by Amy Martinez
Updated 4 yearss ago
Several years ago, a Midwest farm-supply chain called Rural King was looking to expand to Florida. At the northern edge of Tampa Bay, an old Kmart store along a busy thoroughfare in Hernando County had been empty for a decade.
Mattoon, Ill.-based Rural King purchased the abandoned building for $1.6 million. And in 2013, it opened its first Florida location, offering everything from livestock feed and tractor parts to fishing gear and garden tools.
Since then, the 55-year-old family company has added stores in Citrus, Lake, Lee and Polk counties. Known to carry a large mix of hard-to-find items, the stores claim to draw customers from a twohour driving radius.
In all, Rural King owns and operates about 80 locations in 10 states, mostly in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Competitors include Home Depot, Lowe’s, Tractor Supply and Walmart.
“They really understand the rural customer in ways that other retailers don’t,” says Don Capener, dean of the Davis College of Business at Jacksonville University.
According to Capener, Rural King’s secret sauce is equal parts cost containment and smart merchandising: It keeps overhead at a minimum and buys directly from manufacturers to hold down prices. It also operates a private truck fleet so that it can deliver its own products to stores rather than rely on a carrier. Stores offer free popcorn and coffee at the door.
Capener has been following the company since his days as a marketing professor at Monmouth College in Illinois, where he taught Rural King’s third-generation CEO, Alex Melvin.
“He believed the rural market in Florida was bigger than people thought,” Capener says.
Indeed, Rural King continues to look for vacant big-box store lots to scoop up at bargain prices statewide. Plans call for a total of 20 Florida locations over the next decade.
“Our goal is to grow the Florida market north and the Midwest market south and meet up in Georgia somewhere,” says Steve Randall, manager of a Rural King store at Crystal River Mall in Citrus County, where it occupies an old Sears location. “The biggest issue we have in Florida is finding the right property.”
Profile -- ReadingPals
Three years ago, Lakeland’s Carol and Barney Barnett, members of the family that founded Publix, pledged to donate $1 million annually to boost the number of Florida children who are able to read well by the end of third grade. The resulting program, ReadingPals, is a joint effort by the Children’s Movement of Florida and the United Way. So far, nearly 5,000 trained volunteers have been deployed across 10 Florida regions to improve the reading skills of some 8,200 children.
Last spring, the Barnetts pledged another $1 million annually to expand ReadingPals to a total of 15 United Way regions, including a significant swath of southwest Florida. Beginning this fall, ReadingPals will expand to Orlando, Citrus County, Escambia County, Lee and Hendry counties and the Suwannee Valley.
Chico’s CEO David Dyer, who has led the Fort Myers-based retailer since 2009, plans to retire next spring.
Mariana Bugallo-Muros, previously vice president for Partners HealthCare in Boston, became chief human resources officer at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
Lee Memorial Health System named Kevin Newingham chief strategy officer.
Tampa software company Pilgrim Quality Solutions hired Richard Lowrey as CEO.
BRADENTON — First Watch restaurants bought the 114-unit Egg & I chain of Centennial, Colo., for an undisclosed price. First Watch now has more than 260 restaurants in 26 states.
CLEARWATER — Tech Data acquired Phoenix-based Signature Technology Group, a data center and professional services provider. The deal’s terms were not disclosed.
COLLIER COUNTY — Medical device maker Arthrex will receive nearly $165,000 in county incentives to build a 55,000-sq.- ft. Facility near its manufacturing plant in Ave Maria.
NAPLES — Prudential Real Estate Investors completed a $240-million purchase of the Mercato mixed-use development from Madison Marquette of Washington, D.C. > Pebblebrook Hotel Trust of Bethesda, Md., bought the 189-room LaPlaya Beach Resort & Club for $185.5 million. The sellers were Halstatt, a private investment group associated with the Barron Collier family, and Seattle- based Noble House Hotels & Resorts, which will continue to manage the property.
PINELLAS COUNTY — St. Pete- Clearwater International Airport received a $5.7-million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to repave an area used for parking commercial planes.
PLANT CITY — Tampa-based Fitlife Foods will open a 15,000-sq.-ft. food production center in County Line Commerce Center, creating more than 100 jobs.
ST. PETERSBURG — The city council unanimously approved a hiring ordinance that requires contractors to fill 10% of their jobs with workers who have criminal records or who received public assistance in the past year. > Electrical contracting firm Power Design will spend more than $3 million to expand its headquarters and create 60 jobs in addition to its current work force of 196.Former Florida first lady Carole Crist opened a downtown women’s clothing store called Goddessey Boutique.
TAMPA — Charter Communications of Stamford, Conn., revised its bid for Bright House Networks, the biggest cable operator in Tampa and Orlando. Charter plans to buy Bright House as part of a $55-billion deal that includes a $45-billion purchase of Time Warner Cable. > Ashley Furniture will establish a new ecommerce headquarters in Ybor City. The Wisconsin-based retailer will occupy 70,000 square feet at the Centro Ybor complex and employ more than 100 people. Medical startup Inspirata plans to create 70 jobs at a new Tampa headquarters and invest $25 million. The U.S. Attorney’s office says Tampa-based World Triathlon will forfeit $2.7 million for illegally charging athletes a $50 fee for the chance to win a spot in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. > London private-equity firm Apax Partners bought chemical transporter Quality Distribution in an allcash deal valued at $800 million. Greenberg Traurig law firm will expand downtown after signing a lease for more than 20,000 square feet in Bank of America Plaza. > Publicly held Towers Watson bought Tampa health care software firm Acclaris for $140 million. > SofWorX, a project led by U.S. Special Operations Forces to develop new tactical technologies, moved into 3,000 square feet of space at the historic Armature Works building in Tampa Heights. Busch Gardens is building a thrill ride called Cobra’s Curse in the park’s Egypt section, with an opening next year.