Monday, April 23, 2018
Business

What area CEOs say: Their firms grow stronger in fits and starts

Gazing at the business outlook through the eyes of Tampa Bay's biggest public companies, the scene ranges from inspiring to chaotic. Kind of like the 2013 economy. Let's take a tour based on comments of the area's top executives as they talk about their challenges in recent conversations with Wall Street analysts.

The two female CEOs in Tampa Bay running big public companies are on a roll. Bloomin' Brands CEO Liz Smith and HSN chief Mindy Grossman shared a rare event in the latest quarter. Both companies saw upticks in revenues and earnings. Only Paul Reilly, CEO of Raymond James Financial, can also claim such a feat in the latest quarter among the big publicly traded companies here.

At Bloomin', Smith says her Outback Steakhouse chain is outperforming its peers, while the Bonefish Grill chain just squeezed a slight gain in same-store sales. The laggard? Carrab­ba's Italian Grill, where same-store sales fell. That's one reason you see so many Carrabba's TV ads. Smith says they will fix the chain with the "same playbook" used to reinvigorate Outback, by upgrading facilities, and refreshing and repricing the menu. Says Smith: "We will begin piloting the program in June."

At HSN, Grossman is into leveraging Big Data. She talks about "customer prospecting" strategies, and she notes HSN ended the quarter with "our largest customer file and retention rate on record." New customer growth was the strongest in nearly five years, and HSN also enjoyed more "retained and reactivated customers." There isn't room here to talk much about all the new product tie-ins HSN is pursuing — from movies like Oz The Great and Powerful to Coke to entertainment events in Las Vegas. Let's just say HSN is humming.

At Raymond James, Reilly's reveling in record revenue thanks to the purchase of Morgan Keegan. Now come obligatory cuts — including 160 tech jobs — he says will help make the merger productive. Says Reilly: "We started our rightsizing … the numbers are just starting. We're committed to complete it, but it's going to be still a couple of quarters before we get it done." The firm also unveiled plans for its mothballed Pasco County expansion campus, which calls for six four-story buildings on 65 acres.

At boat retailer MarineMax, late winter weather still hurts business up North, says CEO Bill McGill. But he insists the recreational boat industry trend line is up.

At TECO Energy, Tampa Electric's parent, chief financial officer Sandra Callahan expects the 1.4 percent in customer additions in the latest quarter will become the "new normal for long-term customer growth."

Tampa staffing firm Kforce took a hit on earnings. Yet CEO David Dunkel still argues that temporary workers will become a bigger part of the U.S. workforce due to "economic uncertainty and the increasing cost of employment due to regulatory changes such as health care reform."

At WellCare Health Plans, CEO Alec Cunningham celebrated 300 Orlando call center jobs, the second "onshoring" effort to bring back more jobs to Florida from overseas.

Bottom line? Most of these core companies are gathering financial strength, even if it's happening in fits and starts.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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