Lessons from The Overlook: Verify Procedures are Followed

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.

Last month, I wrote that guest bookings had suddenly slowed at The Overlook. Our property manager called at the beginning of June with a new problem.

The Overlook was too hot inside and she was having trouble renting it to guests. The cabin can get to 80 degrees or hotter inside when the weather turns warm. Even worse, the cabin develops a distinctive, "musty cabin" smell when the inside temperature rises too high.

Our cabin doesn't have air conditioning, so our property manager wanted us to consider adding central air. As an alternative, she thought we could add window ac units to each bedroom.

If this problem sounds familiar, it's because it is. We went through the same exercise last year. At the time, we thought the problem was solved.

Many businesses encounter recurring problems. Here's how we handled this one.

 The afternoon sun heats The Overlook if the blinds are left open.

Step 1: Know Your History

Start by checking to see if the problem has already been solved.

Harried employees quickly forget decisions made last year, last month, or even last week. Do you remember what we decided at last Monday's meeting? Yeah, me neither.

Employees come and go, too. New employees often think they are the first ones to encounter an issue, without realizing their predecessor kept copious notes on how to handle it.

And some managers are too eager to put their own stamp on something. They change for the sake of change, without first understanding why something was done a certain way.

Forgetting your history can be expensive and wasteful. 

For example, it would cost $600 (on the low end) to put window ac units in each bedroom at The Overlook. Adding central air conditioning would cost at least $5,000. Given our recent sales slump, it might be tempting to spend that money on a quick fix without verifying we'd get a reasonable return.

We knew we had already found a solution to the heat problem at The Overlook last year. So we decided to check on that first before deciding to spend any more money.

 

Step 2: Check the Procedure

It's always a good idea to ensure the existing procedure is being followed before implementing anything new. Existing procedures can represent a known solution to a problem. 

Unfortunately, procedures aren't always rigorously followed. People develop poor habits. A new employees comes onboard and isn't properly trained. Infrequently needed procedures are simply forgotten.

We had an existing procedure for dealing with the heat at The Overlook:

  1. Close the blinds during the day to keep the hot sun out.
  2. Turn the ceiling fans to summer mode. 
  3. Put window fans in the bedroom windows.

Two of the three steps were not being followed when we checked. The blinds had been left open and the window fans were still in the closet where we had stored them for the winter.

Our property manager followed the remaining two steps and the cabin quickly cooled. The inside temperature was a nice 72 degrees on a recent weekend when we had guests.

Better yet, we quickly picked up several more guest bookings. This puts us back on track after a slightly slow May.

 

Step 3: Follow-up

If an existing procedure breaks down once, it's reasonable to assume it will break down again without reinforcement. You can help prevent this with some timely follow-up.

Sally and I need to accept some responsibility for the heat issue at The Overlook.

We learned long ago that adopting our property manager's standard procedures makes things run more smoothly. The company oversees more than 40 cabins, which makes it difficult to keep track of a procedure that's only used in one particular cabin for a few months a year.

It makes sense for us to remind our property manager about the heat abatement procedure the next time it starts getting warm.

Following these same steps can save you a lot of grief when things go wrong. It's tough enough to solve a problem one time, let alone solving it over and over again!