Breezeway had the pleasure of sitting down once again with one of the industry’s most distinguished experts, Matt Landau, to discuss some of the most memorable moments from this season’s Unlocked podcast. Matt is the Founder of VRMB and VRMB Communities, a vacation rental forum with over 950 members throughout the world. Read the full interview below as we recap how some of the most creative vacation rental professionals are adapting to elevated guest standards and optimizing their operations.
Breezeway: Hi Matt! Thanks for being with us today! We’re excited to talk to you about Season 6 of Unlocked, so let’s jump right into it. Season 6 was all about the concept of “Magic Zones.” Can you explain to us what that is exactly and what it means in the vacation rental management industry?
Matt Landau: Something we hear quite often in the space is if you can define your version of success, you can achieve it. I think people use that phrase often because most people get into the industry accidentally, and they don’t have a specific plan. They just started renting out a second home. They’re good at it, they’re making money, and then before you know it, you’re running a full-scale business without ever having actually defined what is success to you.
It’s important to define that sweet spot as specifically as possible. You can narrow it down to things like how many properties and what kind of properties you want to manage, where you want to be located, what your margins need to look like, what your repeat guest count should look like, etc. The beautiful thing about the "Magic Zone", as I’ve learned throughout the season, is that everyone is slightly different.
So, I think after all 15 episodes, reflecting back, my big takeaway still is that if you can define your "Magic Zone" or your sweet spot, you’re in a much more focused and efficient position than your competitor down the street who has not. But also, that you can dream big. You can come up with almost any "Magic Zone" right now, and there’s a realistic path to success there.
Breezeway: When you interviewed Carl Shepard from HomeAway, you said that “no matter what size your vacation rental company is, your "Magic Zone", or sweet spot is created by conveying ownership, even if you're managing someone else's property.” Can you tell us more about how conveying ownership and individuality fits into achieving your “Magic Zone”?
Matt Landau: I think Carl’s perspective is unique because he’s coming from the top looking down, whereas most of us owners and managers are on the bottom looking up, but it was really neat for me to hear that the individuality that makes our industry great at scale is ultimately what Carl felt is not going anywhere. It’s the most precious thing that we have.
The action item there for an owner or manager is, emphasize your individuality, emphasize the fact that you’re the owner, that you live there, that this is part of your life, and that doesn’t require any magic or rocket science. That just requires being you. I thought that was a reaffirming lesson to hear.
Breezeway: We were happy to hear other people in the industry talk about it too. Bringing professionalism to vacation rental management helps the whole industry grow and keeps guests coming back.
Let's move on to your conversation with Kirsten King of Big Sky Vacation Rentals, where you discussed growing and scaling your business. Kirsten stated: “Our mission became to create extraordinary vacation experiences for owners and guests. And you know, that's not a very profound mission. And I'm sure thousands of other VRMs have something similar. But for us, the secret sauce became the execution. Something that can sound pretty simple is often really complex and difficult to pull off on a large scale”.
From your perspective, do you find that delivering on a great guest experience is being more closely tied to technology and operations, which in turn helps a company grow at scale?
Matt Landau: Yes. I think it’s fair to say that an experience is everything a guest encounters from the moment they stay to the moment they leave. That is comprised of a whole bunch of variables. There are some variables that can and should be made controlled with technology, like smart home automation - not needing someone to go and adjust a thermostat. There are others, like having an amazing housekeeper that goes above and beyond and uses their judgment in an instance that maybe falls outside of the standard operating procedure.
But I think the goal here is any variable that can be made a control with the use of technology should. Hopefully, automating these controls saves you time and energy and lets you leverage your employees and their expertise on the more personable variables and special touches that make a great experience.
Breezeway: This reminds us of the conversation we had with you at our Elevate Conference around integrated technologies, and even ties into our next question. When you spoke with Jed Stevens of Koloa Kai, he gave us this great metaphor, saying: “I can’t imagine trying to operate a vacation rental management company without proper property management. It would be like trying to sail without a boat. It’s just not something you can do. You can swim, right? But that’s not sailing. You can surf, but that’s also not sailing. You need to have the tools to be in the business.”
After he said this, you both mentioned the importance of building on an integrated tech stack, and those would be the things that would get you sailing. Can you elaborate on how you’ve come to understand how an integrated approach can change your business?
Matt Landau: First of all, Jed is as advanced of a property manager as I have ever met in terms of building something sustainable and scaling it. I’m not exaggerating when I say that he’s the most forward-thinking manager that I have met. He looks at every single part of his business like an engineer and finds the most efficient way to solve the problem. If someone like Jed is drawing the conclusion that technology, specifically property management software and the right third-party tools like Breezeway, are not the core of your property manager and business, you don’t have a business. That says something. If you’re trying to build something sustainable, something that is efficient and something that you can grow with, you need the core software, and I suppose that’s where you can’t sail without the boat.
Breezeway: Do you think that ties into what you created your whitepaper about, the Agile Approach?
Matt Landau: Yeah, totally. Breezeway spotted that way before I realized it. In an emerging space, there is not going to be an all-in-one solution that does everything, best-in-class, for a really long time. So, you’ve got to go with the next best thing, which is choosing a core management software that is strong and that you can grow with, and integrate it with the other specialist tools that do it best.
Breezeway: We couldn't agree more! And for our last question: Andrew McConnell of Rented.com talks about the importance of a manager’s relationship with both owners and guests. In terms of guests, he mentions: “Because the single best place to increase your margin is to have those repeat guests to not have to be paying for direct traffic or for pay per click or for display ads or anything. But to just have them know and want to come back to you. And really how relationship oriented you are''. From listening to many people on your podcast, how could you sum up building these types of relationships, and going back to "Magic Zones", are there tools that can help you do so?
Matt Landau: Normally, when managers are thinking about a marketing budget, they’re thinking about the upfront cost - what commissions they’re going to pay out to listing sites or the cost of a new lead. What they’re not thinking so much about is the lifetime value of that lead, and what the value is to us if that becomes a repeat guest.
If you can see the connection between the phenomenal guest experience that Andrew is talking about with the return on your bottom-line year-upon-year, then it’s like all of a sudden, a lightbulb goes off, and you’re like, “Wait a minute. We don’t have to chase after new leads all day. We can actually butterfly our existing leads that are coming in through OTAs into repeat and referral bookings." Turning that corner is the big game changer for any vacation rental marketer. It’s thinking more about the lifetime value as opposed to the cost of the new lead.
For more information regarding Breezeway's partnership with Unlocked, visit VRMB, and stay tuned for Season 7 airing this July!