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Mullins: You can take building trend to the bank

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Published:   |   Updated: May 19, 2013 at 11:47 AM

When was the last time you walked into a bank? For me, it must be a year, maybe more. I've asked my friends, and many say three months to a year.

So why are new bank branches popping up all over town?

At Swann Avenue and Howard Avenue: a new Chase branch. The old Continental jewelry location on West Shore Boulevard is now a beautiful USAmeriBank. Dale Mabry and West Gray Street has a new HomeBanc site, which is not more than 500 yards south of two new bank branches, one a Chase and one a PNC.

Drive past a corner construction site, and odds are it's either a new bank branch, a Wawa, a pawnshop, a We Buy Gold shop or a dollar store, which says something about the local culture.

This also is an example of a trend reversal.

For years, physical bank branches were closing down as the economy slumped and people switched to online banking and ATMs. The FDIC years ago tracked 149 bank brands in Tampa; that number has dwindled to 45 active banks.

That closure trend really took off, for me at least, when ATMs started taking checks without deposit envelopes. And banking apps on smartphones took a leap forward when they started accepting check deposits via the camera phone. Just take a snapshot of the front and back of a check, and poof, in an otherworldly kind of way, you just made a deposit. (Back-office systems verify the check, so don't write yourself a zillion-dollar check.) Even mortgages have moved online with services such as LendingTree and QuickenLoans accepting applications online and offering rate quotes on the spot.

This is the same dynamic that saw Netflix kill off Blockbuster stores. That leaves physical bank branches to serve a pocket of customers: Small-business owners who need to deposit stacks of checks, people cashing weekly paychecks and customers who just want to socialize with tellers.

To be sure, a physical bank branch is a powerful brand advertisement. Hey, there's a real branch right there, it must be a legitimate operation, right?

Here's one explanation that real estate experts give me: Companies are lemmings, especially in tough times. Even smart executives see their competition open a new branch and can't help thinking, “Hey, they must know *something.* Let's open more branches than them.”

Miami saw an early rush of new bank branches begin a couple years ago, and Tampa wasn't far behind. But stay tuned, I'm told the Miami bank market is cooling off. So maybe we'll see this trend reverse itself, again, and new pawnshops will have lots of empty bank branches to choose from.

Other retail, restaurant and trend news around town:

PinterestFail.com

What? Did that
project you saw on Pinterest not work out when you tried it? Was it a spectacular disaster? Then I have the site for you. PinterestFail.com. Motto: “Where Good Intentions Go to Die.” The project started by “That Wife” blogger Jenna Anderson gathers pitifully hilarious photos of projects gone wrong matched with the photo-perfect examples on Pinterest. Take for instance the almond butter that “Renee” submitted, which looks like a heroic attempt to craft a dead squirrel sculpture out of chocolate — in a jar. “It's still edible,” Renee says, “just not super appetizing.” The Easter Cake Pops on Pinterest should look like cute little round Peeps on a stick, but instead look like a Peep that lost a cage-match fight. By far, the most courageous crafters post photos of the results when they tried at-home hair treatments. PinterestFail.com

LazyDays

The torrid legal squabble over the LazyDays RV Supercenter has crossed into new territory. In a nutshell, Don Wallace years ago built the world's largest single-site RV dealer, which you can see from Interstate 4 in Seffner. Then he sold the dealership (but not the ground underneath) amid near-perfect timing to outside investors who soon had their shirts ripped off in the downturn.

Wallace recently entertained buyers for the land, but the outside investors claim a right of first refusal. Wallace disagreed. They all marched into court, and a judge on May 10 sided with the investors and set a hearing within 60 days to settle on a sales price plus damages. When the judge calls the case “complex,” you know it's a soap opera.

I strongly suspect Wallace will appeal.

“In any event,” LazyDays' director of marketing, Thom VanderKlipp, said, “the dealership will continue to do business at its Seffner location.”

Meanwhile, there are bigger fish to fry. The RV giant Camping World/Dusty's is ramping up rival dealerships across the region.

LazyDays.com.

Choice

A pet theory is making the rounds in the consumer goods industry, distilled into this pithy headline: “Too much choice leaving us bewildered and depressed.”

Here's how it goes. Stand in the toothpaste section and you'll see dozens of choices. Tartar control Crest or plaque-reducing Colgate? Gel or paste? Listerine-enhanced? Whitening? Whitening with Listerine? Organic? Sensitive teeth? And so on.

You become “paralyzed” with options, yet pick one, only to suffer buyer's remorse and wonder if you made the “best” pick. Repeat this horrifying first-world scenario with dog food, crackers, soda, cellphones and cable TV packages.

The Wall Street Journal sounded the alarm in February 2011, claiming “few shopping trips are more bewildering” than toothpaste.

Britain's Telegraph recently delved into an academic study into the concept I've seen called “Brand Vertigo,” quoting a researcher: “We cannot assume that choice, as understood by educated, affluent Westerners, is a universal aspiration, and that the provision of choice will necessarily foster freedom and well-being.”

Perhaps this strikes you as either nauseating blather or nail-on-the-head research. Either way, I hope you survive the ordeal of numerous, clean grocery stores inflicting variety on us all.

Walmart

Want a job at a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Pinellas Park? They have a job fair for a new store at 7800 66th St. N., 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. In all, 95 positions are available.

Walmart.com/careers

Daddy Day

With Father's Day around the corner, here's one suggestion for shoppers: Uncrate.com. I've admired the catalog/blog/news site for months as it focuses on the creation of unusual dude stuff. For instance, the new Nike TW 14 golf shoes that blend athletic shoes with spikes for $180. (Tiger Woods wore them at the Players Championship.) They alerted New Yorkers to The Best Made Shop in Tribeca that's full of dude-focused things like axes, rope ladders, canvas bags and such. And they highlighted the new Pivothead Video-Recording Sunglasses ($300) that look a lot like Oakley shades for that downhill race you want to record. Handily, the blog not only has photos and prices, but a little button on each item labeled “Buy.”

Uncrate.com.


rmullins@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7919

Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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