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November 9, 2023

When Hurricane Ian nearly destroyed this resort, they used the Scaling Up platform to rebound

By Verne Harnish

Growth was humming at the PinkShell Resort & Marina in Ft. Myers Beach, Fla. when Hurricane Ian devastated the area with an 18-foot storm surge in September 2022. The docks at the 12-acre beach resort’s marina floated away, and its team had to be evacuated. 

Fortunately, the leadership team had been working with Scaling Up Certified Coach Aquiles Nunez since late 2017. Brothers Robert and Jack Boykin had bought the 195-villa resort on the Gulf of Mexico after the sale of Boykin Lodging, their father’s family-run, six-hotel chain in Cleveland, to a REIT in 2007, and positioned it for sustainable success. They had built the hotel to more than 300 employees prior to the storm, with about 85% occupancy and a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 72, considered excellent.

Along the way, they had met a three-year target of nearly tripling the size of the company by 2020, using the Scaling Up platform to position the resort for growth. With strong cash reserves, they were able to weather both Covid and the hurricane. PinkShell was one of only 10 hotels in the area to be back online six months later, according to its owners. 

Nunez believes several factors allowed them to pull it off: “It has been strong leadership, a clear vision, impressive execution and an unwavering passion to ‘creating memories’ in each of their guests,” says Nunez. “They have Net Promoter Scores (NPS) at the level of major players, which has resulted in a major fanocracy that has been supporting the hotel during these hard times.”

Here is what they did right.

Putting people first

Long before the hurricane, PinkShell Resort set a goal of becoming the best resort to work for in Florida by cultivating a culture where employees felt like partners, building a culture around the Core Values of People First; Socially Responsible; Make a Noticeable Difference!; Results!; and Trust, Integrity and Professionalism. 

The leadership team supported these values through gestures like acting quickly on their suggestions for fixing things, like a broken ice machine, that could lead to customer complaints. 

“If you don’t, you’ll start getting a disconnect where they say, ‘I don’t want to work for people who won’t fix anything. I keep getting beat up by the guests,’” says Bill Waichulis, general manager. “Our take on it is if you are not happy at work, you are not going to make our guests happy.”

Trusting A Players

That culture stood the resort in good stead as it asked employees to come back to work. Many were willing to return, despite housing challenges in the area caused by the hurricane. 

As the hotel started bringing back team members, it focused on the A players with the skills to bring about a rapid recovery. “It’s like a shot in the arm for the other staff, because they love seeing their coworkers coming back,” says Waichulis. 

So far, PinkShell has been able to bring back about 200 team members and expects to return to full staffing by February 2024.

Making memories

With a vision of being the best resort on the beach, the leadership team trained the team to embrace the company’s Purpose: “We believe in creating memorable experiences by making a noticeable difference to delight our clients and serve our community.”

This is done through details like folding the towels in the rooms in the shape of animals, valeting every car and letting guests dine on the beach. Guests love these extras, and 33% are repeat customers.

“We’ve got generational families that come to the resort for those memories,” says Jack Boykin. “That’s where we were able to lean in with the culture.”

To ensure great customers service, the company trains its team in the 10/5 rule embraced by the Ritz-Carlton. “If you’re walking down a corridor, at 10 feet you make eye contact with them,” says Waichulis. “At 5 feet, you make verbal contact: ‘Good morning. Good afternoon. How is your stay?’”

Staying in constant communication

To keep the team aligned, the Pink Shell leadership team holds daily standup huddles, weekly team meetings, and monthly, quarterly and annual meetings with Nunez. “Those meetings are the foundation of our communication,” says Waichulis. 

Pink Shell also uses an app called Beekeeper so it can spread messages instantly. “If there are things we need to let them know, they get it on their phones,” says Waichulis.

Keeping cash king

Cash has not been a problem for the Pink Shell. The owners paid off all debt on the property about five years before the hurricane. “Our saving grace is that cash is king,” says Waichulis. “If we didn’t have cash in this situation, it would have been catastrophic.”

The leadership team is now focusing on new revenue-generating opportunities, like developing a bar on the beach and 41-slip marina, for which it has approvals. They are also seeking approvals to build 109 2-bedroom units of housing, and a 518-parking-spot garage. 

Waichulis says it all comes from the Scaling Up philosophy: “Where can we move the needle more? Where can we make more money, especially on an asset we have no debt on?” That’s an approach that could come in handy in any industry.

Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish is founder of the world-renowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and chaired for fifteen years EO’s premiere CEO program, the “Birthing of Giants” and WEO’s “Advanced Business” executive program both held at MIT. Founder and CEO of Gazelles, a global executive education and coaching company with over 150 coaching partners on six continents, Verne has spent the past three decades helping companies scale-up. The “Growth Guy” syndicated columnist, he’s also the Venture columnist for FORTUNE magazine. He’s the author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0); Mastering the Rockefeller Habits; and along with the editors of Fortune, authored The Greatest Business Decisions of All Times," for which Jim Collins wrote the foreword. Verne also chairs FORTUNE Magazine’s annual Leadership and Growth Summits and serves on several boards including chairman of The Riordan Clinic and the newly launched Geoversity. He is an investor in many scale-ups. A father of four, he enjoys piano, tennis, and magic as a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.