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What I Learned: Sandy Stilwell



Sandy Stilwell

CEO/Owner, Stilwell Enterprises & Restaurant Group, which includes six restaurants and Captiva Island Inn and has about 390 part-time and full-time employees.

Startup tip

Carefully analyze the situation and know your market to determine a true need for your business.

Recent learning curve

S.S. Hookers, which opened in October 2014, is her largest and most expensive restaurant venture (estimated $4.2 million for the property and build out). Stilwell learned while volunteering on committees with Lee Memorial Hospital about plant-based diets and had attended a seminar on the topic that attracted hundreds of people. She recognized a need that her restaurant menu could meet. She hired a chef consultant to create some plant-based dishes for the menu, which features seafood, Southern and Cajun fare. She operates eateries on Sanibel and Captiva islands but being located in Fort Myers before the entrance to the Sanibel Island Causeway required her to analyze her potential customers. The clientele also wouldn’t likely be walking off a boat, for example. “Learning the demographics of that particular restaurant was entirely different than my other restaurants,” she says. “It’s more for people who want to go out for a nice meal, or a sandwich, and have a beautiful view, and it’s really all about the atmosphere, but if you’ve been out and you’re smelling like fish, and you’ve been fishing all day, that’s not where they want to go.”

Best decision in 2015

Hiring a professional marketing team. “I just didn’t have enough time to do the analytics of the actual marketing efforts the way it needed to be. I was by myself spending way too much time, in the middle of the night, on Facebook [and other sites] … I realized that at some point it is a growing organization and I need to reach out and get some help

Growth tip

Be accountable to other professionals, such as lenders, by keeping good records and being organized. “It’s really essentially important for them to believe in you in future projects,” she says.

Next steps

“For me, it’s not necessarily [to] grow larger. Right now, I think I’m in the mode of fine-tuning what I have and more quality control. I’m actually looking just to work a little smarter.”

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