Vendors angle for piece of the RNC pie with mixed success

Published Aug. 25, 2012

With a background in corporate marketing, Capt. Paul Warren pulled out all the stops to promote his yacht charter tours for the Republican National Convention.

He shipped brochures to out-of-state Republican committees. He even passed out red-white-and-blue, elephant-shaped sugar cookies to concierges at Clearwater Beach hotels to entice them to plug his two- and three-hour tours.

With the long-awaited event finally almost here, he's still waiting for a nibble.

"To be honest with you," Warren said, "so far we don't have any bookings."

To be sure, there are plenty of restaurateurs, retailers and other small businesses poised to benefit handsomely from the surge of up to 50,000 visitors.

Consider Tampa event planner Danielle Nunez Seaberg, who has hired an extra 14 people on top of her full-time staff of eight to set up 18 events. For one job, her Grand Events of Florida team is coordinating with other vendors in setting up five air-conditioned tents totaling 18,000 square foot complete with generators, cable hookups, chairs, linens, plants, centerpieces and four bamboo bars.

"Our busiest months are usually February or March, and this is a February and March combined for us," Seaberg said. "It's been a fabulous learning experience," she added with a laugh.

Yet for many local entrepreneurs — like Warren and his Meetings Afloat! charter tours — it's hard to get RNC hopes up too high. And that was even before Tropical Storm Isaac threatened to disrupt the party.

The Times recently sent surveys to several hundred vendors on the convention's approved vendors list. Out of some 60 respondents, 57 percent said they do not expect any increased revenue from the convention, and an additional 10 percent were unsure. Out of those expecting a financial boost, 44 percent predicted the increase would be small.

Carol Enhrenkranz of local transportation and babysitting/child care service Rent-A-Hand Inc., would be happy with any response. In addition to her listing among RNC vendors, Enhrenkranz also emailed about 35 hotels in the area along with delegates to offer her staffers to watch delegates' kids while adults head out on the town.

"Maybe people are waiting, (but) I went all over and there's nothing," she said.

"I've not seen a thing," echoed Marsha Long, a private investigator who had hoped her listing among RNC vendors would drum up business. She has been offering pre-employment background checks for companies seeking temporary hires here. Or tenant background checks for those renting their homes out for the week of festivities. Now she thinks it's too late.

"For me, personally, it's disappointing," she said, "but overall for people in Tampa, I'm sure there are some positives."

Among those seeing an RNC bump:

• The business of providing executive protection for visiting CEOs and celebrities will be in full swing, says Jeff Fauntleroy, who forecasts a 75 percent spike in business for his company, J. Fauntleroy & Associates.

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• T-shirt printing and embroidery firm Tampa T Shirts benefited from an existing contract with the city of Tampa, which needed more security uniforms. "It's a good little boost," co-owner Lori Davis said, "but not enough to hire more permanent jobs."

• A listing in RNC's business directory has already triggered orders from New York City to South Carolina, said Kim Roberts, who makes rhinestone apparel like shirts with a "stylized elephant" and the RNC acronym on the sleeve. Roberts expects sales for her Clearwater company, Island Moose Rhinestone Designs, will be up at least 20 percent this month. "Being a small business and growing, it really has helped us out," she said.

• Don Juceam, a crooner who bills himself as "the Tampa Bay area's very own Frank Sinatra," typically has about 100 gigs a year, roughly two a week. During RNC week, he lined up four gigs.

"So for that week, it's doubled," he said.

Given the nature of his business, the new Old Blue Eyes said there could be more jobs in the future as a result of out-of-towners catching his act.

"I've had girls call me two years after they saw me and book me for their weddings," Juceam said. "You never know how people are going to react, but if you do nothing, you're not going to get anything. … You get the business only because you put the chum in the water."

Spreading chum, or cupcakes in the case of Mary Kay Oney-Hatt, doesn't always work.

Oney-Hatt, proprietor of Sweet Ida Mae's Bakery in Clearwater, has tried unsuccessfully to connect with some of the bigger bakeries expected to get a slice of convention business. At the least, she hopes any vendors who do make money next week wind up spending it at other businesses in the community.

No matter what happens, Oney-Hatt already has her sights set post-RNC.

"As much as I'm happy the convention is here and I'm thrilled if I get some business from it, I want the people around the corner just as much," she said.

"The people here now are perhaps more important than the RNC."

Jeff Harrington can be reached at