Naples was a sleepy Florida fishing village in 1957 when John and Wanda Wood, with $4000 and their Plymouth station wagon, set out from their home in Arkansas to try their hand at residential real estate. The original plan was to settle in St. Petersburg where the Woods had friends, but a visit to Naples changed that plan as the two discovered beautiful beaches, a quaint downtown, and a friendly atmosphere.
John, an Arkansas lawyer, passed the Florida Bar and would maintain his Florida license for over 20 years. But real estate was the reason he had come to southwest Florida, so he quickly earned his real estate license. Wanda continued her teaching career, but also became a licensed broker. After a year of learning the ropes, John and Wanda decided to fulfill a dream and take the entrepreneurial plunge. So in 1958, they opened John R. Wood Realtors in a small space on Fifth Avenue South.
In those early years, real estate was a challenging profession. Naples was home to only a few thousand residents, and half of those went north for six months of the year. Home sites in Port Royal could be purchased for as little as $7,500, as compared to the multimillion prices of today's market.
The late 50's also saw the beginning of the beach and bay front condominium lifestyle, with the construction of the first multi-family building next to the Beach Club. This would eventually lead to a fabulous selection of condominiums and cooperatives along Gulf Shore Boulevard.
Due to the relatively small number of homes in the area, Wood concentrated mostly on raw land sales. He also set out to immediately establish a reputation for integrity, so the company slogan became "Walk on it before you buy", an effort to offset the perception that all Florida lot sales involved swamp land. The firm gradually began selling more homes as the area slowly grew, but that slow growth was due to change very soon.
Hurricane Donna & the NAR Presidency
September 10, 1960. Hurricane Donna scored a direct hit on the Naples/Bonita Springs area, causing major devastation. Surprisingly, this would become a major impetus for the real estate market. After the hurricane, millions of dollars in insurance money poured into the area for renovations, and the rest of the nation was experiencing the “Camelot” years. People were looking for great second home locations, and the Naples market began to prosper as lots in the newly created Coquina Sands and The Moorings began selling at a rapid pace. John R. Wood Realtors became firmly entrenched in the residential market, selling homes in Port Royal, Aqualane Shores, and the newer subdivisions at the northern edge of town.
The area still had the small town feeling. The Quonset Hut Theater on Third Street and the drive-in at the corner of 111th Avenue North and U.S. 41 were the only movie selections. The Rexall Drugstore on 5th Avenue South had the classic soda fountain and luncheonette, and the Swamp Buggy parade in late October was the major event for 50 miles around.
John Wood worked hard to help lead the real estate profession, and eventually served as President of the Naples Area Board of Realtors in ’63 and ’64. He then worked his way up the ladder and became President of the Florida Association of Realtors (1971), Chairman of the Florida Real Estate Commission (1977), and ultimately President of the National Association of Realtors (1981).
Wood also led the way for the company in community work, making sure that the firm became known for its emphasis on caring. Today, Wood agents and staff give time and financial support to well over 100 philanthropic charities and organizations throughout southwest Florida.
The 70's, 80's, and 90’s.
In the 70's, Naples continued to grow, mostly in a northern direction. Park Shore became the newest development on land that was previously used mostly for hunting and fishing. In 1979, what was at the time the largest development in Naples area emerged, as Westinghouse Corporation began selling property in Pelican Bay. The 70’s also saw the addition of the second generation to the company as son Phil joined first as an agent, later moving into management. Using his marketing background, Phil began working to make the company more marketing oriented, and by the early 80's, the company was specializing in the luxury markets.
The 80’s were a significant growth period for southwest Florida, prompted by three primary events.
I-75 was completed between Tampa and Naples, making access considerably easier. Likewise, the new airport (now called Southwest Florida International) opened in Ft. Myers, and the Ritz Carlton Beach Resort and Registry (now Naples Grande) Hotels opened. The combination of these developments opened the door for a flow of visitors to the area, and many of these elected to secure a second home in their new found paradise.
During this decade, golf became even more popular, and Naples became known as the golf capital of the world. The Wood firm added golf course lifestyles to their expertise, and guided their customers who wanted new homes directly on a golf course.
The 90’s marked an important developmental period for John R. Wood Realtors. Dorothy “Dottie” Babcock joined the company as Executive Vice President, and led the sales team to new heights. She also teamed with John and Phil to embark on a series of seven acquisitions in order to increase the number of agents.
During this period, John R. Wood agents became known for their emphasis on great service. A survey system was implemented revealing an incredible 99% customer satisfaction rating, and the firm began using the slogan “Legendary Service”, reflecting the efforts of agents and support staff. The company also won awards during multiple years for having the top real estate web site in Florida. It was the combination of service, marketing, and technology that would lead to great success in the next millennium.
The New Millennium
The new decade led to another period of fantastic growth, as southwest Florida continued to be a hot spot for newcomers. The company achieved consistent and rapidly increasing sales, increasing an average of 84% per year from 2001 through 2005, reaching its highest point at $2.7 billion. They also received an award for being #1 in the nation for production per agent, a testimonial to the quality of the sales staff.
The real estate recession years were tough, but the company survived at approximately the same size, and sales are now gradually climbing back to the higher levels. Today, the company has seven offices spread from Naples to Sanibel, with over 300 agents. “The Symbol of Local Knowledge” reflects the company emphasis on providing customers with the most extensive information available. Top agents have continued joining the Wood firm during the past decade, thus positioning it for more success as the market returns.
The company is one of the oldest and largest real estate brokerages in Florida, an amazing success story given that many others have come and gone. John Wood’s comment on that subject is that he was in the right place at the right time, and was fortunate to bring aboard the right people. “In 1957, people moved to Naples for the climate, outdoor activities, and small town atmosphere. Today, they move here for the same basic reasons. That’s Naples in a nutshell, still the best place on earth to live.”