medical and technical fields, moved to Sarasota to be near their parents or grew up here, went to college and came back. “The luxury segment is growing,” he says.
Chef Jeremy Hammond-Chambers, who made a name for himself in some of New York’s top restaurants, exchanged his restaurant chops back in 2007 for catering to Sarasota’s ultra-wealthy. His company, Innovative Dining, specializes in private, mostly home-based catering, and business is sizzling.
“We’ve grown exponentially,” he says. “In the first three years, my business doubled. Each year after that it’s been up 25 percent. This year we’re going to do 50 percent to 60 percent more.”
Hammond-Chambers initially moved to Sarasota in 2006 to open Cork restaurant on St. Armands Circle and then discovered an unfilled niche of private dining in homes, mostly along Longboat Key and Casey Key. His clients, accustomed to five-star hotels and restaurants around the world, want the same top-notch experience in their homes when they come down for a week to relax with family. Hammond-Chambers sets up an all-day catering operation in their kitchens, creating custom breakfasts, lunches, pre-dinner cocktail hour drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and dinners for the owners, their children, grandchildren and good friends. The cost for a week of these meals? $35,000. He also flies to clients’ Northern homes and is beginning to handle their weddings and corporate events as well.
He agrees that Sarasota is attracting more wealthy clients. “It’s a little oasis,” he says. “What is considered wealthy has gone up. It used to be $8 million to $20 million. Now it’s $200 million to $300 million. Once you start attracting these kinds of people, you attract more. They sit on boards together; they socialize together. They’ll have an annual board meeting in Sarasota and the other members see what we have down here and say, ‘This place is fantastic.’”
Sarasota’s wealthy are not pretentious, he says, and they like that Sarasota isn’t, either. “People come here and switch off. They close the gates and just enjoy themselves. Naples and Palm Beach are competitive environments. It’s all who can have the biggest house and put on the biggest parties, like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The wealthy who come here are not like that. I work 80 to 100 hours a week, and working in that environment would drain me.”
PAYING FOR PRIVACY
Thank Edward Snowden for a boost in Klaus Duell’s IT security business. Duell, a German native and an IT security expert, is the CEO of Pretioso (which means “for the valuable” in Latin), which provides data protection for companies. He moved to Anna Maria from his native Germany last February for the lifestyle, traveling back to Germany as needed.
But after Snowden’s 2013 NSA leak showed just how much U.S. authorities pry into online accounts and communication, the number of wealthy U.S. citizens who wanted Duell’s services grew. Germany, he says, has some of the highest IT protection standards in the world, and when data is hosted in Germany it is safe from the scrutiny of the U.S. government.
To capture this part of the business, Duell launched It’s Ger in Manatee County this year, which sells high protection services to individuals and companies. All data resides in Germany, which, he says, keeps it out of reach of U.S. authorities.
His clients are extremely affluent, sometimes with a net worth of up to a billion, and they want data security no matter where they are or what they’re using. “It’s a special group,” Duell says. “Most are American, and they are very well educated. If you’re wealthy, you’re threatened more, and they don’t want to accept that the government can look into every mail account.”
So far, Duell has signed up 15 clients in Sarasota and Manatee who want their information hosted on his servers and on private clouds in Germany. They pay anywhere from $100 a month to $15,000 a month. There is wealth in this region, he says, and his business will grow as long as the affluent are concerned about the safety of their data.