When Small Is Tall (There’s Room For All)

Investors Looking to Cash In On the Vacation Rental Trend are Finding Innovators in the Most Unusual Shapes and Sizes

I was a really small kid growing up and my mother used to always read me a book called, When Small Is Tall. It was about how you don't have to be big and powerful in order to succeed. And when I was visiting my parents last month, I found the book and read it again several times. It's a really fantastic book.

“The cutting edge” of many industries is characterized by technology and innovation and advanced-thinking visionaries with radical, world-changing ideas. This cutting edge is where the influencers congregate. And it’s where the big money flows in order to align itself with more power.

The cutting edge is NOT typically comprised of people who are set in their ways. In fact, it's almost the antithesis of doing things the old-fashioned way.

But something very interesting is happening in the vacation rental industry that venture capitalists and big corporations are having a very difficult time digesting.

According to a report by Phocuswright1, in 2016 vacation rentals grew twice as fast as the total U.S. travel market. “Traditional vacation rentals have transformed into one of online travel's hottest and best-funded segments. The segment will continue to outpace the overall market through 2017.”

The little industry that could! This is why we love vacation rentals so much!

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With Growth Comes Change​

With such explosive growth, the once-homogeneous vacation rental niche is splintering into two camps.

1. Commodity: Commodity vacation rentals fulfill a certain baseline of standards such as cleanliness, amenities, and security, thus eliminating much of the unpredictability that lies in staying in a vacation rental for the first time (a trend2 that is voraciously gaining on hotels right now).

Because Commodity vacation rentals resemble in many ways the traditional dynamics of a hotel, they have become the natural focal point of big corporations such as Wyndham, Accor, and Marriott, looking to cash in on this profitable trend. And they will likely succeed in commoditizing an once-seemingly uncommoditizable product. When and how this will happen is relatively straightforward.

Lynn Gallimore, Sinya on Lone Man Creek

2. Limited edition: Limited Edition properties fulfill the basic commodity standards, then almost piggyback with an added injection of personality, authenticity, and sustainability that humanizes the property and the destination, thus separating themselves from the commodity market. A perfect example of Limited Edition as first featured in VRMB's 2017 Trends Course is Lynn Gallimore, who's property Sinya, an African-inspired safari tent just outside Austin, comes with personal welcomes, s'mores kits for the campfire, and bee-friendly toiletries.

To understand the Limited Edition vacation rental, consider great boutique hotels that are not affiliated with any big hotel chains. The small hotels that offer world-class experiences and sway travelers to forego earning points in exchange for something radically unique. The ones who have laid the groundwork, proven it’s possible, and appeal to increasingly discerning travelers.

The Cutting Edge Surprise

Investors looking for the cutting edge in the vacation rental industry — the prototypes that represent the truest, most unbreakable essence of the vacation rental movement — have to zoom in on Limited Edition properties. However, these Limited Edition vacation rentals are not familiar entities. They are by nature small-scale, ultra-personalized, and in a lot of ways, inimitable businesses. In a lot of cases, they were started accidentally without any business plan. In most cases, built on passion as opposed to business savvy.

Most hilariously, the very people pioneering perhaps the most innovative travel trend of our lifetime happen to be simple, empathetic, almost anti-corporate moms and pops who are unlikely to ever sell out. In fact, this "David" has very little concern for "Goliath" in general, as long as he consciously goes counter to (or better, totally away from) the behemoth's rules of the game.

What Does This Mean?​

Building a ​Limited Edition vacation rental business requires a lot of time and commitment and there will certainly be a wave of owners and managers turning their properties over to property managers (or even closing up shop) in the coming years because that's not what they signed up for.

But those who do see the value of doing something special will take comfort in knowing that few of their competitors will follow suit. And perhaps more importantly, that their future is in their own hands.

Both commodity and limited edition rentals certainly have their own place in an industry that is growing so fast. When small is tall, there's room for all in this incredible movement. But to identify precisely where it’s heading in the future, considering the battle of David versus Goliath. When the terms of the playing field are shifted, David can win every time.


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)

  • Paola Fiocchi VandenBrande

    This is an excellent article. As a David myself, I have to believe there is a future for Small, Limited Edition propositions.

  • Wendy Jackson

    I have always tried to be unique and limited edition. I have always tried to do all the extras to make our place special…we provide everything from beach chairs to laundry detergent, spices and even pet towels as we specialize in pet friendly rentals. I was the 1st in my area to do nightly rentals in high season and try to customize everything to what the guests want and need. In today’s marketing environment, the only place I seen to be able to stand out and highlight these things is my website….the listing sites are making it very hard to get folks there. Need some marketing suggestions on how to stand out with our above average amenities, service and rentals!

  • John W Johnson

    Any ideas on how people find your place when they don’t even know they are looking for it, like the African theme mentioned?
    I’ve been wanting to do some bootcamps in my home, around fitness or weight loss, but i don’t have a clue as to how to attract guests, other than traditional traffic generating ideas, which i wouldn’t know how to target.

    • Trick is to determine who those people are both in macro and micro focus. As you reflect on your home, its location and experiences in that region, drill down to refine the picture of just who the personas are who would be likely to book. Starting from basics of men or women booking to their likely ages, to their specific interests.

      As you list out your personas with a more narrowed focus on their interest areas, then determine what you have or would need to add in order to draw them to your specific home.

      Next step would be to locate various outlets and resources that cater to that persona/niche.

      Here’s where Google helps. Having ads that include keywords that reflect this niche and a personal website helps too!

    • Matt Landau

      John, have you gotten to know the leaders or coaches of these kinds of retreats? There’s a hotel down here in Panama called Sansara: they started from scratch about 3 years ago and are located in a super remote place without much foot traffic or tourists at all: started courting the yoga influencers (specifically those who hosted yoga retreats in foreign countries): and today after a whole lot of courting (and of course a spectacular hotel experience with great reviews) they’re pretty much booked back to back year-round with yoga retreats.

  • Alex Nigg

    I strongly agree with this perspective. As Doug Quinby at PhocusWright rightly points out, VR is becoming a mainstream business – and when “alternative” accommodation becomes mainstream, there is commoditization, as the larger players try to build scale operations. Arguably, and ironically, Airbnb the pioneer is in many ways participating in this transformation, as it scales and develops its global brand (but one where arguably the host becomes much less visible or central to the story). But as Matt rightly points outs out, much of the appeal of our industry is in the uniqueness and personality of the homes we rent. Professionalization (basic standards you can expect everywhere) is table stakes; unique experiences, infused with personality, is what will set our”Limited Edition” apart. And of course, just like boutique hotels tried to counter commoditization in the hotel industry, we’ll see similar dynamics in VR: and the large players will follow with their own “collections” – witness what’s been happening in luxury, with Accor and Airbnb (reportedly) entering the VR property management business. Maybe we need to build our own Limited Edition “collections” – independently owned and managed, and united by a spirit of uniqueness, independence, personality and true innovation…

    • Matt Landau

      “Maybe we need to build our own Limited Edition “collections” — I’m one step ahead of you. Dun dun dun…

  • Rob Holderness

    Great article! I was actually thinking about this the other day. In a weird way, it came about after thinking about what’s a good conversion rate for a vacation rental website. I started thinking that for people who don’t manage lots of properties, it might be okay for your conversion rate (in terms of online bookings, not lead generation) to be low in some periods if you don’t have a lot of available occupancy. In terms of consumer behavior, I think a lot of people go into vacation planning with specific dates in mind and a specific size of home. So, if you don’t have those dates available for a home (or group of homes) that meets your number of guests, you’re not going to make a match (so no booking). If all your homes were available all the time, then conversion could be measured more like a traditional ecommerce website (like Amazon). So, in order to think in terms of that type of conversion, you need to have a lot of inventory (like large managers and listings sites do), so you always have some matching homes with some matching inventory. That would be the commodity approach.

    However, if you position your home in a way that the experience in THAT home is part of the vacation experience, then people are more likely to plan their vacation around when it’s available and book further in advance. Lynn’s tent is a home that comes to mind. That’s the Limited Edition approach.

    So, unless you have a ton of inventory, you either need to do a great job of differentiating your home from the rest and selling the home as part of the experience, or you need to pool your inventory with other managers/owners to offer consumers more selection. If it’s a regional site or niche site (like pet friendly rentals), you can probably get away with less inventory.

    I really think (and I would say many of our partners at LiveRez agree) that, at least in the short term, the major competition is hotels, not other owners/managers. You can see how fast the industry is growing, so I don’t think there is a shortage of guests. It’s just getting in front of those guests.

    I know commenters have asked about how to market your properties. And, I think that also goes back to Matt’s two groups. You either market commodity (consumer choice) or you market special edition (something special about your properties). Marketing commodity is a bit easier.

    For limited edition it’s bit more involved. For inbound marketing, I would focus more on ranking for long-tail (more specific) search terms. For outbound, I would focus more on driving repeat guests. And, above all focus on building a brand that people will remember.

    Think of it like this: How could you position your home that if a reporter came out and wrote a feature story on it, people would enjoy reading the story and be interested in the home (even if they weren’t planning a vacation). If there’s nothing unique about your home, could you do something to make it unique? Maybe there’s something unique about you that would make people want to rent from you. If you can do that, your conversion rate is going to go up, you’ll get more people linking to your website, sharing your property on social, and maybe even land a real feature story on your home. In order to innovate, you need to find a way to be different. And you don’t have to be big or have a lot of money to be different.

    • Matt Landau

      Like Like Like. This is almost a blog post in itself. Thanks Roberto!

  • RentalsInTheRockies

    This may seem like a strange enalergy. A few years ago butchers were going out of business, virtually every week and their customers were turning to the supermarkets for their meat as it was cheaper. Now, we are seeing a resurgence of butchers, because they offer a better quality, locally produced and traceable produce, for which their guests pay a slight premium as it is a better product with less waste. Butchers have had to up their game or go bust.

    There will always be guests looking for the cheapest deal which is fine, but we are immediately adding value to our offerings as VR owners, by adding to a unique experience for our guests. If we put in this effort it will pay dividends in the long run, both to us as individual owners and as a group within the travel industry.

    • Matt Landau

      Love the butcher analogy! Butchers kind of embody that old world way of living and doing business that appears to be coming back into style.

  • Stan Horst

    My wife and I were talking about this very subject just this morning, but in terms of restaurants. There will always be a market for restaurants that provide a unique experience, because diners get tired of the chain (commodity) restaurants and want something different and exciting, where the experience is just as important as the food.

    Case in point… last evening we went with two other couples to a tiny little restaurant called Rutabaga’s in a residential neighborhood in Chattahoochee FL. The restaurant is in a former residence that has been converted to a restaurant, and the place stays packed! I made my reservations two weeks early just to get in for Valentine’s Day.
    The food is excellent if pricey, the atmosphere frankly is a bit crowded, and we had to stand in the street while waiting for our table as there is not enough room to sit or stand inside, or even in the courtyard. Yet this restaurant regularly gets rave reviews, and we will gladly return for a future visit.

    Why? Because the experience is unique.

    In the same way, VR’s who wish to thrive in the new commoditized landscape must find or create a uniqueness that is difficult or undesirable for the commodity sellers to replicate.

    We must also think differently in how we market. No longer is it sufficient to post on a listing site and hope to grab enough of the traffic that is already planning a visit to our area. We must see ourselves and our properties as the destination, figure out the demographic that will be delighted with our uniqueness, and look for places where that demographic hangs out. Think Facebook Groups for example, or Facebook interest targeting.

    Next we must tailor a message that communicates our uniqueness and resonates with our ideal demographic, creating a desire within them to experience what we offer. No longer can we think of ourselves as just a lodging option for someone wishing to visit our area. We MUST think of ourselves as THE destination.

    If I view my property as just another lodging option, I am by definition a commodity!

    • Matt Landau

      “We must see ourselves and our properties as the destination,” so true, and I love the restaurant analogy: supermarkets are a good fit as well.

  • Sheron

    Fantastic article Matt. I wonder if there is a way we could integrate
    the term “Limited Edition” on our own web sites as well as with the
    listing agencies? Maybe in the title of our listings? Like Wendy
    Jackson, I offer many $$ in amenities that I have never had in any
    vacation rental home I have visited in the past 22 years. We provide all
    of the soaps, dish washing soaps, shampoos, spices, coffee, hot teas,
    hot chocolate, paper towels, toilet paper and garbage bags, as well as
    towels for pets and for guests to take to the river, and inner tubes to
    play in the water with.

    One thing I believe makes a stay at Scurlock Farms unique is the free
    tour I offer guests. I have only three homes on our family farm, so I
    can do tours which I understand a property manager with many properties
    can not do.

    A favorite activity for 90% of our guests is taking a tour in a Polaris
    (Gator, mule, 4 wheel drive open-air type vehicle). These tours normally
    last about an hour, but can go to two hours, especially for photography
    buffs or families with children that want to spend a lot of time with
    the baby goats.

    I am not sure how to capitalize on the free tours and make them a more
    prominent part of my website and advertising, rather than as an
    afterthought for those that book a stay.

    • Wendy Jackson

      That’s my issue. I have lots that is special and lots of information to share to personalize a great experience, but how do you make that VISIBLE to people so they know the difference between me and my service and rentals and the other cheaper rentals in the area!

  • Michael

    I really love the concept of the “Limited Edition” properties and the possibility to grow a boutique brand of multiple VR units united by a theme. I think it is important to learn from the “commodities” (in terms of what the do well) to stay competitive while trying not to sacrifice “personality, authenticity, and sustainability” of our limited edition places – that adds the extra value and elevates guest experience.

    I think for those looking to grow/scale a brand of boutique rentals the challenges are in attracting the capital required to expand (even if its just a few units b/c real estate is so capital intensive) and the management aspect.

    I think if David can prove the model is a profitable one, he can grow sustainably without to much sacrifice to personality and authenticity.

    • Matt Landau

      Such a great perspective, Mike. I think I like Limited Edition anything. Just so much more character. More to tell people about over dinner!

  • When I first started reading I thought I’d see the Jerry McGuire “less is more”. I agree that our industry is (or could) become commoditized or I as I called “hotelized” with the OLB function, concierge services, maid service, etc. I’d like to think our Maui properties are the limited edition (and maybe they are with their features) but we are certainly not as fancy as the 5* hotels in our area.

    You hit the nail on the head with you mention that this David’s are not so concerned about the Goliths. Your example of the Austin tent rental is great. I think too that the big issue or concern for me and others is that we (to an extent) can control Google results (PPC, SEO, Social) but if travelers stop going to Google and go to VRBO or Trivago, etc that is a little concerning. I think this is why the group you added on the IC with the niche sites can make a stand if we bond together.

    Aloha – Matt

    • Matt Landau

      Great points, Matt. I suppose we could venture into limited edition specialty niches too, limited edition geographic pockets. The world is our limited edition oyster!

  • Great post, Matt. I’m cynical (just in general) lately, but like you, I believe the little guys can continue to thrive in the commoditized market—not in spite of their nature but because of it.

  • Great read.

    I agree in many ways. We certainly get complaints from owners, as well as in personal conversations from guests, who complain about the “soulless” nature of some of the bigger/scale operators. At the same time, we get the exact opposite from other owners who really want the bigger/scale operators, or for certain traveler types looking for a consistent, standard “brand.”

    The point being, I think the space is enormous, and as Joe Gebbia once told me, there is plenty of room for everyone in it.

    The mistake comes when people think or claim it will be all one or another. That is a misunderstanding of human nature. We are similar in many ways, but also different. And even our preferences can vary by circumstance. The person who is doing a business trip and just wants something super easy they don’t have to think about likely would want one of those Urban big box operators. The same person doing a long weekend in the mountains with friends, or a weeklong vacation to a new destination with family, likely wants something much more akin to your David.

    Another mistake comes up when the “Davids” you mention think they have to become Goliaths. It is an issue I have with “startups” in general. Not every company can, or should be the next Uber or Airbnb. For many people the small, lifestyle business is not just a good answer, but a far better answer. They want to operate locally. They want to know their customers and clients personally. They don’t want the headaches of building a global multi billion dollar business, and that is FINE. There is a place for that. Just don’t try and raise venture money if that is what you want to do. Build a solid profitable business that you own and manage, and love. Your life will be better for it.

    • Matt Landau

      I so love this, Andrew. And you provide such a valuable “opposing” perspective from the more commoditized end of the spectrum. A rising tide certainly lifts all ships. As Joe says, there’s plenty of room for everyone.

  • I am the Mom half of our limited edition of vacation rental business, Sea Ranch Abalone Bay located in The Sea Ranch, Ca. Sea Ranch is noted for its architecturally unique community based on a very strict environmental friendly philosophy. We are also noted for a deep connection to our local “Mendonoma” community (the coastal northern Sonoma, southern Mendocino county region).

    The Pop half of the equation purchased the home to serve as his base for abalone diving and fishing adding an enclosed courtyard for our dogs and grandkids. As the community also has a landing strip for private planes it would serve him well as a pilot of our small aircraft.

    Thus, our Limited Edition VR is designed to enchant lovers of our unique coastal environment, families, pet owners, abalone divers, and pilots.

    As for marketing and management- Our situation is somewhat a hybrid arrangement. We use a local property management company for our home. It has been most as a point of convenience given we live far away. However, it has been our plan to move away towards independence. In the meantime I continue to ramp up my knowledge of the business in the areas of quality assurance in service, booking and holiday experiences,

    What is also makes us unique within our PM’s collection of homes is our website. Our PM utilizes the expanded marketing outlets available through HAs Escapia’s property listings and distribution system.
    ~ Period~
    We market independently of our PM. We expand our distribution independently to niche specific listings and advertisers, and of course my own website and social media outlets.

    I also run my own promotions separate from our PM’s cookie cutter free days-during-off-season rates. For instance, our current promotion is a free personalized copy of a book by a local author showcasing the Mendonoma flora and fauna plus a 10% discount at our community-run and supported bookstore. Guests who initiate their booking directly with me are eligible for this offer.

    As a Limited Edition we are of course on high demand! Procrastinators beware! No we can not rustle you up a romantic Valentine’s day holiday the night before. In fact, if you didn’t book in September for Thanksgiving the following year you are long out of luck.

    And as anything limited, we are priced accordingly. But we make sure our guests receive full value for their booking by going above and beyond in added amenities, travel/vacation advice and experiences.

    Lastly as a Limited Edition, it means our business’ profit is on an “n” of one. We realize there are only 52 weeks in a year. And when we close our calendar for our own holiday time we see even less profit in that year. And we’re ok with that.. for now until we purchase our second Limited Edition.

    • SoCalSurfer

      WoW! You have the most amazing website for a stand alone VR!! Yes Sea Ranch is an amazing area (quietly still tucked back in the 70’s…) north of SF where NorCal really starts and becomes its own state… Who did your website? Where did you get the 2D floor plans done? We have also thrived over the past 7 years off our niche 4BR home with year round heated pool/spa walk to Village & a mile to the beach. There are few homes along the California coastline with your own private pool this close to the beach! Most of the places are condos or homes with no yard so no space for a pool. Take care & enJoy!!!

  • Fisheye Upkeep

    Where thoughts go energy flows.

    Commodity certainly has it’s place.
    In the last few months I have seen so many different types of ‘clean.’.
    What people think other people will see, notice or want, almost puts the commodity aspect under the lens of the ultra–personal limited edition.
    I would like to think of the split in terms of sustainability.
    An ‘Old’ v.s. ‘New’ (the Original Old) way of appreciating things.

    Old Model:
    Pressed Linens taken by truck away and back. (all that fuel, all that water)
    New Model:
    Laundry in house. Biodegradable, unscented detergents.
    Old Model:
    Waste Management. All is taken away in a black plastic bag
    New Model:
    Clients are encouraged to compost, be in touch with the loop.

    Sustainability ya ya ya right?! Isn’t that just one of the ways we can look at limited editions.
    But perhaps it IS the lens we ‘have’ to look through in order to offer our authentic, unattached selves on the other side. Maybe success in these two together, creates an emergent new commodity.

    I’ve been using green cleaning products mostly through the last year. I don’t carry around a scent or a feeling or chemicals after I leave a home.
    This last week I got invited to house keep the ritzy ‘hotel style’ 5 suite lot down the road.
    Built into the cleared out estuary below a string of authentic west coast cabins, ‘Mom and Pop’ sending their laundry away, expecting certain standards, having a hard time staffing and communicating these expectations. Aging, sitting on a ‘gold mine losing shine’…
    I left these shifts, exhausted, woozy from the toxins of cleaning chemicals, paid less money and in general, asking a lot of questions about the opposing parallels.

    Although a lot of work to uncover, I think there is a way to offer both halves of commodity and limited edition. To get there, I think we have to be authentic, in ourselves and our expressions of sharing an experience, but also authentic to the earth.
    The Sharing Economy is built on a basis of trust among peers. We trust that one another will make better choices than the big man that has come before.
    As we learn to make choices, we can try our hands at offering different parts of an experience, or perhaps, working together there is a bright path where the work is shared.
    As you choose the puzzle pieces of your edition. Suzy next door chooses hers. We could have some of the same bread made by Peter down the road, our experiences may still be totally authentic!

  • I think what the vacation rental industry is experiencing is the age-old battle between the “investor” and the “artist”.

    Where the investor seeks maximum returns, and the artist seeks maximum connection. The problem you’re describing the investor (or Goliath) in this case, is the reality that authenticity can’t be mass produced.

    Authenticity is a distinct advantage of vacation rentals over hotels. Given the explosion of the industry as a whole, authenticity has become abundant, but can’t scale.

    My take-away is to avoid the forces of commoditization which is the arena of the “investor”/goliath, and leverage the industry’s greatest strength: authenticity. Lynn is a great example of whose “non-investor” mentality is an asset, not a liability.

    Tangibly, I think the way to accomplish this is not only through private branding, but by creating an entirely unique experience for guests.

    It’s easy to stand out when everyone else is looking to fit in.

    • Matt Landau

      I’m diggin this art/investor analogy.

      And also, remember that most people think David has to use the stone and the slingshot to fight Goliath. But he could also walk off and do his own thing in the woods where Goliath can’t venture. “Be like water my friend.”

  • Kirby Winfield

    well said. the analysts and pundits need to realize that a certain percentage of the most attractive VR properties will never become standardized or even broadly/easily available. and that’s OK!

    • Matt Landau

      Yes! I want to shout this from the mountaintops.

  • Karla

    Matt –

    LOTS of thoughts! I’m psyched, on fire! I
    need to settle down and compose a few thoughts articulately. I feel like
    I’m about to team up with The Force, as in the Passion Force.

    small IS tall. Heck, Mocko Jumbie’s should certainly know a thing or
    two about that. Lady Legs stood tall at ten feet. She still stands tall
    at 5’8.”

    The Little Engine that Could is
    another good book: “I think I can, I think I can…” FYI: C.S. Lewis
    (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) said something to the effect of:
    A book written for children only is probably not a very good book.

    • Matt Landau


  • We are a property management company but we are trying to do a little bit of both (a commoditized limited edition). We have our standards (all kitchen must be furnished with X, Y and Z, all units have these consumable supplies (TP, Dish soap, etc), and all units have towels and linens, etc.

    Our area is exploding with growth and “investors” are coming to us and saying we want to build something to rent out and have you manage, what should we build?

    We used to say things like “building a 1 or 2 bedroom condo or 7+ bedroom house, those have the best ROI.” But we had one investor come in and build this amazing house that looks and feels like a barn (but it smells better and is a lot cleaner) and people went crazy for it. So now we tell investors just build something super unique and fun for families (target market for our area) and it will do well. (I don’t know if I can include a link or not, but if this works then here is where you can see “The Barn” and even take a 360 virtual tour: http://bearlakecabinrentals.com/the-barn

    • Matt Landau

      This barn story is so cool! You’re like, “just build whatever no one else would build.” The very essence of limited edition.

      I defined Limited Edition as INCLUDING commodity baseline standards. So wouldn’t what you are trying to do be simply Limited Edition Property Management?

      • Good point.

        I guess I was trying to say a lot of our properties weren’t all that different from each other (commodity) but things are starting to change and we are getting more (and encouraging more) Limited Edition properties.

  • Sabrina Piccinin

    I love your article Matt…that is what I am working on with Ultimate Villa Rentals…my goal with Hauteretreats.com is to offer a website where outstanding properties with 5 Stars service I am still working on the about page and how to get the voice out loud. I believe there are villas that need to be outside large sites where everything just blend it in…Great article Matt!! Let’s take hospitality back to the most unique touches and experience. Fenicehospitality.com

    • Matt Landau

      Here Here! Keep up the great work, Sabrina!

  • Michael Quinn

    Hello, in full transparency, this is Michael from Wheelhouse Pricing.

    Matt, I really enjoyed this write-up.

    I couldn’t agree more. A strong sense of brand is perhaps the number one defense in the face of a commodity drift. And as more entrants flood the market, like you said, commoditization in inevitable.

    The VR space needs these businesses with a real sense of self and personality and point of view.

    And what do these distinctive brands look like? You nailed it:

    “Investors looking for the cutting edge in the vacation rental industry — the prototypes that represent the truest, most unbreakable essence of the vacation rental movement — have to zoom in on Limited Edition properties. However, these Limited Edition vacation rentals are not familiar entities. They are by nature small-scale, ultra-personalized, and in a lot of ways, inimitable businesses. In a lot of cases, they were started accidentally without any business plan. In most cases, built on passion as opposed to business savvy.”

    So what needs to happen? We need to build the tools and provide the insights so the creatives and the innovators and the pioneers can transcend the stalwarts and marketplaces and create really interesting and memorable brands — in a space (travel) where we all crave interesting and memorable. And that’s what we are working on at Wheelhouse. We want to empower the do-ers in the space. Give them the tools to keep the space interesting and exciting and creative!

    It’s hard not to think of Square and what they did to empower small, interesting businesses. They gave small businesses the technology and insights of big businesses (Starbucks used to run on Square), so they could run just as professionally and stay relevant. And we all know the most interesting and memorable coffee shop in any city is not a Starbucks. It is the one built by the creatives and innovators.

    I am excited about this concept of Limited Edition. And we at Wheelhouse want to create the platform that will help these Limited Edition participants thrive.

    • Matt Landau

      Love it, and love your attitude, Michael. A quote I saw yesterday: “If you want to teach people a new way of
      thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool,
      the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” Go, Wheelhouse, Go!

      • Michael Quinn

        That’s a great quote. That’s our ethos. Don’t pass along prescriptive solutions, but give the tools to success.

  • Jonathan Murray

    One challenge that I think ‘mom and pops’ have is figuring out where it makes sense to stand apart from the crowd and where it makes sense to get in line with where the industry seems to be moving. It’s not always clear, and I think you have to really have a good sense of self and understand what it is about your rental property/business that makes it potentially “Limited Edition”. I’d go all in on those things and not sweat the other things that don’t matter as much.

    Here’s an example… working for a software provider, I occasionally see a mom and pop clinging to a rather unique and unorthodox rate structure. Why? Because they’ve “always done that” and it “works for them” and they don’t see the reason to adapt just because others are doing it a different way (naturally there are other valid reasons, so I don’t mean to put everyone in the same boat with this example). Now, if the property’s one-off rate structure isn’t a key characteristic of it being “Limited Edition” (which it probably isn’t), and if by clinging to this way of pricing makes it harder for renters to understand the cost, or for you to find software that supports your rate structure, consider simplifying and conforming on this non-critical item! Double down on the things that truly matter and make you unique.

    • Matt Landau

      “Double down on the things that truly matter” amen to that. I’m working on an 8-steps to Limited Edition framework. I’ll pass it by your desk to make sure that everything that matters is included.

      – MATTers

  • Matt Landau

    This From SteveH

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0929b306155d14f9dde0e8d16ebd875468ca3b58850a3f01d231f126450bca83.jpg Great article Matt. I’ve read it many times over. I think it’s a great insight into where the future will lead.

    It inspired me to start scribbling … (attached).

    I’ve tried (guessed) to place some hotels into a space. Ultimately I think we can do the same with VRs.

    Curiously I think there is a channel up the middle diagonal that represents a sweet spot of … shall we call it ‘efficiency’. I think I could place a whole handful of Las Vegas resorts onto that diagonal. That makes sense as that must be one of the most competitive markets on the planet.

    So a whole bunch of questions …

    If big money does move into the VR space, will they tend towards this diagonal? Especially if this is where they find the max ROI?

    If they start there, over time will they pull themselves lower as they chase higher ROI by slipping their product towards being more generic? Generic at scale = efficiencies.

    While this diagonal might be where the efficient ROI is, it doesn’t mean there aren’t markets at
    every point in this space. My gut feeling is that the further away from that diagonal you move, the more you have to commit to your market. For example, if I ran a budget, Elvis themed motel in Orlando I wouldn’t be competitive against that diagonal. But I’d kill them if I market to
    Elvis fans who are visiting Disney. Ah Haaa!

    I’d love to hear any more thoughts on this as it’s something that I try to think about ever so often.

    To win as David you absolutely must take the playing field away from Goliath. That first requires that you know where Golith is playing.

    • Matt Landau

      I am so loving this comment and the brilliant napkin art to boot! Curious to read folks’ feedback as I think this may take me a few hours to sink in!

    • Stan Horst

      Steve I’ve read this several times over and gained something new each time. I think the most profound takeaway for me is your last statement. That David must figure out where Goliath is playing. The next logical step is to play somewhere else. Kind of like being a big fish in a small pond instead of the other way around.

      Limited Edition does not try to be everything to everyone, but to serve a niche market by diving very very deep into that market, learning how to think, act, and talk like that market, figuring out what their hot buttons are, and designing the entire experience for them. Committing to your market, as you said.

      Thanks for the drawing. It has helped to clarify some things for me.

  • Love to travel 2014

    When small is tall is the story of my life lol and it has been no different with our villa.
    The concept is even more important as businesses such as AirBnB come online where not only do you have the commodity type properties to content with but all those people who figure this is a great way to make extra money.

    We are in a very competitive area where everyone thinks beachfront is the bees knees. We are not beachfront but a mere 2 minute walk away. For a long time, I kept kicking myself for not going beachfront but we have ended up with a property that is very unique, both in offerings and in service. We have more amenities than almost any other vacation rental around – including most of the beachfront ones. We also have a high level of service with chef, butler, etc. Concierge type service. http://www.MakeItJamaica.com.

    As a limited VR, you have to be able to show your difference succinctly and quickly once someone gets to your website. We need to work on that some more. I’m not so sure that people really realize all that we offer off the bat. Also, as someone else mentioned, you have to figure out how to get seen. People can’t book what they don’t know about.

  • Paola Fiocchi VandenBrande

    This is an excellent article. As a “David” myself, I have to believe there is a future for Small, Limited Edition propositions, such as what we are trying to do with http://www.passepartout-homes.com As someone mentioned here earlier, clients are returning to their local butcher. The challenge, as usual, is to drive direct bookings without breaking the bank, in a world dominated by the Goliaths.

  • Hi Matt,

    This post spoke directly to the initiatives I’ve been working on over the past 18-24 months. Discovering the things that truly matter and going for it. We’ve always had a niche market and now we have plan to push past the next transition. Just didn’t know what to call it so thank you for bringing “Limited Edition” into the mix. Per usual brilliant.

    Thank you,


    • Matt Landau

      Great to hear, Julia! You were limited edition and didn’t even know it!

  • Sharon Vaughan

    Great idea again, Matt. In an area where there is a lot of competition, setting your home and yourself apart is challenging. I am trying to give super service with restaurant guides, my guide to Tahoe favorites, and tailoring information to each guest. The house itself is beautiful (www.vrbo.com/56320). The next step for me might be video footage (drone shots over the house and inside too) and sigh (of myself). Thanks for all your help and on to the “limited edition” concept!