Sense of Place [Episode 3, Blue Ridge, Georgia]

A Sense of Place is a travel show that meets destinations through the eyes of vacation rental properties and their most incredible hosts. Follow our Facebook Page or YouTube Channel for updates. ​

​​They say that "if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together." The first time I ever heard this quote, it was from Tracy Lotz, at Liverez. And when it comes to the vacation rental industry this message has a tendency to get lost. Whether it’s in the frantic day to day. Or in competitive landscapes where “working together” seems about as fun as dinner with the in-laws.

CJ Stam is the owner of Southern Comfort Cabin Rentals and while he doesn’t live in Blue Ridge, he genuinely cares about the wellbeing of this destination as much if not more than any local business person I met during my stay. On my first morning, at 7AM CJ picked me up at Vista Rustica, a 4-bedroom cabin in the heart of the Blue Ridge mountains. Having actually built this cabin himself, Villa Rustica is one of 100 or so professionally managed properties that CJ’s company oversees. It’s as complete a log cabin as one could expect: vast mountain views, fireplaces, hot tub, game room, and that fresh pine smell you simply can’t fake.

Because vacation rentals represent 95% of all lodging accommodations in the Blue Ridge Mountains, companies like CJ’s are in the dead center of a much bigger organism. He referred several times to this dynamic as ‘hub and spoke’ — this idea that when all elements of a destination are working in conjunction with one another, forward momentum takes place and everyone succeeds. Between jaunts to hidden waterfalls, whitewater rafting down the Ocoee River, and beers in the most unusual and beautiful of places, I got the feeling that everyone who lives in Blue Ridge sort of resonates with this

Vacation rental companies often tend to view each other as enemy competition more than we do collaborative partners.  

I learned in Georgia that sometimes it takes a leader in a market to put the destination ahead of him or herself in order to change the outcome for everyone involved.

One of the other themes I noticed about CJ’s vacation rental business was his desire to grow slowly but steadily. So often in the world of business we hear of companies looking to raise funds, acquire, and sell out. But in CJ I noticed a much more gradual approach. This episode taught me about the power of unity and movement in the vacation rental industry -- it taught me that collectively we are far more powerful than any one individual ever could be.

Blue Ridge: Deconstructed

Each destination and host has multiple layers to its success. So we decided to pull back the curtain and share commentary on the people, places, and best industry practices that made ​Blue Ridge and CJ so unique.

​The Learning Corner

The following series of videos are designed to help better understand ​Southern Comfort Cabin Rentals' secrets to success. Watch each short clip and think about how it might apply to your vacation rental business.

1. Real Estate to Hospitality

Like so many "accidental" vacation rental owners and managers, CJ started off professionally in hospitality. When family circumstances asked him to then dip his toes into real estate, he ​used it as a gateway into an industry which perfectly blends the two.

2. The Partnership Philosophy

CJ has a unique take on everyone he works with: from employees to property owners to guests. It's something he calls "the partnership philosophy" and it's a cornerstone of CJ's business model.

​3. All Ships Rise in the Tide

It can be easy to view our local nemesis as competition. But in Blue Ridge, CJ realized that all community members were actually in the same boat: create a prosperous destination and they all thrive​. His spirit of unification is among the most progressive in the industry to date. 

4. The Hub & Spoke

​CJ loves the metaphor of a hub and spoke: how when all parts are moving together in any organism, everybody ​pulls forward. This is a strong reminder to stay aware of your surroundings and the people and things that need to be involved.

5. Investing in People

​​One of the most poignant lines of our entire visit: "If I'm going to invest in my company it's going to be in the people." CJ gives ​shows that ​in vacation rentals, it's less about the what and more about the who

6. What are you working for?

​CJ's father once asked him ​this vital question: it was not just a pivotal moment in his professional career, but it ended up guiding the personal decisions CJ would make along the way.

Rome started off as simply a world-famous landmark to me. But I am leaving with a much more nuanced and human understanding: specific faces and flavors and stories that will act like internal time stamps for me to reference at a later date. This level of access to a destination is emerging to me as the new luxury in worldwide travel: something people are willing to pay for, fight for, and challenge in the face of change. That a loving vacation rental mother of two made my Rome learning experience possible seemed fitting. But then again, home is often where the heart is.

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