The strategy to make the Shell Factory a top family and event destination has paid big dividends.
The Shell Factory and Nature Park in North Fort Myers saw record sales in the first quarter of 2013 with an increase of 17.1 percent over last year, thanks to the introduction of events big and small and a marketing campaign that has brought more locals to the area, making it more of a family destination, offiicals there said..
"We've changed our whole marketing strategy to be the No. 1 family destination and it's working. We're getting more families," said Rick Tupper, marketing director.
Owner Jim Cronin, who bought the Shell Factory in 1997 when it was in sore need of upgrading and refurbishment, said it's been the hard work by everyone that has led to success.
"It's paying off. Word is going out by word of mouth. It's cleaned up and TLC. We've added 60,000 plants," Cronin said. "It's been a challenge, but now we feel that's things are the way we want them."
Tupper said the increase in the number of larger events at the Shell Factory, such as GumboFest, has helped develop the concept that it's not for tourists alone and made it into a destination for local fun, thus improving sales.
"We're doing more events, more on a smaller scale to be cost effective, and others like GumboFest where we go all out," Tupper said. "We also had other events like St. Patrick's Day which were also successful."
The company also added five employees in 2013 and opened new stores, such as a new kite shop and proving ground.
It was the store and the restaurant, the two core businesses that did very well, in particular. The store opened the new kite shop in May which has done good business, and has added more high-end merchandise, Tupper said.
"The quality of the food in the restaurant is up, we have the outdoor seating area and bars that are full all the time. We're attracting more local people," Tupper said. "In the store we now have our own line of clothing, and with new areas we've upgraded our jewelry and gifts, there's a lot of cool stuff coming in."
As for the Nature Park, they have also upgraded that and added new animals, including two red ruff lemurs, Tupper said.
Tupper said they remodeled the post office and upgraded the fun park and the bridge. The whole outside is also being repainted.
Remodeling is expected to be completed in time for the Christmas in July promotion. During this month-long event, several hundred new items will be added and Santa will be present on weekends to inspect the inventory.
The Holiday House will have a 20 percent discount on merchandise and other specials, Tupper said.
Cronin said remodeling has been ongoing since he bought the facility.
"It was in bad shape when I got it from receivership. In the last few months we've been completing most of our plans," Cronin said. "A lot of people are bringing their kids. It's a good place to take the family."
Tupper said summer probably will be slow, but that major events, such as GoldenFest in October, which will serve as a fundraiser for the Golden Retriever Rescue, and a Veterans Day event, will serve to bring people in.
Next, Tupper said, will be to get the rest of those people who know of the Shell Factory, but have never been there.
"We're trying to get people here who know we're here, but think of us as a 'tourist trap.' Now, it's a place you could bring for the whole day with the family," Tupper said.