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Shell Factory stands strong post Irma

January 3, 2018
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

For the past four years, the Shell Factory and Nature Park has added attractions and events and posted double-digit gains in attendance and revenues, thanks to a marketing strategy that had attracted year-long residents as well as visitors.

That growth in numbers was expected to continue in 2017 as well, however Hurricane Irma had an impact.

The hurricane shut down the attraction for 10 days, did damage to the property and caused the loss of 11 animals in the nature park, including a family of marmosets, due to stress-related issues.

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Bikers come out for Bike Night on Dec. 14 at the Shell Factory.


Eventually, with the exception of fixing the big sign in front, things got back to normal, and thanks to new events, the Shell Factory is back on track as one of the largest - and popular - family attractions in Lee County.

"Given Irma, things went really well. This was a year where we wanted to do a number of things, such as upgrade the gifts, products and attractions in the store and upgrade the physical look of the property," said Rick Tupper, marketing director and CFO of the Shell Factory. "We did a lot of that until Irma, when we had to redo some things. Overall, I'm very pleased how we did after Irma."

"We weathered Irma great. The big issue would have been the loss of roofs. That would have really done some damage. We can replace trees and signs," said owner Tom Cronin. "We could have done better protecting the animals, but not much. We recovered much quicker than the Naples Zoo."

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Nearly a half-million people came through the turnstiles in 2017, with about 70 percent of them also visiting the Nature Park. In terms of revenue, the numbers were about the same as 2017.

Tupper said the Nature Park replaced some of the animals lost and added new ones including a sloth and a fishing cat. Habitats were replaced, with a new one being made for the toucans at the entrance.

The attraction also started hosting overnight camping in May, which became a big success. Tupper said the goal is to bring in scout troops and birthday parties.

The annual events, especially those started in the last few years, got much bigger, with St. Patrick's Day, Halloween and Gumbofest bringing in huge crowds, Tupper said.

They also started Nam Jam (moved to October after Irma force its cancellation in September) and Bike Night a few weeks ago to a promising start. Bike Night will continue every third Thursday of the month, with special bike events throughout the year.

"The whole idea was to make it a family-oriented place. Gumbofest used to be an adult event and it's very much a family event now," Tupper said. "We've also enhanced our social media presence and opened up new markets, going after Latino and African-American families. We want everyone to feel welcome here and we're seeing the fruits of that marketing."

Cronin said more visitors have been coming to town, which can be harder to quantify and are just as important as tourists still make up the majority of their business.

"If people come to town to visit a relative or friend, and they want to be entertained, where do you take them? We're really targeting the visitors," Cronin said

Tupper said the goal for 2018 is to do less project work and more in enhancements and provide a great family atmosphere.

"Now, it's about letting the place be a great visitor location. I'm sure Tom Cronin will think of a few new ideas," Tupper said. "Some of our events, such as Taste of North Fort Myers and Goldenfest have been moved up to attract more visitors."

"Our long-range plan is pretty much completed, so we go into this year ready to do business," Cronin said. "It's about letting people know we're here. Many people still don't realize what the Shell Factory is. There is still a lot to be gained."

The Shell Factory and Nature Park is at 2787 N Tamiami Trail, Fort Myers.

For more information on attractions and hours visit



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