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8 Takeaways You’ll Want To Know From The VRMA Conference

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"I need to fly to New Orleans."

The realization literally woke me up on Tuesday of last week.

It was like 4:30am.

And although it was early, I was surprisingly alert and laser focused.

Without any real planning or phone calls, I logged onto Kayak.

Found a last minute flight to New Orleans.

And began asking myself some questions...

​Why Am I So Interested In PMs?

Property Managers are dramatically different from the normal vacation rental owners that I've spent the past decade getting to know so well.

PMs have different business models.

Face different challenges.

Fall into the business in different ways.

And I have learned these things because I myself am beginning to build out a property management branch here my little historic district in Panama.

Property management is an entirely different world from single-property owners.

PMs speak a different language.

They live by different norms.

8 Things I Learned In New Orleans

The original plan when I landed was to go purchase a ticket to the VRMA conference. But I ended up bumping into some friends in the lobby of the hotel. And I realized that the true value of these sorts of conferences is in the personal relationships you make outside the showroom floor anyway, right?

And on Monday night, in a James Bond-style salon at The Columns Hotel, the wisdom of a small but influential group of conference attendees began to speak its mind and here's what I learned:

1. A Successful PM Is A Product Of His Personality Type

Karen and Ralph Moorehouse, Heather Bayer

When you understand the personality of a property manager, everything he does makes a whole lot more sense.

Two perfect examples of this were Ralph and Karen Moorehouse, who own and manage rental properties in Paris, France.

Karen and Ralph Moorehouse

Ralph is an academic by trade, so he is naturally curious about how things work. He can put together the engine of a car, but was never formally trained to be a mechanic.

He likes doing things himself and is not afraid to fail. Evidenced by their worldly travels, Ralph and Karen truly know how to appreciate life. And they seem to effortlessly transfer that passion to their successful rental business.

Learn your ideal client's personality type well enough and you'll be able to market to their lifestyles (as opposed to having to convince them on features or benefits).

2. Not All Property Managers Are Created Equally

Heather Bayer, Rick Oster

They say you don't truly know something until you can teach it. And Heather Bayer hasn't just scaled her own property management company to massive proportions...she also teaches others how to do the same! Meaning she grasps the mechanics of property management as well as anyone at the VRMA conference.

Heather Bayer, Jessica Vozel

But what I learned from Heather is that the size of a PM agency truly dictates its most pressing challenges. For instance, a PM with 50 properties may be dealing with hiring its first employee...a MUCH different challenge than looking for a housekeeper to clean 500 properties. There were some common denominators like "How do we scale?" and "how do we get more efficient?" But from Heather I learned that nobody has built any kind of framework to help PMs understand where they fit on the curve.

If you are overwhelmed with what are the next best steps, make a prioritization matrix and rank each task on a scale of urgency and importance. You'll at least be able to give yourself a road map to break any paralysis by analysis.

3. Most PMs View Owners As A Necessary Evil

Wes Melton & David Angotti

David Angotti and his business partner Wes Melton were among the most advanced PMs that I met at the VRMA conference. Their holistic marketing strategy for SmokyMountains.com gets them regularly featured in international press. Thanks to Wes' programming background, their internal reporting and systems are on par with a hotel franchise. And the way they acquire new owners is equally cutting edge: David and Wes helped me understand that most property managers view owners as a necessary evil and that is why they have trouble scaling. To set themselves apart, David and Wes invest heavily in courting the right kinds of owners..

Andy McNulty, Wes Melton

They use highly personalized automated marketing campaigns. And a proprietary "scoring system" to make sure they are delivering the most bespoke, white glove service to each of their flagship 50 property owners. And guess what? These owners are now becoming SmokyMountains.com brand ambassadors, out doing the word of mouth or "raving fan" marketing for free.

Owners who universally dislike PMs and PMs who universally dislike owners have both got it wrong. Property management is a real need and property ownership has great merit too. Finding an agency or owner who thinks that way makes everything better.

4. In Some Cases, PM Vendors Are Actually Making Things Harder

Andy McNulty, Rick Oster, Heather Bayer

Rick Oster is a real estate developer: he builds high-end vacation rentals on golf courses. And he manages them all himself. As he grows, Rick is getting more thoughtful about what tools he uses to run his business. But what we first discovered together in New Orleans is that -- because the VR industry is so new and fragmented -- most of the software options out there are doing very similar things. Perhaps worse, is that many of these vendors are misleading with their features.

For example, "We've got channel management!" was a claim from several who really don't have channel management. This led Rick to begin his software selection process with a priorities list based on specific software features...as opposed to choosing company that "does it all."

Vacation rental software companies should really be more thoughtful about how they define their services. And software clients should base their searches off prioritized features (and accept that they probably can't find a one-size-fits-all solution).

5. The PM Industry Is Full Of Firsts

Andy McNulty, GuestHook

Most of the recognizable players at the VRMA were kinda antiquated both literally (sorry, but it's true) and figuratively (in the way they appear to be solving problems). And the companies who I observed to be really setting themselves apart were doing something entirely new.

This innovation was manifested in Jessica Vozel (a former academic) and Andy McNulty (a former executive at Gucci) and their content creation agency GuestHook. As the world's first (and only, I think) vacation rental-specific copywriting agency, GuestHook is seeing massive results when they rewrite PM property descriptions.

Ralph Moorehouse, Jessica Vozel

Why? Because professional descriptions are like professional photos in generating results.

What I took away from an amazing few hours with Andy and Jess is that the companies who are thriving are the ones not just getting ahead (by being the first)...they're then compounding that head start with premium delivery.

In the PM space, keep your eyes out for industry parallels: start-ups using a model that works well in the hotel or tourism industry may be immediately applicable and surprisingly successful.

6. Wanna Predict The Future Of Property Management? Look To Millenials

Evan Hammer

Over the weekend hanging around the VRMA conference, I began to see a trend: the older a company was on average, the less innovative their product or service or offering seemed to be. And from PMs themselves to the vendors in the showroom, I learned over lunch with Andrew McConnell that a new generation of players are focusing on a pain point far more scarce than acquiring more vacation rental properties and that is FINDING MORE TIME.

Nick Persico

Evan Hammer and Nick Persico were great examples of this: their company SmartHost uses dynamic pricing (the same way the hotel industry has for years) to help PM's maximize their revenue. They're also managing their own vacation rental property in Cape Cod almost the same way famed sports journalist George Plimpton went to play for the Detroit Lions in order to write about the NFL.

Above all else, Evan and Nick are millennials like me. We know how travelers (like us) want to book. And we know that our parent's generation of property owners are...well, gettin old. My takeaway here is that if you want to look 10-20-50 years into the future of all facets of property management, look to milennials.

While the PM world is full of experience and clout, keep an eye out for the new generation. A rising tide lifts all boats. But disruption tends to sink those who are not willing to adapt.

7. Many Successful PMs Harness Former Professional Strengths

Rick Oster, Andree McDonald

I can't tell you how many times I met a PM at the VRMA conference who used to do something entirely different for a living...and who was utilizing that very strength to set their PM company apart from the competition. Lots of PMs appeared to be Accidental Vacation Rentalists and one of my favorite personalities of the evening was Andree McDonald who lives in New Orleans yet owns and manages properties in Central Florida.

She made her name in the world of custom printing (think flyers, coffee mugs, banners) and her vacation rental branding initiatives (as you can imagine) are transitively world class. To set themselves apart from their competition, the successful PMs that I met seemed to have that "ace up their sleeve" from a previous life. From meeting Andree, I gleaned that if you have a player on your team who used to be really good at something that is even remotely applicable to property management, it may be worth reactivating that passion or strength in its new element.

Those in the PM world who can leverage their skills and passions while exercising creativity will likely have greater success than those stuck to decade-old manuals.

8. PM Conventions Are Like Support Groups

Lisle Head, Rick Oster

Most property managers I met had a small team of 3-7 employees. And since most of those employees were wearing multiple hats in the business, they struck me as extraordinarily entrepreneurial. What's a known pitfall of being an entrepreneur -- however -- is the lack of accountability. Because they don't necessarily have giant teams rallying around their desks or bosses to definitively report to, I learned the true value of the VRMA conference: the opportunity to be around people with the same challenges as you in a world that feels otherwise quite lonely.

That isolation was epitomized by Lisle Head who owns Lost Coast Vacation Rentals in Jaco, Costa Rica. Getting to know his business intimately over the past few years, with 150 properties, I can confidently say that Lisle is among the top PMs in all of Central America. But that's the catch: Lisle is a motivated entrepreneur who is working in a severely isolated learning environment. And so to him, the opportunity to personally meet other successful PMs from around the world, appeared to feel almost like a support group. "I'm not alone!" he told me.

Surround yourself with like-minded people who are on the same mission as you. Seek out those support groups to save time and scale quicker. If those groups don't yet exist, create them.

PMs Thrive In Community

Inner Circle Meet-Up, The Columns Hotel | New Orleans | Monday, October 26, 2015

All of these individuals came from different backgrounds: old/young, rich/poor...etc.

But in synthesizing all their thoughts, I realized that their goals and their values were very much aligned:

  • Do. Excellent. Work.
  • Take calculated risks
  • Be courageous
  • Share (don't hoard)
  • Surround yourself with people on the same mission (even better if they're from outside your niche and even if they seem like opposites)
  • Build lifelong relationships
  • Help, Don't Sell
  • Reject the status quo
  • Be curious and ask questions
  • Be open about your vulnerabilities and weaknesses
  • Profit & Grow

In summary, I was proud to rub shoulders with this private club.

And I was particularly excited about how seemingly different people (owners, managers, vendors, bloggers) could all get along so well when the right foundations are in place.

But it's not financially or logistically feasible to have physical meet-ups like these as often as everyone would like.

Which is why we built the next best thing.

The Inner Circle is a robust online forum where the same sparks fly...albeit virtually.

"A conveyor belt of best practices to help PMs scale."

"A support network to reduce costly mistakes."

"A place to get inspired and to inspire others."

Our Inner Circle has 593 owners and PMs interacting daily online and meeting up physically in cities around the world.

And while I never made it to the actual VRMA conference, my trip to New Orleans to understand property management better was worth its weight in gold.

About the Author Matt Landau

Matt Landau is the Founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog and the Inner Circle, two online resources dedicated to helping vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings. Google+ | More Posts (230)

  • LunaDauhnn

    Very cool.

  • Agree 100% Matt. Karen & I went just for this select meeting – what a great group – lots of interesting ideas shared and we feel that we came away with a bunch of new friends and inspiration!!

    • Matt Landau

      Awesome to meet you Ralph. And to really get to know Karen at dinner. I think we have some hang outs in our future!

      • For sure -just tell us where & when!!! BTW – this was Karens 1st exposure to the IC and she came away charged up and wanting to know more – it was a great 24h trip to NOLA & back.

  • Alanna: TheDistinguishedGuest

    Good takeaways! Looks like fun. Sorry I missed it. Repeat next year?

    • Matt Landau

      For sure! Although New Orleans was like non-stop rain from that hurricane in Mexico. So maybe somewhere drier?

      • Not anymore! You should have stuck around a couple more days…today is a gorgeous reward after all that rain.

        Alanna–look forward to meeting you next week!

  • Great article, Matt! Thanks for sharing a slice of your evening with all those great folks.

  • Slow down there, Captain Millennial. Seems to me this is a much discussed topic in the Inner Circle. “…the older the employees of a company were on average, the less innovative their product or service or offering would be.”

    Well, better not share that secret with Ralph and Karen Morehouse, Heather Bayer, David Angotti, Rick Oster, and a slew of other forward thinking, innovative non-Millennials in the IC. In fact, an approximate 13 out of 20 members of the “Notable Inner Circle Members” are not Millennials.

    Maybe the innovation comes with mind-set and willingness to learn, rather than a specific age.

    • pam

      Agreed. At 61 and 65, we manage our company with the latest software and technology. Wisdom and work ethic have been our most important attributes. Age seems to work in our favor. Pam Lockhart

    • Matt Landau

      It was an observation I had across the individuals I met at the conference in New Orleans. I shouldn’t need to state this, but IC members are not average.

      • An observation not well put. You sound like a 20 year old that just graduated from university, that thinks he knows it all. Just not nice.

        • Matt Landau

          LindaLou, giving me the benefit of the doubt that the observation was statistically correct, would you prefer I not share it?

          • You can share what you like Matt. As I said, I don’t think it was well put. You’re talking about a trend, not about statistics. To me it comes across as very arrogant, and that is not what you are. Sorry I’m critical.

          • Matt Landau

            I guess that’s where I am curious: assuming the observation was statistically correct, can you suggest a more appropriate way to communicate said information?

          • I have no idea how or if you can communicate what you like to say in an appropriate way. I know your intentions are good and that you spend a great deal of your time trying to help. In this particular instance, I was trying to help by pointing out how your comments sounded.

            Statistically there are always many more points to consider than the number of participants you met. To name a few:

            SIZE – “the older the companies……”; are these companies just older, or also bigger?
            HISTORY – “a new generation of players ….. that is TIME”; didn’t almost all inventions over the past 30 years focus on time reduction?
            EXPERIENCE – “their company SmartHost uses dynamic pricing …… They’re also managing their own vacation rental property”; doesn’t this show that experience in the VR industry is of utmost importance?
            MARKET SHARE – “We know how travelers (like us) want to book. And we know that our parent’s generation…..” Sure, but what is the market share of Millennials vs your parents age booking VRs?

            PRICE – ……Economy of scale, ROI, etc.

          • Matt Landau

            OK good advice LL, I appreciate especially your solutions towards the end.

    • As you rightly say, age doesn’t matter. A willingness to learn & innovate and share is key. If we didn’t sunscribe to this woul dwould be in this esteemed IC.

    • @loscuatrotulipanes:disqus I read a great book onetime. It’s called “A Complaint is a Gift.” I have and still do consider a complaint as a gift. They are priceless in business. For every complaint, how many are just keeping shut about how they feel?

      I feel the tone of what I hear, see and read is taking us away from our goal of LSI. I’m curious, have you changed your long term goals?

      • Matt Landau

        Can you give some examples of going away from LSI? I’m not sure what you’re referring to as my long term goals haven’t budged…

  • Sorry Matt, didn’t like the article that much. The titles have nothing to do with the text below them.

  • Thanks for the article, Matt. Super helpful!

  • Tracy Stephens

    Great info as usual Matt, Thanks for sharing!

  • Marc Ribail

    Thank you for sharing your experience Matt, as a former PM I can see a lot of similarities, regardless of the continent where you work!
    The GuestHook is a great insight too.
    Thanks
    Marc

  • Tim C

    Wow Matt. I think you made some good points, but you whiffed on this one when you say you came to NOLA, but you never actually went to the VRMA conference. Hard to take you seriously on some of your observations if you weren’t actually here. You really think that VRM’s cloister to discuss our disposition towards property owners and negate new ideas to better serve? I guess that may be a takeaway if you actually never attended the conference (that is still going on today by the way here in NOLA).
    Particularly for a marketing guy. There were easily 100 vendors here sharing their new stuff which you really would have gotten some great intel on.
    By the way, had you made it over to the Hilton you would see that yes, there are some senior members of the organization, but overwhelmingly the average attendee is “younger.” I’d say the average age of this year’s conference may even be younger than you Mr. L (yes, there are even younger one than you getting into this business). Quite a good looking group over here in fact!
    VRMA was founded 30 years ago by like minded professionals to share ideas to better serve. Period. That spirit is definitely in place at this conference today. This is one of the most sharing, open, professional organizations and the only one in our space. I missed the “bash the owners” session this year and the “get the pitchforks against new ideas” breakout this year was not well attended and frankly the concept is offensive to those of us that are here. What I have taken away is great way to better serve our customers and clients, and as one of your Inner Circle members I do not come to these conferences thinking I have it all figured out. I come to learn and share and I’d recommend ALL of your followers do the same. Next year the annual conference will be in Chandler, Arizona (Oct. 16-19). Plan on coming inside next time!

    • Matt Landau

      Hey Tim, great words. I actually did spend quite a bit of time in the Hilton and met with of vendors whom I had been wanting to meet for quite some time. They were all inspiring: like you said, it’s awesome to meet new people and see what’s happening. I am always a bit less excited to pay lots of money to hear presentations by people selling their own product…but understand that sponsors are the name of the game in big business. In the end, I think the only thing I regret is not meeting you!
      – The Lurker

      • Agree Matt; I seriously looked at going to the whole conference but the price vs agenda of sales or PR pitches didn’t excite. Perhaps the august body that is VRMA might consider the pricing of these events and encourage the smaller property owners/managers to attend?

  • I would have loved to have been that one who made this small group a baker’s dozen. But unfortunately I couldn’t easliy slip away.

    The thoughts and ideas culled from the participants in this side meetting are indeed refreshing and help to assure that my follow cohorts in this adventure will lead us and our enterprise forward towards improvment.

    Now…As for whether or not I’d have attended the VRMA conference while there…I have to admit, most likely not.

    First, I’m not so sure I meet their qualifications for attendance, given I’m just a little ol’ owner of one little casita managed by someone else. Secondly the onsite registration of $1055 is too rich for my blood (well ok hotel food is costly, I know that for a fact). But I’d need some seriously significant guarantees that I’d be getting some serious knowledge and life/business altering revelations and just not something I could Google on my own. And even with a business tax break.. I’d be breaking my bank to get it.

    As a long time educational conference goer, presenter, and even creator (both nationally-USA, and internationally-Chile) this not-a-spring-chick has seen her far share of good conferences and ones with great room for improvement. I guess that’s why I eventually moved away from participant to creator. I too have found the best part of a conference is often the meetings outside the halls. I’d rather hang out to chat than suffer sitting through hearing more of the same….besides I could always scoop up the hand outs later or have someone forward me the Ppt.

    Though, I agree with commentor,Tom C. that conferences are handy as a one stop shopping mecca- a location where you can, in one fell swoop, paruse all the vendors, get their freebies, ask your specific questions, and then perhaps sign-up or purchase their goodies at cost or conference discount. THAT is indeed a great benifit… not so sure that the cost savings diferenitial would make up for the 1K cover charge however.

    I am also agreeing that there is a group of folks that are seeking to move this business forward, utilizing greater innovative methods, a greater degree of professionalism, ethic, and honor and am glad to know many of them (allbeit virtually).

    And I dare say..there’s a good many of them that fall into that age group weaned on the Disney promise that anything is possible…. you just need to dream it.

    But…let’s look at the guy who invented the Disney concept… Good. OLD. Walt himself.

    Millennial marketing, millennial innovation, millennials moving the message, millennials mapping out the future.

    Yes we get it– there are younger people filling in the ranks of the retirees. Yes it is indeed a tale and marketing tool as old as time….Why I remember when I was that young hippie baby boomer of a whipper-snapper, later followed by those know-it-all GenXers wanting to challenge everyone and everything.

    And now we face the millennials (with some cross over effect as no one has really nailed just where one generation ends and the other begins..or if it will ever end or morph into some other newer fresher younger mob).

    And yes…Just by shear numbers “statiscally” they win:
    (This year, Millennials will overtake Baby Boomers:http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/01/16/this-year-millennials-will-overtake-baby-boomers/ )

    So… Here’s a challenge to the leaders among us (no matter your age, your profession past or present- owner/PM/Vender/Guest/other?)

    How about we move away from marketing using an ageist approach- lumping old and young into their respective very prejudicial, even discrimentory classifications. Not everyone wants to, or actually does live up to the stereotypes (old or young).

    And for your next cocktail or conference hall chat- here’s a little known factoid: The term agesim was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler, ‘Age-Ism: Another Form of Bigotry’, The Gerontologist, vol. 9, no. 4, pt. 1, Winter 1969, pp. 243–6. to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism.

    See:
    http://assets.cambridge.org/97805218/47773/excerpt/9780521847773_excerpt.pdf

    • Donna, your comments on the Millenial thing cracks me up. Reminds me of a comment both my teenagers made the other day; they said that Millenials were “old” and needed to get with the new age. It’s all about perspective, right? As a Gen Xer, I remember when we thought we were so cutting edge. Hahaha!

    • Matt Landau

      I love this comment (true Donna Martinez comprehension). Although knowing your resourcefulness, when you begin using Facebook targeting to book your property, your ageist/stereotyping marketing decree will be tested.

      • Ohh it has already been tested. It is a marketing tool. I get that. But at the same token… don’t be so quick to shrug off us innovative old farts too.

        • Matt Landau

          Donna you’re more innovative than most 30 year old’s I know. And I absolutely love it: in fact, I spent a good 20 minutes talking with Karen Moorehouse about her husband Ralph’s unusual proclivity to innovation and technology. It’s as impressive as it is profitable!

          That said, you and Ralph and most IC members are not normal in that sense (said in the most positive way). We represent a veeery small minority.

  • Fortunately Guest Hook is an epic combination of millennial and non-millennial 😉

    I have to say our booth was surrounded by new vendors with a modern outlook. Some were certainly early 20’s and the tech they were exhibiting blew my mind, especially vreasy. And people like Vanessa at Rentals United are killing it with their engaging marketing.

    I didn’t attend any of the talks. I found tons of value in simply talking with fellow professionals both in AND out of the conference. Matt was an inspiration as usual but so were Wes and David at Smoky Mountains, Heather Bayer (finally we met after 7 years knowing each other online), Nathan at Guesty, various PM’s and owners, etc etc. The list just goes on, including all the inner circle minds at the Monday dinner (thanks Matt and Rick for making that such a good night). I can’t name everyone!

    Both Jessica and I came away with bags of energy and plenty of big ideas. All down to simply talking with great minds, whether inside the conference, in the lobby or at the various bars! That was worth every dollar / gbp we spent in making the trip.

    Whether the content of the sessions was good, bad or average I don’t know. Interesting that our value came from simply talking. More than that, from being challenged to think bigger and think smarter.

    As for age? Irrelevant.

  • Janny Page

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