I turned 42 last Sunday (😱). I guess I’m now qualified to say things like "time flies" and "you better enjoy it while you can." Funny how the world changes around you without you even realizing it.
I've spent more than a decade in the vacation rental industry, and prior to that, I managed an inventory of investment properties. All told, I'm creeping up on 20 years in property management, and am a defacto “industry veteran”.
As I look back on the evolution of property management over the last 10+ years, I see three distinct points of inflection.
Phase I: Online Marketing
Moving from print to online was nothing short of revolutionary, and leveled the playing field for small businesses to compete with the larger entities. I saw this first-hand back in 2008 when I was the Marketing Director for a vacation rental company on the Outer Banks. I moved our shop from almost 100% print to 90% online, and in short order, we outperformed the deep competitive field in the market.
Today, managers and guests are almost exclusively focused online. The ‘Amazonian Effect’ of consumerism has trickled into the vacation rental industry, and has led to rising expectations of quality and service. I’d assume this growing trend is here to stay.
Phase II: Smart Home Automation
In late 2012 I moved to enterprise smart home automation right when the concept of "smart home" took off. Once Google and Amazon bought in (and big-time at that), there was no turning back and we were off to the races.
For managers with an inventory of properties, the adjustment to remote control, process automation, and alerts from the field was a big leap. The innovative technology impressed guests, and became a selling point for managers.
And while smart home automation took steps towards operational control, there was a chasm left untouched. Knowing that someone used a lock is great, but how do you reduce time scheduling teams, communicating with staff in real-time, tracking your team’s location, collecting quality assurance data, building online property profiles, and sharing asset management reports with property owners?
Phase III: Operational Control
Three months ago I moved to Breezeway to focus on the next big phase of property management: operational control.
Operations (cleans, inspections, and maintenance) has always been the backbone of property management. It's the messy boots-on-the-ground part of the business that requires the human touch - and at times, human error.
Until now, you built it yourself, or you wasted countless hours trudging through the murky waters of operations management. In the end, the guests/tenants got in, but it was a slow arduous process filled with excel sheets, clipboards, and a lot of phone/text/email - not to mention the occasional frustrated guest and/or property owner.
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to enjoy a cup of coffee with Clark Twiddy (from Twiddy & Co), an industry pioneer who pushes the vacation rental landscape forward. After catching up, I asked Clark what he sees as today’s competitive advantage in property management. Clark looked me right in the eye and delivered the most straightforward answer that I'll carry with me for quite some time: “today's competitive advantage is adopting tools and processes that are better, faster, and cheaper.”
Clark’s insight is spot on. Operational Control is the next transformation in property management, and the big money pouring in is focused on better, faster, cheaper. If you continue to operate the way of the past (think spreadsheets, clunky group messages, etc.), expect that your competition will whiz by you, and the market will force change upon your company that won’t be on your terms.