Finding Success in Southwest Florida
Three brothers. Three success stories. How to do the Stoneburners do it?
FRATERNAL ORDER: From left, Shawn, Chad and Brandon Stoneburner
How can so much talent and drive exist in one family? Among five people in two generations of Stoneburners are skills and abilities in chemistry, math, health, finance, interior design, sales, interpersonal communication, sports and real estate.
There isn’t much this family collective—David and Suzanne and sons Brandon, Chad and Shawn—can’t do. So as the younger Stoneburners become an incomparable force in Southwest Florida commerce, we set out to learn the secrets to this high-achieving clan’s success.
The proud parents say they can’t pinpoint why their sons have been such hits in their industries—Brandon and Shawn are young leaders in commercial real estate with millions of dollars already to their credit; Chad owns a successful and growing compounding pharmacy in Naples. Two of them have been among Gulfshore Business “40 Under 40” classes and the third was a nominee. Brandon and Shawn have been honored year after year in the annual CoStar Power Broker Award for their commercial real estate success, among other industry accolades.
As Gulfshore Business got to know David and Suzanne and their sons, it’s pretty obvious that the Stoneburners’ rise is part nature, part nurture, part resiliency and part sheer determination.
The family’s local history dates back to 1968 when David’s father, Donald (known to all as “Stoney”), relocated from Michigan to Naples where he jumped at the opportunity to launch new business ventures in the then-sleepy town—a car dealership, a citrus grove, a motel and plenty of vacant commercial property in prime locations. Stoney associated with some of the early settlers of Naples, and the family investment businesses mushroomed.
For years, Stoney’s son David ran Stoney’s Grove In Naples, once a well-known gathering spot, the site of a U-pick farm and party barn. He also studied to become a chiropractor, his vocation until retirement. (He still owns some commercial real estate properties in Fort Myers.) Suzanne spent much of her adulthood raising her sons and working in her husband’s business and went back to school at 50 to study interior design. Today, she runs her own firm in Fort Myers. Her featured projects, incidentally, include Chad’s pharmacy in Naples.
To be sure, these young men were born into a successful family and had tools at their disposal such as their private education at Bishop Verot High School. That’s the nature part. The nurture part came from David and Suzanne’s role modeling and attentive parenting.
David worked from a young age on the family’s farm in Michigan, driving hay bailers and combines before the family moved to Southwest Florida. His sons washed dishes, cars and boats, beginning in middle school.
“We weren’t overpowering, but we were old-fashioned,” David says. “They knew if they got into trouble there could be a butt whippin’ involved.”
Not that they ever did, at least nothing beyond the typical scrapes involving beer, teens and the beach— transgressions that resulted in groundings and lost privileges. “Still, they never really wanted to disappoint us,” Suzanne says.
Suzanne stressed leadership skills and goal-setting early in life, inspired by thinkers such as Norman Vincent Peale of The Power of Positive Thinking fame. “This might sound silly,” she says, “but when they were [on the way to] school in the car, we had this little saying, ‘I feel happy. I feel healthy. I feel terrific.’”
Their dad believed in being active and involved—but he did not believe in being a pal. “So many parents now put children as their equals,” David reflects. “I was friends with my boys, but I was their father.”
Both preached hard work and self- determination. “When they were little I would say, ‘Nobody’s going to give you anything. You have to set your own goals and work for them,’” Suzanne says.
Something about that stuck, and combined with a family trait of optimism, it makes for a pretty powerful combination.
Consider the housing crash.
All three Stoneburner sons lost their homes. Brandon was and is single, and he moved in with Chad, also single, who moved to a house his grandmother owned; Shawn was married with a child, and his young family retreated to a rental property.
“We learned a lot then,” Brandon says. “When you go from making six figures to nothing, you really have to look at your money and how you spend it.”
“It was a good learning experience,” Shawn agrees. “And better for it to happen early in life rather than late.”
In the aftermath, both Brandon and Shawn found that the crash whittled the number of people working in corporate real estate to those who really wanted to be there. “The easy money was gone,” Brandon says. “In very tough times there’s a lot of opportunity,” he added. Times like those are about regrouping, thinking, changing tactics and in concrete ways, your investments.
At the same time, “It was really hard to get money in 2009 to start a business,” says Chad. To put the business on steady footing, he had one year with no income and another when he paid himself a meager $350 a week before taxes—working 50 or more hours a week.
“But we’re all back in our own homes,” Brandon remarks. He lives in Estero’s Grandezza, Shawn lives in Gateway and Chad in Naples’ Oyster Bay.
When they were very young
When you get the three of them in one room, it’s tempting to reflect on the pop science of birth order as it may relate to the Stoneburner juniors. While Chad might fit into the mold of the quieter middle child at 37, and Shawn at 39 may be the role model as he was the first son to wade into the waters of commercial real estate, there’s little to explain the fact that Brandon, at 32, by obvious tacit agreement is the de facto spokesman.
There’s little to explain Brandon, period, once the family stories come out.
“We used to travel in a motor home,” David explains one morning in the senior Stoneburners’ home in south Fort Myers. Brandon was the “littlest entrepreneur” in their journeys to RV parks when their kids were younger.
“He would go around the motor home park and see if he could wash and wax the vehicles. He’d be at their doors early in the morning,” Suzanne says. “He was really disciplined. Way ahead of his years,” David adds.
That was even clearer about six years later. “We were staying in Seattle. Leaving the motorhome park we were staying in, we kept passing a Chevy dealership. Brandon kept saying, ‘It’s about time for a new Tahoe. Dad, let’s go.’ I told him he was going to do all the negotiating,” and if David were satisfied with the result, he’d buy it.
“We were in that dealership for two or three hours,” David recalls, smiling. Brandon had researched the buy and knew what it should cost. “He beat those guys to death,” his dad adds. “When we got ready to leave [with the new vehicle], they offered him a job. And he said, ‘But I’m still in high school. I’m only 16.’”
His big brother Chad, by contrast, is quieter by nature, more academic. He received a doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Florida in 2002.
In 2010, he opened Clinical Compound Pharmacy in Naples after years of experience in compounding as well as retail and hospital pharmacy.
His business can prepare medications and combinations of medications not available from drug companies. Compounding pharmacies also can prepare medications in forms other than how they usually are found, such as making a drug usually in capsule form available as a nasal spray.
It’s strictly a pharmacy business; no Band-Aids, batteries or ChapStick here.
That’s good because he would tell you he’s not the sales phenom that his brothers are.
In the past two years, Shawn has sold eight land parcels that have now been developed and brought 2,183 residential units to the market, for a closed value at $49 million. Another $23.5 million is pending, with additional parcels with 875 units that should close this year.
“Shawn has a really good real estate mind, and [understands the] need to provide good client service,” says Gary Tasman. Tasman, the CEO and principal broker of Cushman & Wakefield Commercial Property of Southwest Florida, is David’s former business partner and agreed to give Shawn a trial run after the younger Stoneburner earned his business degree from the University of Central Florida in 2002. Shawn impressed him with his “confidence, focus and capability,” and the trial turned permanent.
“His mother and father have had a tremendous positive impact on them [their sons],” Tasman adds. “They’ve imparted great values, have been supportive, encouraging and complimentary.”
Brandon, true to his nature, was ready to get to work before he even finished high school. He had followed his brothers to Verot, but in his senior year asked to move to the public Cypress Lake High School where he could go to school half days and work in the afternoons as an intern with Grubb & Ellis VIP. “I asked him, ‘How are you going to leave all your friends, and in your senior year?’” Suzanne remembers. “He said, ‘I’ll still have those friends, and I’ll make more.’”
Brandon spent a few years with Grubb & Ellis, moved to Cushman & Wakefield joining his brother, and then left to work for CBRE, now CRE Consultants.
“I’d obviously heard his name around town,” says Randy Mercer of CRE. “I first met him when he was trying to take a tenant [whose lease was coming up] out of a building. I had to speak to the tenant to make arrangements so he didn’t move. And I thought, here he’s going around knocking on doors trying to take tenants out of buildings. And I thought, ‘I’ve got to meet this guy.’ Not every broker does that. He was out prospecting like any good salesperson will do.
“When he and I got together, he was like a 3-year-old horse at the Kentucky Derby waiting to get out of the gate,” says Mercer. “I just realized that here’s a thoroughbred who wants to run.”
Last year, Brandon tallied 79 transactions, amounting to $80 million, and he is ranked as one of the top-producing agents in transactional volume in Southwest Florida.
And by looking at such results as the annual CoStar Power Broker awards, you might think Brandon and Shawn have been engaged in a horserace. But you’d be wrong; Stoneburner brothers’ successes are all celebrated.
CoStar honors are reserved for the top firm and individual producers in each region in several categories. The most recent year’s results are for 2016, and both Brandon and Shawn are on the list of the top office leasing brokers, with the leasing tally calculated based on square footage. Shawn earned honors in two other categories last year— for industrial leasing and for sales, which is based on sales dollars.
Their names have shown up year after year in multiple categories of top producers for the Southwest Florida region.
But they both say they’re not in competition. They each intend to succeed, like family members before them.