- October 26, 2022
Both joy and terror converged on Cape Coral health and wellness executive Steve Rye’s life the week Hurricane Ian pummeled Southwest Florida.
The joy: his wife, Ella, gave birth to twin boys, Roman and Milo, Oct. 6. (Many have asked Rye, CEO of Cape Coral-based holistic medicine and natural health company Mercola, if they considered naming one of the boys Ian. They didn’t)
The terror, of course, was Ian. With 150 employees in Lee County, the impact was deep. Nearly every employee had some kind of damage to homes, cars and/or property, and many had relatives also severely affected. Rye was in the first group, with damage to his house that included smashed windows — the result, he says, of Ian ripping tiles off other homes’ roofs. The house also suffered water damage to the ceilings, including the room for the twins. “We underestimated how bad it was going to be, and how bad it was,” Rye says. “You don’t really know until you live through something like that.”
Some two months into Ian recovery efforts, Rye reported the company’s employees were getting back to some kind of normalcy and routine. On the company side, one plus to being a business that relies on Internet sales is Ian didn’t have a major material impact on revenue, Rye says. So sales continued to do well at the multimillion-dollar company, officials say, even as local people tended to away-from-work issues. (The company, with 140 or so other employees spread through three fulfillment centers and in the Philippines, declines to provide specific revenue data.) There were some logistical challenges, of course. Internet was up quickly at the HQ, for example, but there was no water for the first week, so the building was mostly unusable.
Mercola does have a local presence in the Cape Coral community, where it generates some sales and tries out new products. That revolves around a retail hub, Mercola Market of Cape Coral, on the ground floor of the headquarters, where it sells everything from vitamins and supplements to biodynamic beverages, sheets and towels. The company bills the market as a premium wellness source for “your health, home, pantry and pet.” The market opens up for community events, such as yoga, trivia, food truck gatherings and comedy nights, and also has a 4,000-square-foot event space local businesses and organizations can rent.
Mercola’s brand presence nationally, meanwhile, took a hit in some media publications at the height of the pandemic, stemming from comments and books written by company founder Dr. Joseph Mercola. An osteopathic physician, Mercola founded the company in 1997. His writings, on books and blog posts, have long been focused on natural health remedies over vaccines and he often goes against the big pharmaceutical companies. That belief system garnered a stream of negative attention when he came out forcefully against COVID-19 vaccines. The New York Times, in a widely shared October 2021 story, called Mercola “the most influential spreader of coronavirus misinformation online.”
Rye, who has been CEO since 2008 and with the company since 2004, says the company embraces Joseph Mercola’s ideals and philosophy without getting caught up in the politics. Dr. Mercola has an office in the Cape Coral complex, though he spends most of his time outside Daytona, where he lives, company officials say.
In terms of a return to normalcy post-Ian, Rye expects that to happen at a quick pace in 2023 as the larger Southwest Florida community recovers. Rye talks often about how the company’s ability to quickly try and experiment with new products and ideas is a key ally, especially in competing against larger entities that take longer to get to market. “You always have to be moving,” he says. “That’s the only advantage you have, is to be agile.”
Another competitive advantage Rye says the company will continue to hone in 2023 is in customer service. Mercola devotes roughly half its workforce to phone-based and other customer service roles. That’s not only good business, Rye says, but it helps the company be more innovative because it can hear directly from customers on what it can do better. “You have to adapt and be flexible,” he says.