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Bay Oaks to Business: Director Sean De Palma speaks to Chamber
April 19, 2017

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The Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce got business-to-business advice during its April breakfast meeting.

Guest speaker and Parks and Recreation Director Sean De Palma spoke to the membership about the changes he is working on at Bay Oaks Recreational Center and how many of the lessons learned can be applied to other businesses, too.

"At Bay Oaks, we're revamping everything," he said.

The town has had control of the campus since 2009, but even so, De Palma said the operations were in infancy stages when he arrived, with no established process or focus on consistent quality customer service. In addition to previous work in parks and recreation, De Palma owns a marketing business on the east coast with his brother and friend.

He outlined three points that will help Bay Oaks, and other businesses, succeed.

The first was having the right amount of resources to work, specifically, the right staff numbers. While sometimes it may not be possible to hire additional staff, the staff on hand need to be analyzed to be sure they are being used efficiently, De Palma said. If a staff member is missing part of a necessary skill, train them. Building a strategy for improvement is also essential, setting out specific goals and guidelines for improvement and growth.

"It's the same at Bay Oaks, we are professionalizing the staff," he said.

Next was cash flow. At Bay Oaks, De Palma's cash flow is monitored by a conservative town council, so he has to be sure every tax dollar is managed properly and efficiently, without waste. He suggested every business should research new ways of financing or managing money, many of which are free to find online. De Palma has also helped Bay Oaks set up a 5-year Capital Improvement Plan, which will help the facility plan for expenses in the next five years.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, De Palma said branding was of the essence in the 21st century.

"It used to be location, location, location, but now it's internet, social media and digital marketing," he said.

A business doesn't necessarily need a top-notch brick and mortar location these days, when it can brand and market itself online and reach a wider audience than drop-in traffic. If location is a business's biggest draw, that can be incorporated into the brand as a selling point to get people in the door.

De Palma used Bay Oaks after-school programs as an example. Bay Oaks is right next to the Beach Elementary School. The school has about 120 students enrolled, but Bay Oaks' programs were only capturing about 40 students. The programs were missing out on more than double their potential clients, De Palma said. So, his staff is focused on branding better after-school programs for the students and developing a teen program too, for older students living on the island.

Danielle Felton, one of De Palma's staff members, also spoke about the work being done at Bay Oaks.

"We were all inexperienced and he taught us to be professional," she said. "There are growing pains, but we've definitely seen an increase in attendance."

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