A Case Study
Brian and his family were not receiving enough bookings to their fifteen properties that were being managed by another company. The family took things into their own hands and started marketing their properties on different online travel agencies and began to see a lot of success. It was at this point that Brian got an idea.
Brian chose to start managing his properties on his own, and after obtaining his real estate license began Harris Properties Management. After five years the company has now grown to manage close to 100 properties. His success has come from concentrating on hiring high quality employees, a strong focus on the customer experience and only bringing on the top properties.
Million Monthly Visitors
Local Language Sites
Million travel reviews on TripAdvisor
Early Days: The Family Business
Like many of us, Brian’s dad always dreamed of owning a beach house.
“He and my mom would take a lot of their weekends before they had kids, looking at different areas. And they looked at most of the Gulf Coast, from Florida to Alabama.”
When Brian and his brother came along, it was decision time.
“They took our college fund and put it into a beach house on a 15-year mortgage. The idea was that if the rental part of it didn’t work, they’d sell it and send us to college.”
It may have been a gamble, but it certainly paid off. Over the next few years, the Harris family acquired more properties, growing their portfolio in Lake Martin and Gulf Shores. Their proactive approach was key to this early success:
“My parents talked to neighbors and made it clear that if they wanted to sell, they’d buy. ”
Taking The Pressure Off
When Brian’s dad sadly passed away, the family brought in a management company to run things. While this made life easier in many ways, there were still problems.
“They weren’t charging enough per night, there were gaps in the calendar… At that time, we had about 15 properties and weren’t generating anywhere near the revenue per property that we are now.”
To get more bookings, Brian and his brother decided to try something new–advertising their properties online. This caused some tension with the management company, who gradually became more and more difficult to work with.
“For instance, they wouldn’t let our guests pick keys up from their office. It’s like they forced us little by little to create our own management company.”
Back in the Family
At this point, in 2010, Brian decided it was time to bring it all back in house.
“We took over […] and we just went all online with Flipkey and other online platforms… we’re going to respond to these inquiries and make these listings as good as we can, great photography […] and we made almost double the revenue in 2011 as we did in 2009.”
By staying ahead of developments within the industry, they got way ahead of the game. It was then a natural evolution to start managing other people’s properties.
“We grew really quickly by renting anything we could! But I’ve learned that’s not necessarily the best way. You need to grow smart and not be afraid to turn down properties that won’t work for the business.”
Turning Point: Taking on Staff
Brian and his wife managed on their own to begin with, returning calls and booking in reservations. But as the business grew, so did the need for staff.
“Finding really good people has been one of the hardest things to do. Not only finding them, but keeping them!”
They now have six staff working 20-40 hours per week, depending on their personal circumstances and the season.
Brian tries to place equal emphasis on guest and owner relations, with dedicated staff to give both the best possible experience.
Giving Guests a Great Experience
First off, when you book with Harris Properties, you always receive a phone call. They’re providing a local experience and communicate that personally through actually speaking to their guests. And in typical Harris family style, they’re embracing technology–like texting–to enhance the experience during a guest’s stay.
“For a long time, I thought that our guests were on vacation and we should leave them be. But we were hearing that people wanted us to check on them mid-way through, just to make sure everything’s ok. Texts are great for interacting with guests like that–they can ignore it or bring something up.”
Another successful strategy was developing their own niche in pet-friendly stays and partnering with a local gourmet pet food store.
“We leave a little welcome gift in the house for the pet along with a coupon for the food store. We just try to make it fun.”
Going Above and Beyond
Another way to keep things fun is to build great relationships with the guests that come back year on year.
They even have a discount where guests who rent for 30 years get a vacation for free, named after their oldest customer Rita Alderson.
“She’s been renting vacation properties from Harris Properties for over 30 years so we created a discount in her honour. We did the whole thing—balloons, a big bunch of people—and they just thought they were getting a gift basket.”
And with guests coming back for 30 years plus—and bringing their kids and grandkids along, too—they must be doing
Tips and Tricks for Property ManagersHere are Brian’s top tips for owners moving to management:
“If I had a do-over, there are a lot of properties I wouldn’t have taken on when I did. You need to grow smartly so you can do the special things and not just get by.”
Find good people
“Find good employees and hold onto them. Find a way to make it work for people, whether that’s flexible hours or working from home.”
“Stay ahead of the industry and the marketing trends within it. Without doing this, I would never have made the move online and that’s been so important for us.”
Don’t get complacent
“Every time you feel like you’ve got a handle on it, you grow into a new phase and you’ve got more to figure out. In this business, there’s always a new challenge!”
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