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Summer sales sizzle for some South Florida companies

When the temperature rises in South Florida, revenue drops at many businesses. Along Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale and Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, pedestrians typically avoid strolling in the torturous humidity, forcing store owners and restaurateurs to survive the off-season with marketing gimmicks and cost cutting.

And yet, there is a pocket of South Florida’s economy that calls summer its busy season. These companies count on revenue made during these few months to put them in the black for the year. This year, getting the most in peak months could be crucial with recent indications that the recession across Europe may drag down the economy here as well.

“I think we’re becoming more convinced 2012 is not going to provide us with an economic boost,” says University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith. “Most likely, our economy will continue to recover in a much-subdued pace. So, if summer is your high time, you must get as much revenue as you can.”

Gauging our area’s seasonality is tricky. Weather, tourists and economic trends factor into sales in unexpected ways. Up north, outdoor furniture retailers get a pop of revenue in summer, but in South Florida, those businesses report winter and spring — the cooler months here — are their busier sales periods.

Then there’s the language-instruction business. In most markets, customers, particularly corporate clients, pull back on classes over the summer months to take vacation. Yet, Ramon Lopez, Southeast market area director for Berlitz, says his Coral Gables, Brickell and Boca Raton offices get a boost in business during summer from international customers. They come from Latin America and Europe, have homes here and want to learn English, he says. They enroll themselves and their children in classes that include total immersion, private instruction and group lessons.

“The summer months can be important to our bottom line,” Lopez says. “This year, June started slow, but it’s looking good for July and August. We have a lot of repeat customers coming from Brazil and Venezuela.”

Then there’s the business of recreation. While tourists escaping the cold and corporate convention guests keep waterfront hotels, tiki bars and cabanas buzzing during winter and spring, they taper off in summer. But for the locals and those tourists who dare to spend the day outside in the South Florida heat, Jet Ski rentals remain a logical choice.

Adam Burnett, manager of American WaterSports, operates two water-bike rental locations — one in South Beach, the other in Coconut Grove. Renters pay $69 for a half-hour rental and $109 for a full hour. A one-hour water-bike tour brings in $119 per person.

Burnett’s company, which relies on local hotels and Internet searches for referrals, has begun featuring a discount coupon on its website to lure price-sensitive customers. Examining his revenue over a year, Burnett sees his big spike in June. He considers himself fortunate compared with water-bike rentals in other U.S. cities: His business picks ups from late February to late September as opposed to water-bike rentals in other towns, where the busy season runs only from June through August.

Some people prefer to buy rather than rent water bikes and boats. This year, the sputtering economy has affected buying habits, says John Vogel of Jet Ski of Miami and Fisherman’s Boat Group. Vogel says summer is buying time for those interested in ocean fun and this year, his lower-priced items are more in demand — the more affordable Jet Skis and small leisure boats. “The bigger boats are still selling, but they are not as popular this year,” he says.

As you would expect, South Florida’s ice cream shops call summer their busy time of the year. Kathleen Smith, whose family has owned the Dairy Queen at Bird and Ludlum roads in Miami-Dade County for nearly three decades, says she’s working harder this summer to lure customers.

“It’s so hot and rainy during the day that people don’t go out,” Smith says. “They come at night.”

At her shop, rush hour is from 7 to 11 p.m. May, June and July are Smith’s high sales months, accounting for as much as 50 percent of annual revenue. This year, she finds customers particularly cost-conscious.

Smith says she’s less affected by the frozen-yogurt craze than the weak economy. “I run specials and people come in asking for them. I actually had people walk out with nothing because I don’t offer the specials in May and June. That tells me we’re in a really terrible economy.” Yet, she says, the popular Blizzards continue to be a big draw to customers seeking a cool treat. “They are our No. 1 seller.”

Mitch Groden, owner of a free-standing Dairy Queen in Tamarac, has used a creative marketing approach to draw even more summer customers to his ice cream shop and food grill. Groden runs the Dairy Queen Grill and Chill with his wife and son and says they target nearby summer camps, urging them to make his shop an outing. Now, almost daily, he hosts summer-camp groups of as many as 75 kids at a time, who tour the shop, decorate cakes, dip Dilly bars and make Blizzards. Most, stay for lunch. Groden even has come up with a special meal deal. “Our number of transactions shoots up by about 40 percent in the summer months,” Groden says. After 11 years, he is considering a second South Florida location.

Much like Groden’s experience, South Florida’s inventory of attractions and entertainment facilities such as bowling alleys, ice-skating rinks and children’s museums enjoy a boost from both tie-ins with camps and kids who are out of school and looking for activity.

In Davie, kids arrive by the dozens at Young At Art. They paint, build puppets, beat on drums, play on computers and dabble in digital animation. The expanded children’s museum, now in a sprawling 55,000-square- foot contemporary building along Interstate 595, has been flooded with visitors — more than 12,000 — since the day the doors opened on May 5.

Mindy Shrago, Young At Art executive director and CEO, says the museum always has been busy in summer months, but this year customers pour in, curious about its new digs. The museum features four permanent themed galleries for youngsters to explore along with a teen center and recording studio. Even more, the museum operates its own summer camp, which has enrolled 140 kids, and it offers summer art classes for teens, another revenue boost.

“We can now draw three times as many children a day as we did in our prior location,” Shrago says.

But while business is good at Young At Art, jewelry stores, automobile dealers and retailers that sell high-ticket items find this summer in particular that locals are checked out — taking longer vacations than they did in previous years. However, those dynamics bolster business for travelers who need pet resorts, dog walkers and travel agents.

Karine Nissim Hirschhorn, a Miami native, and her husband, Aaron Hirschhorn, founded in April, launching to take advantage of summer vacation season. The online business connects pet hosts to pet owners who need sitting service in markets across the United States. In May, Dog Vacay expanded to South Florida.

“It’s more affordable than a kennel and for the pet it’s a better experience,” Nissim Hirschhorn says. “In Miami, people love their pets, but they do a lot of traveling in the summer.”

She has found pet owners are seeking sitters at home and often in the cities they are traveling to, such as Orlando. The hosts set their own prices, which average about $25 a night. “From Memorial Day to July Fourth, we have seen an increase in bookings by 20 to 30 percent each week,” Nissim Hirschhorn says.

Personal-care companies also experience a spike when travelers head to exotic locations and the hot weather tempts locals to bare more skin.

Gabi Rose, international obesity and weight-loss expert and owner of Get Fit with Gabi Rose in Pembroke Pines, says summer is the busiest time for weight-loss clinics and personal fitness. “There are reunions, weddings and family gatherings in the summer and people want to look good.”

At Rose’s weight-loss center, June is the busiest month. “People want to lose weight fast,” she says. “I tell them they need to focus on why they are getting healthy. It might be event or vacation motivating them, but the main goal is maintaining and keeping the weight off.”

Rose says customers also come in with their overweight children during summer. To accommodate them, she says she offers a six-week weight-loss plan, combined with medical examinations and access to a personal trainer. She also runs a variety of summer specials and Groupon deals.

Waxing companies say they, too, count summer as a busy season, but this year, they’re trying even harder to ring up sales. European Wax Center, for example, ran a special in May and will offer a buy-one, get-one-half-off deal on its products in June and July. Jessica Coba, CEO of European Wax Center, says while the number of customers at South Florida locations declines in the summer, those locals who come in to get waxed do so more often. “We’re doing a lot more to encourage that.”

Even more, a lot of residential moves take place during the summer when kids are out of school, which means that homeowners are looking for new mortgages.

Claudine Claus, president and CEO of Home Financing Center, a large independently owned and operated mortgage lender in South Florida, says she has hired temporary help to handle the increase in clients while employees take vacations. Claus says this summer she’s particularly busy as well with mortgage refinancing as rates continue to drop and home prices remain enticing. “There are a lot of good deals out there still,” she says. “This summer, we’re much busier than last.”

For some businesses in South Florida, planning can partially stave off the summer lull.

Abe Ng, owner of Sushi Maki, says he gets strategic over the summer when some of his restaurant locations on school campuses and urban areas experience a drop-off.

“If you have a victim mentality, it becomes an excuse not to push.” This year, Ng has partnered with summer camps, opened at the new Marlins stadium and boosted his airport presence. He’s also delivering fliers to corporate offices advertising specials on refreshing bubble tea.

“We look outside of the box and do our best to keep a smoother income stream,” he says. “Otherwise, summer could be a struggle.”