Ranking fifth nationwide in sales among master-planned communities midway through 2016, the marketing staff at Schroeder-Manatee Ranch could be content to stand pat and rest on their laurels.
Not so, even though sales are up 36 percent from last year.
“We are knee-deep in a lot of new marketing initiatives,” said Laura Cole, vice president of marketing. “Our marketing efforts require us to amplify our voice and reach the broader market as well as targeted market segments who are receptive to what we have to offer.”
With 25,000 residents, Lakewood Ranch has less than half the population and homes that it is projected to eventually have.
Faced with changing demographics and consumer preferences, including the growing number of baby boomers leaving the workplace, SMR officials know they have to stay on their game.
They recently commissioned consumer research by The Futures Company to better understand who their buyers are, where they come from, and their preferences for homes, neighborhoods and lifestyle.
“The reason we have been successful is because we have been able to diversify our neighborhoods, and offer a greater variety of homes and living experiences,” Cole said.
Golf, parks, nature and new compact, walkable neighborhoods, including the new 2,000-acre Waterside community being developed around a series of lakes in SMR’s Sarasota property, are examples, Cole said.
Attractions include home prices ranging from the high $100,000s to more than $1 million, and the emergence of Lakewood Ranch as a job center and a destination for shopping, dining, entertainment and sports. Premier Sports Campus alone is expected to attract about 70,000 visitors this year.
When Cole moved to Lakewood Ranch to take on her new job less than a year ago, she said the decision was made easier by the fact Lakewood Ranch “stands tall” and is in pristine condition despite being 22 years old.
In addition to the established development, Lakewood Ranch has 12 neighborhoods where homes are actively being sold, including Del Webb, its first age-restricted community.
As Lakewood Ranch sharpens its marketing, it is putting five new marketing initiatives in place:
▪ Refreshing and rejuvenating the Lakewood Ranch brand, while retaining its legacy and core values.
▪ Understanding the Lakewood Ranch buyer.
▪ Marketing in the right media in the correct geographic location.
▪ Simplifying the homebuyer journey with interactive screen technology in Ranch visitor centers, and launching a new website in time for the Ranch Tour of Homes.
▪ Leveraging near-term opportunities to drive traffic and sales through a Premier Sports Campus Labor Day Tournament, the Tour of Homes, and social media.
“Our first foray into advertising to a larger audience was at Amalie Arena in Tampa,” said Lisa Barnott, SMR spokeswoman.
SMR has also advertised in the Wall Street Journal, in in-flight magazines and in a 90-second video on United and American Airlines flights, Barnott said.
Airline advertising in the past was more random, but this year SMR is advertising monthly with the airlines.
“We get a lot of verbal reinforcement that the airline advertising is working, and people come in carrying the magazine,” Barnott said.
Closer to home, SMR opened an interactive lounge in The Mall at University Town Center in 2015 as a way to reach mall visitors who may never have visited Lakewood Ranch.
Also key to Lakewood Ranch marketing are visitor centers staffed seven days a week on University Parkway and north of State Road 70.
“Our information centers are increasingly busy. They are one of the top reasons that people buy here. About 60 percent of buyers here come through an information center,” Cole said. “We have two information centers that are fully staffed seven days a week. That’s a big commitment.”
The Premier Sports Campus grand opening for its new stadium and other amenities for a Labor Day tournament in September is expected to draw 13,000 visitors.
“Premier Sports Campus is a marketing tool itself,” Barnott said.
New data is just coming in on who buys at Lakewood Ranch, and who are prospects, Cole said.
“We have a lot of buyers who come here, fall in love with the place, buy a house, move up in size and move down,” Cole said.
The most recent data show about 45 percent of Lakewood Ranch buyers are Florida-based.
Out-of-state buyers come from the Midwest, including Cook County, Ill., but increasingly from northeast Boston, Long Island, Baltimore and Fairfax, Va., Tony Polito of MetroStudy said. Baby boomers who sell their homes in the Northeast and move to Florida can get a lot for what they net from their old home.
SMR marketing will continue to evolve and be responsive to market conditions.
“The emphasis has been more on producing results and less on what it costs,” Barnott said. “We are flexible in acting if we see an opportunity that will produce results.”
Manatee County migration 2013-14
Palm Beach, 215
Cook, Ill., 209
Nassau, N.Y., 178
Suffolk, N.Y., 119
Montgomery, Md., 100
Fairfax, Va., 98
Maricopa, Ariz., 96
DeKalb, Ga., 86
Oakland, Mich., 85
Allegheny, Pa., 82
Arapahoe, Colo., 80