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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Sep. 8, 201512:00 PM EST

Latitude 360 CEO not deterred by losses

by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

Latitude 360 Inc. has reported a string of losses since going public last year, but that’s to be expected, said Chief Executive Officer Brent Brown.

“We’re a startup. My focus has not been on the balance sheet. My focus has been on top line growth,” Brown said in an interview last week.

The company has basically been in business for four years. Latitude 360 opened its entertainment and restaurant venue on Jacksonville’s Southside in 2011, and followed that with additional venues in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

The Jacksonville-based company became public in mid-2014 as it launched plans to grow the concept. It announced agreements for additional venues in Albany, N.Y.; Minneapolis; and Southeastern Massachusetts. However, Latitude 360 dropped those plans and announced a shift in strategy ten days ago.

Instead of developing its own venues, Latitude 360 now intends to buy three dining and entertainment venues from Frank Entertainment. Those venues in Syracuse, N.Y.; Bethlehem, Pa.; and Philadelphia will be converted to Latitude 360.

“We had an opportunity to go a different route for growth this year,” Brown said.

Instead of spending cash to build out new venues, the company is using equity to acquire these existing properties, which will be better financially for the fledgling company.

“It’s a more positive effect on the balance sheet,” Brown said.

The three venues are somewhat similar to the Latitude 360 concept, which includes entertainment options such as bowling and a live stage.

“These really fit the mold for us,” Brown said. “They’re brand new venues. They’re only a couple of years old.”

He said the decision to abandon the other three planned venues is not a setback for the company, and he still strongly believes in the concept and expects it to grow. “We are setting a trend in the upscale restaurant entertainment business,” he said.

Latitude 360 launched a new venture last week called 360 Fantasy Live that will allow customers to play fantasy sports at the venues and also participate online, which Brown hopes will drive additional revenue.

Latitude 360 reported a loss of $12.9 million in the first half of this year but net sales rose 10 percent to $9.9 million.

Brown said it is normal for a startup company to lose money in its first few years of operations, so instead of worrying about the financial statements, he is more interested in Latitude 360’s growth.

Flowers still evaluating former Hostess plant

Two years after acquiring the former Hostess bread bakery in Jacksonville, Flowers Foods Inc. still hasn’t decided what to do with the Northside facility.

Thomasville, Ga.-based Flowers acquired 20 former Hostess bakeries and five bread brands in a U.S. Bankruptcy Court auction in 2013. The Jacksonville bakery at 201 Busch Drive E. employed 128 people when Hostess went out of business in 2012 and shut down the plant.

It was unclear what Flowers would do with the Jacksonville bakery since it already operated its own Jacksonville bread-making facility seven miles away at 2261 W. 30th St., which employs about 200 people.

During the company’s quarterly conference call last month, Chief Financial Officer R. Steve Kinsey said Flowers has reopened just three of the former Hostess bakeries and sold eight.

Flowers has three of the remaining closed bakeries listed for sale, “which leaves six bakeries that remain under evaluation to be opened or sold, as necessary, to meet our strategic objectives,” Kinsey said.

He did not give further details, but Flowers spokesman Paul Baltzer said by email last week the Jacksonville bakery is one of the six facilities that “remains under evaluation.”

Flowers’ earnings rose by 4 cents a share to 25 cents in the second quarter ended July 18. Sales rose 1.8 percent to $889 million, helped by sales of the bread brands acquired from Hostess.

Landstar CEO comfortable with forecast

In his mid-quarter conference call update last week, Landstar System Inc. CEO Jim Gattoni said he remains comfortable with the company’s earnings forecast of 87 cents to 92 cents a share for the third quarter.

The Jacksonville-based trucking company earned 82 cents a share in the third quarter of 2014.

Gattoni said through the first eight weeks of the third quarter, the volume of loads hauled by Landstar’s trucks rose by 9 percent but the revenue per load declined, so total revenue rose by only 3 percent. However, that’s in line with Landstar’s forecast of a 1 percent to 7 percent increase in revenue for the third quarter.

Gattoni expects the trends in the first eight weeks of the quarter to continue through September.

“I expect demand for Landstar service to continue to be strong through September,” he said.

Stein Mart sales drop

Stein Mart Inc. said Thursday that total sales for the four weeks ended Aug. 29 fell 0.4 percent to $86.1 million and comparable-store sales (sales at stores open for more than one year) dropped 1.4 percent in the month.

The Jacksonville-based fashion retailer blamed the drop on the later Labor Day holiday this year, which moved its Labor Day sales event from August to September.

Stein Mart had 269 stores in operation at the end of August, compared with 265 a year earlier.

Shoe Carnival beats forecasts

Shoe Carnival Inc. last week reported higher-than-expected quarterly earnings, which somehow prompted a mixed response on Wall Street.

The footwear chain controlled by former Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver reported earnings of 24 cents a share for the second quarter ended Aug. 1, up from 13 cents the previous year and 6 cents higher than the average forecast of analysts, according to Thomson Financial.

Total sales rose 2.6 percent to $227.8 million and comparable-store sales rose just 0.5 percent, but the company said that was expected with the shift of tax-free holidays from July to August in some of its markets.

That will put more back-to-school sales in the third quarter, and CEO Cliff Sifford said in a news release that comparable-store sales in August were up by a “high single digits” percentage.

Shoe Carnival operates 400 stores in 34 states and Puerto Rico.

Despite the generally positive report, Shoe Carnival’s stock dropped as much as $2.65 to $22.96 in early trading Wednesday after the earnings report. However, it rebounded to close Wednesday at $26.47, up 86 cents on the day.

Shoe Carnival reiterated its full-year earnings forecast of $1.42 to $1.48 a share, which may have disappointed some investors who were hoping the company would increase the forecast. The average analyst’s forecast was at the high end of that range, at $1.48, according to Thomson.

Sterne Agee analyst Sam Poser saw the earnings report as positive, as he reiterated his “buy” rating on the stock.

“In a tough retail environment, Shoe Carnival is executing well both on the top and bottom line,” Poser said in a research note.

Weaver is chairman of Shoe Carnival and, along with wife Delores, the largest stockholder with 24.6 percent of the outstanding shares.

BNY Mellon catches up after glitch

The problem lingered into last week, but it seems that Bank of New York Mellon Corp. finally got its fund values up to date after a glitch in a SunGard computer system.

BNY Mellon, the world’s largest fund custodian, reported two weeks ago that a problem with the system provided by SunGard had left it unable to process the net asset values of certain mutual funds and exchange traded funds.

Once the system was operational again, BNY Mellon fell behind in processing the daily values for those funds but on Wednesday morning, the bank said it had completed calculating the values for Tuesday and would not need to post any more updates on the computer system.

SunGard agreed to a $9.1 billion buyout last month by Jacksonville-based Fidelity National Information Services Inc. The merger of the two financial technology firms is scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter this year.

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