The past few months have been an unprecedented time of hardship and worry for workers and businesses in Fort Lauderdale and around the world. We spoke to people in four different sectors – museum/not-for-profit, restaurants, real estate and the Lauderdale mainstay of yachting and boating – to find out how they’ve been managing and how they see the future.
Yachting & Boating: The Virtual Boatyard
If you’re looking to do some social distancing, there are worse places to be than on a boat on the ocean. Not necessarily a cruise ship, mind you, but one just you and the people you’d be quarantined with anyway.
In the end though, that wasn’t an issue for Moran Yacht and Ship. Spring is not the busy time for the charter side of the business; when anti-coronavirus measures went into effect, none of their boats were out.
“These are substantial enterprises,” Taylor Craig, Moran’s managing director of sales and charter, says of chartered yachts. “We didn’t have any active charters underway.”
That’s probably for the best, considering how complicated it might have gotten otherwise.
“There’s a tremendous amount of restrictions at the moment, and most charters are done outside the United States,” Craig says. “Our clients are staying home and following the guidelines for travel, which means don’t go anywhere.”
For Moran, a family-owned, Fort Lauderdale-based yachting and boating business with global reach, spring is more about locally based work.
“This time of year is more the time when owners will take advantage of getting some work done on boats,” Craig says.
Moran’s involved in four different boating sectors – sales, new boat construction, charter and yacht management. They immediately implemented work-from-home throughout the company.
The new construction side of the business, which Moran does on a consultancy basis, is temporarily more virtual – no more trips to the big boatyards of Europe where most yachts are made. Yacht management – similar to charter, but rather than a boat of its own, Moran manages a yacht and crew for a private client – can be done virtually. And actually, there’s a bit more work to be done there at the moment. When you’re a yacht crew looking to mostly stay at home, the yacht is that home.
“The yachts are continuing to operate,” Craig says. “At this point, they are usually at some marina somewhere. They have the crew onboard, and they are doing their daily tasks.”
Keeping crews up to date with the latest from maritime authorities and others means, at the moment, relaying more new information than usual.
“There’s a bit of extra work to be done in that regard,” Craig says. “That is being done 100 percent remote for our employees.”
In terms of yacht sales, the Palm Beach International Boat Show was postponed. And at any time of uncertainty, Craig says, people tend to be cautious with purchases such as these. But there could also be a spike when potential boat owners who’ve been cooped up in their houses looking at boats on the internet are released again.
“I do think there will be quite a bit of pent-up demand,” he says.
He also hopes for that demand on the charter side. July and August are the most popular yacht charter months. With so many spring vacations cancelled, he hopes summer might even be bigger.
“We’re still optimistic that with what the government’s doing and on all levels, an attempt to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus … that by the time the summer rolls around, we can make up time and it’ll be safe to travel, and our clients will want to travel and enjoy the summer vacation with their families.
“We’re optimistic that the demand for yacht charters will bounce back.”
And then there’s that South Florida lifestyle. Moran notes that if you’re a boat owner, there have been few better places to self-isolate than in open water. He’s seen boat owners taking advantage of this.
“They have been using their boats more often, obviously in a responsible way to minimize contact with people not in their direct family,” he says. “You’re not going to come within 30 feet of another boat, so why not get out and enjoy what South Florida has to offer.”
Museum/Not-for-Profit: Science on the Screen
Shortly after the Museum of Discovery and Science shut its doors, CEO Joseph Cox appeared in a video explaining that the children’s science museum was temporarily taking its learning online. The following day, he appeared alongside one of MODS’ museum educators in the debut Virtual Camp Discovery video, helping teach kids how to make “chocolate slime.”
“It was one of those opportunities where the staff quite quickly came up with some great ways of supporting parents and teachers having to rethink how they’re offering learning opportunities,” Cox says of the video series, which takes its name from the museum’s summer camp.
“We have been doing these programs [live in the museum] for years and years; right now in normal circumstances, there’d be a thousand kids a day coming through for field trips.
“They sat down and spent several hours, the whole team, brainstorming and figuring out what would be fun to do.”
Over two days in March, they then filmed weeks’ worth of quick video clips that offer science-based projects kids can do at home.
The staff who brainstormed and shot the films are the ones who usually do them live – the program staff who normally do demonstrations for field trips, birthday parties and other special events. If you want people who know how to do projects that kids will find cool, this is the team you want.
“You ask any museum educator and in a very short amount of time they can tell you 27 different ways to make something out of toilet paper tubes or how to do fun chemistry with things that are under the kitchen sink in a fun and safe way,” Cox says. “Everything in that STEM range – the slime-making that you saw me doing to storytelling in our new early childhood space.”
That new space, aimed specifically at younger children, had previously been scheduled to open in April. Now, they’ll see. In the meantime, some staffers are still in the building every day because of who else remains in the building – the museum’s many animals, including the perennial crowd favorite otters. Everybody else is working at home. Some are developing new educational programming (until they hear otherwise, they still plan on hosting summer camp this year). Others are working on curriculum development.
Cox, meanwhile, also has to contend with the less pleasant subject of finance. The shutdown forced the postponement of MODS’ 25th Annual Wine, Culinary and Spirits Celebration. It’s been tentatively rescheduled for July 24.
Cox sits on the board of the Association of Children’s Museums, and he’s involved in the Association of Science and Technology Centers. Those organizations, he says, are advocating at the national level for the inclusion of museums and nonprofits in all relief funding. Locally, he’s heard from MODS supporters, both individual and corporate, who are ready to help when it’s needed.
Restaurants: Looking After the Community
When restaurants first shut, Shooters Waterfront did what many others did and transformed itself into a takeout. However, Shooters Waterfront’s transformation went a bit further – the popular Intracoastal restaurant temporarily rebranded as Shooters Community Café and began offering family meals for $10.
“We wanted to be able to provide the community with that emotional support by allowing them to be able to go outside and get a hot meal and not have that economic strain,” Shooters Waterfront director of operations Peter Lopez says. Management also tried to look after its employees, inviting the more than 300 workers and family members from the restaurant and sister business Grateful Palate Catering and Events, in for a daily family meal.
It went off great, Lopez says, and was really well received. But by the end of the shutdown’s first week, Lopez made the call to shut down entirely. It wasn’t an easy call, but it was the one he felt he had to make in order to do everything they could while numbers were still relatively low.
“I just saw too many signs that were going to happen in the next week or two weeks and I wanted us to be out in front,” he says. “I can only go with what’s been given to me.
“This is not going to go away by us feeling good about it – we’re going to want to see some numbers that say we’re on the decline.”
To say there’s been uncertainty in the restaurant industry – where thousands have lost work and fundraisers have popped up to try to bridge at least some of the gap – would be an understatement. Lopez listened to the questions and fears of workers who don’t know what the future holds.
“Us restaurant people are really resilient,” he says. “We can turn on a dime, we can run at 100 miles an hour, that’s just what we do.”
But even workers who can handle a packed house at the height of the season in Fort Lauderdale have struggled with this.
Some work has continued at Shooters Waterfront. The sales and marketing team has kept working and is still booking parties into 2021. “God bless them, they’re the only ones bringing money into the restaurant right now,” Lopez says. Managers are working on new training materials; others are trying new software. “There’s never a time when there’s nothing to do. Just sitting still at home’s not our way.”
But for that core group – the chefs, bartenders and servers who make a restaurant happen – there’s been nothing. Just waiting for that first weekend back.
Lopez doesn’t anticipate a huge surge when the restaurant reopens.
“I don’t think we’re going to see the lights flip back on and we’ve got a two-hour wait,” he says. “A lot of people are still going to be waiting for money to come back into the flow. It will probably take a couple weeks to get back into it.”
Real Estate: Open & Always Closing
If you’ve bought or even looked at a house in recent years, you might have noticed a new trend – some realtors have a web and video presence that could work on HGTV.
For Julie Jones-Bernard, broker and owner of Florida Luxurious Properties, an investment in a strong online presence was something she deemed a good idea long ago. In recent months, that plan’s looked smarter and smarter. “We are still showing properties,” she says. “We did virtual open houses which are actually very, very popular with buyers and with our sellers. I am not putting my team at risk or the owners of the houses at risk.
“We’ve always made a very big investment with our photography and video. Most of our listings have their custom websites.” A Florida Luxurious Properties web tour includes a house’s floor plans and surveys – as well as the real razzle dazzle that comes from the fancy video and high-end photography.
“I’m very glad that we made that investment,” Jones-Bernard says. “Properties that are not properly marketed at the moment, it’s going to be more difficult for them. The sellers that have properties that are fully marketed are going to be at an advantage to the sellers that are not. I’m already thinking ahead to when we come out the other side of this, what we can do to further enhance our virtual presence to make sure we’re keeping ahead on all the internet opportunity.”
So, that’s how to sell now. What about who to sell to?
“The phone’s still ringing,” Jones-Bernard says, noting also that internet traffic is up sharply. “It’s just a matter of being cautious and trying to find the best way to keep business going. I do think realistically that on the other side of this, it’s going to be a great market for investors.
“It’s a little bit like 2008. In 2009, it’s like some people are buying stock at the moment. They feel like stock is a good buy right now, and there are some people who will feel like real estate is a good investment.”
She also suspects that potential buyers elsewhere who have been looking at Florida real estate while cooped up indoors in colder climes could be a potent market soon.
“For me, there’s never a better time to sell the South Florida lifestyle,” she says. “We have it pretty good here – we can get outside. Although we can’t go to the beach, we can walk alongside the beach.”
She’s not naïve to the idea that this is an uncertain time.
“There are going to be enormous financial complications from this,” she says. “We have no idea what the financial implications are going to be. We have to keep a calm perspective. That’s all we can do, you know.”
People often like bricks and mortar when they’ve lost in the stock market. “It’s a very interesting relationship with the luxury real estate market and the stock exchange,” she says. “Obviously some people, if their stock portfolio’s doing well, they’re more confident to buy.” But for others, the vagaries of the stock market can make the world of real estate look more secure. “It’s a really personal perception,” Jones-Bernard says.
“We’re all just doing the best we can. That’s the market now until we know more.”