Learn about Florida Entrepreneur Jeff and Robin Snell:
Prior to moving to the Sunshine State, Jeff and Robin Snell, owners of Cariloha Naples at Mercato, owned a successful real estate business in North Dakota. After a cruise through the Caribbean in February 2018, they discovered and fell in love with a line of eco-friendly bath and bed products made from bamboo. Once back in North Dakota, Jeff and Robin formulated a plan to open a store and bring the products to an under-served market.
"We had a great real estate business, so when people found out that we wanted to start a new business, they thought we were crazy," Jeff said. "Regardless, we loved the products and knew exactly where we wanted to sell them."
That ideal location was Naples, an area Jeff was familiar with. As a child, Jeff would visit his grandparents who retired in Naples. He knew the area well. He also knew that Naples was a market capable of appreciating the incredible qualities of bamboo and one that would support the new business.
"We came down ahead of time and looked at several areas around Naples," Jeff said. "We looked at the walk-ability factor and the right mix of tourists and locals. We decided that Mercato was the perfect place."
"Once we had our location, we worked with the manufacturer to structure a licensing deal," Robin shared. "The deal allowed us to purchase the products at wholesale from Cariloha and re-sell them through our own store. It's actually a pretty unique deal and one that was made possible in part because of Jeff's background in retail and the market potential of the Naples area. Most of the stores selling Cariloha products are corporate stores in cruise ports."
After a more challenging than expected permitting and build-out process, the Snell's opened their doors on November 13th, 2018. The response has been great, but as Robin shared, there's still more work to do.
"Part of our arrangement with Cariloha is that we're not allowed to have a website," she said. "We have a Facebook page, but without a traditional web presence we have to get creative in how we get the word out and attract new customers." Jeff added, "Robin came up with a loyalty program which gives customers 'Bamboo Bucks' for spending a certain amount of money. As part of the loyalty program, they also get notices of sales and free shipping."
Customers can purchase a variety of bed and bath products, clothing and mattresses made with varying percentages of bamboo. Robin and Jeff shared that the mattresses are hypoallergenic and CertiPUR certified, a designation given to products that meet rigorous standards for emissions, content, performance and durability. Bamboo is also an extremely sustainable product and the manufacturing process is less harmful to the environment than with traditional cotton-based products.
Looking ahead, Jeff and Robin would like to open additional stores throughout Southwest Florida and potentially Florida's east coast. They truly believe in the quality and value of their products and want more people to experience them first-hand.
Jeff and Robin offer some great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "Be prepared for anything and everything," Robin said. "Also, no matter how much you plan and try to look at all the expenses, it's always going to take longer and cost more than expected." Jeff added, "Add an extra 20% on top of what you think you'll spend on the business. It's important to have some extra funds on the side. Also, it takes time to build a business. Be prepared for it to take up to three years to get going."
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