Who is calling the shots at Avalon Park Group? Many wonder.
By Jacob Engels
Avalon Park Group’s business practices are being publicly called into question. Kingsley Montgomery, owner of Paladin Tech & Game, which is located in Downtown Avalon Park says he might have to move because of abnormally high rent increases. Montgomery also says he is concerned about certain Avalon Park Group business practices.
I have heard from multiple people who rent in Downtown Avalon that Avalon Park Group and it’s employees, have long been difficult to work with and display petty favoritism amongst commercial tenants. One business owner, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said that as soon as you question Avalon Park Group….they make your life a living hell until you leave. More articles about APG business practices and behaviors will be published in the coming weeks.
My interview with Kingsley Montgomery is below, maybe other business owners will speak out after reading this.
Aside from the high rent and the recent substantial increase, have you experienced any other roadblocks from Avalon Park Group? How are their relations with tenants?
First, let me say that most of the people that actually work at APG are great, and have been a lot of help over the years. I have frequently been dismayed by their business practices, however.
They recently allowed us to try tattooing to increase our revenue, since they have known for years that retail stores have a particularly tough time in Avalon, and I told them that Paladin may not be viable for much longer. It was good of them to agree to it, but they promptly announced a large rent increase, which counteracts the reason for the addition of new services. That will keep me from ever getting ahead on my accounts. I understand business, but using your position as landlord to be somewhat of a financial bully is out of sorts, especially in a neighborhood like Avalon, where almost everyone who owns a business also lives within or adjacent to Avalon. It is not like APG is doing poorly and needs the money – quite the contrary. Paladin has over 2,000 active customers in our database, only about half from the 32828 area code. We contribute a lot to the other businesses by pulling in people from out of the area. And yet all we have been able to do is struggle.
Parking is a problem, and has been for a while. On two occasions in the last week I had to park over by the live-to-work units because there was no spot near the store. When I bring that up, and I started bringing it up at tenant meetings years ago, all I get is shrugs. Businesses like restaurants and retail need parking close by to be effective.
Signage has also been a problem. Given the rent we already pay, and the amount of common area maintenance fees that are a part of the monthly rent package, every store in Avalon Downtown should get a sign on Alafaya. A few years ago APG attempted to get businesses to “buy” sign real-estate for thousands of dollars each, but that flopped because they got few takers – because most businesses in Avalon cannot afford that. The signage should come with the lease. It would help advertise and pull in people along the road (and it continues to amaze me how many Avalon residents that don’t know what shops are in their back yard). There was even talk about using the large billboard sign on Avalon Boulevard and Colonial to advertise the downtown area, but nothing came of that, either.
Both parking and signage would go a long way in helping the local businesses. But, really, the rent is the biggest obstacle. The rates are comparable to Waterford Town Center. Waterford Towers, across from the main plaza, has rent rates 20-30% cheaper and a much larger traffic flow (many times as much). Every other place along Alafaya is cheaper still. These neighborhood style business areas are not in premium shopping areas, so the rent price is baffling.
We had some major vandalism one night a couple years ago, and I wanted to install a camera outside near our door but was denied. I then asked APG to put some cameras up, as a deterrent and possible way to catch vandals and thieves. They did eventually put some up, but only to cover the Flats apartments, not the shops. That should have been an easy thing to accomplish. That one act of vandalism cost me thousands of dollars (insurance deductible did not limit it). The dozen or so known acts of theft since then have cost us hundreds more. I even stopped reporting theft because nothing was ever done about it, except to have me fill out lots of paperwork to not hold Orange County Sheriff’s Department responsible for finding the perp…what? But, that is another subject.
How long have you been considering a move out of Avalon Park for Paladin?
I have thought about it for a couple years, but not seriously until this year. We cannot grow any further in Avalon because of the space, parking situation, and rent cost. I believe all three would have to be improved to fix the problem – they are all important.
What kind of increases would you need to see in sales at Paladin in order for you to stay in Avalon Park?
Paladin would have to increase sales by about 30% to make any money at all in Avalon, if I remove my supplemental business income (which was the plan; after 3 years I expected the shop to survive on its own). Before the rent increase, we pretty much broke even every month with the supplemental income, with any rare profits going to pay down debts.
I have been supplementing the shop’s income for years with a secondary business that I actually do out of my house (it has nothing to do with the shop, in fact) – we sell compatible printer ink/toner and some electronics parts to local schools, churches, and businesses. In fact, it was that successful business venture that allowed me to open the shop. Now, all of that money goes to keeping the store afloat. One day I would actually like to profit from all of my work. That will never happen so long as the rent continues to go up.
What can the local community do to make sure you stay in Avalon Park?
Much of the problem is not APG’s. The single largest hit to retail small businesses has been Internet e-tailer discounters. Internet sales are like the Walmart effect times a hundred (Walmart put thousands of local businesses out of business, effectively concentrating the wealth to a select few in that company). I believe this is one of the largest contributors to our job problem in the country – the loss of local businesses. The sad thing is, if the Internet played on a level playing field – not steeply discounting and having to pay sales taxes, it would not interfere with local business nearly as much. If everyone in the Avalon-Waterford corridor simply shopped local, I believe Paladin would be fine, even in Avalon.
I also believe that residents need to defend their local businesses more. They need to let APG know that the shops are part of life in a planned community, and they should be treated better.
Anything big happening for Paladin this year? What’s your gamechanger for 2014?
Tattooing is our big addition this year. We hope to bring in enough to offset the rent increase and also make a little more so I can give raises to my employees (which is more important to me than gaining a couple thousand dollars a year for myself). My intent prior to the rent increase was to give out raises for 2014 and hopefully pay off more of our debt. Sadly, the rent increase will likely eat up most of that.
Tattoos have become a much more accepted part of personal lifestyle, especially among the younger generation, and I believe we can provide a much nicer environment for it than the usual dark and often seedy tattoo parlors. Our resident artist is awesome, and will also be doing custom art work like game play mats, portraits, and painted miniatures.
We are also pushing to up our attendance for card and miniatures tournaments and leagues. These did well the first couple years, but then slacked off in 2011-2013. Much was due the home foreclosure nightmare that forced many of our customers out of the area. The resulting demographics shift has been terrible for most businesses. That has improved a little lately, and we are hoping to capitalize on it. Seeing new apartments go up in a couple places nearby should also help.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post. Along with the Post, he owns several other business and is currently enrolled at Valencia College. Jacob has lived in Avalon Park since it’s founding and enjoys playing with his black Labradoodle Jasper, listening to indie rock, and seeking out new business ventures. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org