Lately I'm spending a lot of time with developers across the country who bring me in to pick my brain about The Villages.
The main thing they want to know is some variation of the question “Why Has The Villages Been So Successful?”.
If you think of the popular real estate mantra “Location, Location, Location” …and take into account that The Villages is essentially in the middle of nowhere-ville…then you could probably rattle off 50 communities that should be more successful than The Villages.
Yet, they're not.
So what's the secret ingredient?
Of course its several things, and I'm going to leave out the usual suspects like more golf than you can shake a club at (some of it you can play for free), 2,000+ clubs and organized groups, easily accessible restaurants, shopping, healthcare and the like.
They've definitely given people want they want and have most of the basics down pat.
But those are readily apparent ingredients to The Villages success that anyone can see.
Here today I want to share a few of the less obvious answers I usually give when I get this question.
A Story That Spreads Easily
The Villages story is easy to spread.
When most people visit Florida looking for a place to retire they'll likely visit a bunch of communities but from experience I can tell you after you see 2 or 3, for the most part they tend to run together.
You'll see beautiful houses, great golf courses, clubhouses and other amenities in all of them, but there's usually very little that stands out as unique.
The Villages has that uniqueness.
Part of it is the sheer size and amount of things available. This makes it stand out in people's minds when discussing various communities.
Part of it is the idea of “free golf for life”…that's a unique story that makes it easy to go home and tell friends about.
Also, because of their success, The Villages gets a lot of press, both good and bad.
Every time a major Republican candidate visits to campaign or do a book signing in The Villages and it gets picked up by major news outlets across the country, more people hear about The Villages.
When a golf cart video goes viral and racks up 4,000,000+ views like the CBS Morning Show segment did a few years ago, more people hear about The Villages.
You can't buy that kind of marketing and if you could, you probably couldn't afford it!
Even the bad press and publicity The Villages sometimes gets further spreads The Villages name and story.
The Villages has done a great job implementing “the uniqueness factor” into their marketing as well, going all the way back to when Harold Schwartz used to have prospective buyers picked up at the airport in a limo.
You think those people went home and told their friends about that unique experience?
You bet they did.
It's easy to look at the success of The Villages and assume it came overnight.
In reality, The Villages is anything but an overnight success.
Begun as a struggling mobile home park called Orange Blossom Gardens in the 1970's, The Villages has survived through six U.S. recessions and a few real estate downturns.
They stuck it out through thick and thin, and even though their “thin” times were not as bad as that of many others, you gotta give them credit for sticking to the plan.
Not to mention, the unique story we talked about in Reason #1 has had all that more time to spread and take root.
It's a Family Affair
When you look at the size of The Villages and the amount of home sales and revenue they generate each year, without knowing the make-up of the organization and the history, an outsider could easily assume that a giant publicly traded company is running the show.
Yet that's not the case.
It's basically one family at the wheel.
Now of course they have tons of help…I'm not trying to discount the efforts of all those outside the family who make The Villages a success.
What I mean here is that success has been a result of the focused leadership of three generations of one family.
Make no doubt about it, this is their baby.
They have skin in the game.
It's their family name on the line every day.
I think we'd all agree you're going to put a little more effort into something when its you family, rather than just some company you collect a paycheck from.
(Some of you will argue, hey the company I work for is my family, and its great you have that attitude…I love you…but c'mon, it's really not.)
The advantage of this is that every decision, right or wrong, is made in their vision.
And because of that, they've been able to create an exemplary community.
Oftentimes what happens when you take a company by committee…a building by committee…a community by committee…you don't get a fantastic product.
You don't get an exemplary product or outcome.
You get what you often get through committee which is a little bit of bureaucracy…and I dare say a little bit of mediocrity.
Over on the right, sales and marketing wants the community to have these amenities or build these types of homes because its what people want.
But over on the left, the finance guys who need to make their numbers for the quarter say no, we're going to do these amenities and build these types of houses.
It's tough to create a big success when those kinds of forces are working against each other.
I'm not saying The Villages doesn't have conversations about how to make more money, I'm just saying that those conversations remain secondary to the family's grand vision.