Minnesotans find a sunny place for business

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 17, 2013 - 8:34 AM

Successful Minnesotans have long headed to Florida’s Gulf Coast to escape the cold, and many go into business once they get there.

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Mike Schumann, co-owner, with his wife, Suzanne, of Traditions Classic Home Furnishings, outside the Naples, Fla., store. A big share of their Florida business comes from Minnesotans with second homes in the Naples area.

Photo: Erik Kellar, Special to the Star Tribune

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But as departure closes in and thoughts of returning to snow and cold disturb the calm, the thought bursts forward like a WaveRunner: “Why not go into business right here?”

That’s what happened to Mike and Suzanne Schumann, who own Traditions home furnishings stores in St. Paul, St. Louis Park — and Naples. During an especially cruel April snowstorm in 2002, the Schumanns took the long-ignored advice from friends to check out the small city on the Gulf of Mexico.

“Within a week we were looking at homes,” Suzanne Schumann said. “The following weekend we were looking for a store location.”

The Schumanns are part of a motivated, affluent group of Minnesota business people who have gone to Naples to lie in the sun and instead found a business opportunity. Some opened a satellite location, while others have made southwest Florida their primary business focus.

When Twin Cities snowbirds stroll through the European-style, walkable neighborhoods in Old Naples, it’s a déjà vu moment walking past Traditions furniture, Masa, Lurcat and Campiello restaurants and the law firm of Robins, Miller, Kaplan & Ciresi.

Then there are the service businesses that don’t require a storefront. Minnesota entrepreneurs from law firms, PR agencies, and investment companies have discovered they can meet clients’ needs from Florida via e-mail, telephone and Skype.

In fact, the Minnesota contingent is large enough to support a Minnesota breakfast club that has been meeting every Friday for 49 years. The informal group attracts about 250 people each week to its breakfasts to socialize, network and revel in cold weather updates from home.

Expanding a business in Naples is an unintentional twist for most. “First they like it so much that they’re thinking about buying a home or condo,” Mike Schumann said. “After a season or two they’re looking for a business location or setting up a home office.”

Nearly 3,000 Minnesota snowbirds migrate to Naples each year, according to longtime Florida resident and dual-state businessman David Dorle.

Although many are short-term vacationers, about 1,500 residents of Collier County, which includes Naples, own property and have their property tax statements sent to Minnesota, according to Collier County records. In the compact, well-heeled hamlet of 22,000, the concentration of Minnesotans stands out, compared with sprawling hot spots such as Phoenix or even Palm Desert.

The Minnesota connection has been a boon for Naples businesses. Minnesota customers make up about 50 percent of the business at Traditions’ Naples location.

“We’re tapping into Minnesota customers with second homes here,” Mike Schumann said. “You can only golf so much, so we get a lot of the recreational shoppers,” he said.

Last year, the Naples store had its best year since it opened in 2002.

Jack Farrell opened a Haskell’s wine shop several years after he bought a house in Naples in 1997. It was a terrific market at first, he said. Then the fine wine market collapsed in 2007-08, and Farrell closed the store last year. Until then, about 40 percent of his customers were Minnesotans, Farrell said.

Having thousands of Minnesota snowbirds in a concentrated area offers businesses instant name recognition. “I see more Minnesotans I know in an afternoon in Naples than I see in Minneapolis in a week,” said Farrell, chairman and CEO of Haskell’s wine stores, which has 13 Minnesota locations.

Residency also makes for a warmer tax climate, since Florida has no personal income tax. Minnesotans can avoid state income tax entirely if they live in Florida for six months and one day per year, a policy that Gov. Mark Dayton proposed changing.

‘Decidedly Midwestern’

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  • Suzanne Schumann in the slightly chillier air outside the St. Louis Park store.

  • Minnesota businesses in or near naples

    • Campiello, Cafe Lurcat, D’Amico & Sons and Masa restaurants

    • Central Bank

    • Dorle Communications

    • Downtowner Car Wash, north of Naples

    • Hazelden

    • Jay Cook Law

    • Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi law firm

    • Traditions Classic Home Furnishings

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