While she is not retiring (she declined to share her age), Walker says the decision to sell came after long contemplation. It's a trend that will happen more and more, as people like Walker (a self-described "Boomer") take part in the "silver tsunami" — a large-scale selling of businesses by many of the 77 million Baby Boomers as they retire or prepare to retire.
Walker is not of retirement age, she says, and could have easily kept at the helm.
"The decision to sell didn't happen overnight," Walker says in an interview. "It was the optimum time to move over and let the next generation build the future of Walker."
So she sold Walker Brands, which will retain its name, to employees Tara Robinson, now president and co-owner, and Matt McEachern, now co-owner and chief creative officer. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.
Her next plans are to ponder what to do next — to let her ideas "percolate."
"I have written a book," she says. "I may have another book in me."
Letting such ideas bake for a while is what Walker apparently does best, as she has worked on many of her branding projects for years since real estate branding can take time — because projects can develop part by part, over years.
Walker started her business after moving to Florida from the Northeast in the late 1980s. Walker Brands' early focus was in travel and tourism, from 1992 to 2000, she says.
Around 2000, her firm began to do work in the mixed-use real estate sector. That's when she saw national growth in several "asset classes" she would become strong in branding: multifamily rentals; multifamily housing neighborhoods targeting ownership; commercial developments; hotels; condo towers; and more.
In total, Walker says the firm worked on 100 projects over 20 years, with about 70 in Florida. Those projects include Midtown Tampa, which Walker Brands describes as the "first urban, mixed-use, walkable project of its kind in Tampa and the catalyst for an entirely new district connecting Westshore and downtown."
Walker Brands says the project was 90% leased just a few months ahead of its grand opening.
The residential boom, with its suburban master planned developments and a need to help launch residential new-construction home sales, was another boost for Walker Brands.
The company started to grow faster, partially because of Walker Brands' unique service offering. (Walker declined to disclose specific annual revenue figures.) And as residential growth accelerated because of even larger net migration to Florida, beginning with the pandemic, Walker Brands was ready, she says.
"There are only handful of real estate development brand and marketing agencies in Florida and there has been plenty of work to go around," Walker says in an email. "To already be knee-deep in this arena, pre-COVID, positioned us well to further support communities offering new construction residential once migration to Florida super-sized."
Walker describes branding for master-planned communities as tough work. And people have to recognize the community by its name and how it is marketed, she says.
Mixed-use developments, in particular, are a challenge but also a pleasure, she says. "Those projects are very interesting because they become destinations," says Walker.
The firm has about 10 full-time employees, but that number can expand via contractual workers as demand dictates, Walker says. The company is at its peak right now, she says, so she hands off her two employees a valuable asset. But how did she get to the summit?
Walker grew up in the Washington, D.C. region, where she took in all the art and history the city has to offer. Part of her work ethic came from her parents — a preacher and a teacher — and the fact she was born in the right era, she says.
"I was fortunate to born in the Boomer Era," says Walker. "I'm a boomer. … I was raised that you work hard. … You do the right thing. Reputation meant a lot to me."
Some of her success was the positioning of being in the right business "vertical" in Florida, she says, where real estate "was on fire."
"There's a little bit of luck to our story," says Walker.
But there was also a lot of elbow grease and inspiration. After she founded Walker Brands, she became influenced by the famous 2001 book "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't," by Jim Collins. Walker says the final and sometimes difficult "10%" to get to great is worth it.
"It resonated with me," Walker says of the book. "Good is easy. Great is hard."
Jim Stinson is the Business Observer's Tampa Bay business reporter and editor, having previously written about business and policy in Washington, D.C.; Rochester, New York; Gary, Indiana; and Daytona Beach. He attended Boston University for business and Indiana University for journalism.