Before Denise DeGemmis bought Naples Move Managers (then called Naples Senior Moving) in 2016, she was struggling to make it as a real estate agent in Naples. She called herself “the two-two-two girl” because she mostly represented buyers looking for two-bedroom, two-bath homes for $200,000. But she struggled to make it financially, no matter how much she hustled. “To survive on those commissions is a hard road,” says DeGemmis, now 62. “As a single woman with a modest lifestyle, I couldn’t manage.”
In a stroke of good luck, DeGemmis heard about Naples Senior Moving through her real estate connections. The business offered a chance for DeGemmis to expand her entrepreneurial ambitions, plus it required a skillset in which she excelled—organization, planning and compassion. With help from the Small Business Administration, she was able to purchase the existing company. She rebranded it to Naples Move Managers, and she hit the ground running. Over the last five years, the business has nearly doubled in revenue.
Naples Move Managers helps its clients plan, organize and pack their homes in preparation for a move. When DeGemmis first took over the company, the majority of these moves were into assisted living facilities. More recently, the business has expanded to include downsizes, such as the clients who went from a 7,000-square-foot home to a 5,000-square-foot home.
DeGemmis understands that her business calls for a heavy dose of gentle patience. “We’re not doing 10 jobs a week, like a mover,” she explains. “I’ve worked with clients for up to two years, holding their hand the whole way.” DeGemmis and her team of 12 planners, organizers and packers often serve as emotional support for clients who have trouble letting go. They can also bring in professional counselors, if that’s needed. “We know it can be hard,” DeGemmis says. “We’ve shed tears with our clients.”
For other aspiring entrepreneurs, DeGemmis has pointed advice: “Network, network, network.” While national trade organizations and networking groups are important, DeGemmis especially encourages entrepreneurs to reach out to local groups. Though Southwest Florida has grown in recent years, she said, it still has a small-town feel. “Everybody knows everybody.”
Another tip for new entrepreneurs: seek out mentors. When she was just starting in her business, DeGemmis reached out to the Service Corps of Retired Executives for free mentoring for small business owners. SCORE has more than 300 chapters nationwide, and its volunteers offer counseling by email, video chat and face-to-face meetings. She’s also been mentored through the Small Business Development Center program at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Most importantly, DeGemmis said, entrepreneurs should establish themselves in an industry where they know they have something to offer. DeGemmis calls herself an “extreme planner,” and she doesn’t mind the 10 p.m. phone calls from her clients. That’s why she often hears similar praise over and over: We wish we’d known about you sooner. To this, DeGemmis just smiles. “They need somebody like me,” she says.
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