Residents’ loyalty delivers big profits

Bartender Jason Buckingham, right, serves Barbara Dieker, of the Village of Amelia, at World of Beer in Spanish Springs. That location is one of World of Beer’s leading performers.

Residents’ purchasing power is sowing business success stories. More than a dozen stores and restaurants in The Villages are, or are among, the top-performing locations for their brands.  Top performers range from clothing stores, such as Anthony’s and Van Heusen, to specialty stores like Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming, and to restaurants like Culver’s and the Spanish Springs World of Beer. It’s not unusual for businesses to have banner openings and performances in The Villages, said Scott Renick, director of commercial development. Other businesses take note of the activity, he said, and seeing other companies do well makes the area more attractive for businesses considering setting up shop. When the World of Beer location learned it led the company in sales during the last quarter, the location’s success earned a beer party for the restaurant’s employees.

“It was a tremendous effort on everyone’s part,” said general manager Ashley Bettis.

The fact that so many businesses are finding success here — and setting records for their companies — shows the region’s strength and stability, Renick said.

“It is a testament to the vitality of Villagers as customers who are active and supportive of those businesses that have invested in our community,” Renick said.

Bryce and Stacey Kelly, who own McAlister’s Deli and Flying Biscuit Cafe, have seen the impact of residents’ loyalty. Flying Biscuit Cafe is still establishing itself in Lake Sumter Landing, but the McAlister’s Deli in Brownwood is the current top-selling location in the state.

And the snowbirds aren’t even in town.

Bryce partly attributes the deli’s accomplishment to the people who frequent it. The Kellys have gotten close to several of their regulars, building friendships. When the Kellys became grandparents, their regulars congratulated them.

Villagers “are fantastic about supporting local restaurants,” Bryce said.

Retail stores in the area also are seeing success at the hands of a loyal customer base. In 2017, Beth Whitcomb, the owner of Brownwood’s Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming, had the first store in the company to exceed $1 million of gross sales in a year.

The store has maintained its lead within the brand, even as other franchises have joined the Millionaire’s Club.

Whitcomb said because The Villages is a retirement community, her customers have more time, money and energy to spend on taking care of their furry companions.

“We all love our pets, but when you’re retired you’re not distracted by children and life and jobs,” Whitcomb said.

The store matches that level of devotion by giving dogs a treat when they walk into the store and supporting the pets’ owners. Whitcomb sends flowers to regulars who have lost their pets and celebrates with those who go on to adopt new dogs.

Hector Sandoval, an economics professor at the University of Florida, attributed some of the area’s successes to how fast The Villages is growing. The Daily Sun reported in April The Villages was the fastest-growing metropolitan statistical area in the state and in the nation, as the population increased 37.8% from April 1, 2010, to July 1, 2018.

Sandoval said that kind of expansion put The Villages above larger, more established markets like Tampa or Orlando because though they still see expansion, it’s at a less-concentrated rate.

Brownwood Van Heusen store manager Tammy Gibson said being where people are moving to is only part of the equation. Her store won corporate recognition by winning Store of the Month in May and the President’s Award in August, and she attributed it to her team’s customer service.

Both awards give a nod to the store’s performance, which Van Heusen measures by looking at sales, the amount of rewards members it has and the percentage of people who buy something of everyone who enters the store.

Of the two awards, Store of the Month recognizes the location that has the highest numbers in those categories in the past month, and the President’s Award honors stores that maintain their position for an entire quarter.

The Lake Sumter Landing store also has won those awards, Gibson said.

“It’s pretty incredible that both stores in The Villages are doing so well,” Gibson said.

Staff writer Amber Hair can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5284, or