Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.
Rentals at The Overlook started with a bang.
My wife, Sally, and I bought the place in October 2016, took a month to do some light upgrades, and put it on the rental market in November. It immediately started renting nearly every weekend, a torrid pace that kept up through April.
That was the busy season.
Now we've hit the slow season and things are a bit different. The cabin is rented every other weekend. Monthly revenue is down 50 percent from our peak month.
There's also a to-do list piling up as small maintenance issues naturally arise with any house. Some outdoor lights needed to be replaced. We had to get some pictures to hang in our new game room. There's some exterior painting that needs to get done.
When are we going to find time to do it all? And how can we book more rentals so our revenue doesn't dip so much this time of year?
We also bought the place to enjoy it ourselves. It's pointless if all we do is visit the cabin to do chores. There's nothing like enjoying a cup of coffee out on our deck on a crisp mountain morning and remembering why the cabin is called The Overlook.
How Impatience Kills Business
So many business objectives are undermined by impatience.
Want to fix poor customer service? Leaders often ask for customer service training without understanding the root cause. The laziest managers automatically default to incentives, which routinely fail to solve the problem and often make it worse.
Want to improve employee engagement? The go-to move is to hire a consulting firm to conduct a one-time survey, form a committee to analyze the results, and then do nothing.
Want to improve the customer-focused culture? Write a half-hearted vision statement at an executive retreat and then never speak of it again.
Impatience even tempts us to make poor decisions at The Overlook.
Rentals are down, which is normal for this time of year, but we'd like more revenue. We could cut our nightly rate and spend more money on advertising. Both might help us get a few more bookings, but that tactic would also eat into our profits while straying from our year one goal.
In year one, we want to build a loyal guest following by making them feel welcome, connecting them to the mountain community, and providing a wonderful place for a retreat.
We definitely don't want to be the Cut-Rate Discount Chalet, which is the image that lower rates and lots of advertising would create.
The Value of Patience
Patience was a consistent theme among the many customer-focused companies I profiled in The Service Culture Handbook.
One example is Clio, a leading provider of cloud-based legal practice management software. I worked with the company in 2014 and its leaders have been building Clio's culture ever since. Three years later, Clio won the 2017 award for Best Contact Center Culture from ICMI.
The company was already terrific in 2014 but its leaders stayed committed to the culture initiative year after year because they knew the company could be even better still.
Sally and I think about patience a lot as we work on The Overlook.
It took us several months to find the right contractor to turn an unused garage into a game room, but now it's awesome.
We're typically able to visit the property just once per month, so we try to use that time wisely. We've learned to rely on our key partners to help keep the place in peak condition.
For example, our propane provider, Ferrell Gas, has a program where they automatically check our propane tank and keep it filled. That's one less thing to worry about.
The revenue will increase in time.
There's a predictable seasonality to the business that we're experiencing for the first summer. Meanwhile, we're studying our guests to find ways to make The Overlook even more appealing.
Our property manager, Idyllwild Vacation Cabins, is also working hard on our behalf. We need to trust that partner to help us grow. And they are—two new bookings came in during the day or so that I've been working on this blog post.
All the while, we're keeping in mind that we didn't buy The Overlook for a quick fix. This is a long-term investment and we're just getting started.