When my wife, Kelly, and I decided to invest in a vacation rental home we knew we had our work cut out for us. Along with the hours and hours of manual labor and the countless trips to the hardware store we also had to plan out the personality of the home.
Our vacation rental is in the Lake Michigan town of South Haven. Just before we decided to invest, the town had put a moratorium on new short term rentals (<30 day rentals) in the area of town where our future property sat. Part of the purchase for us was having an existing, and approved, STR license. However, we knew that the license to rent the home to vacationers was not enough alone to succeed.
We quickly began discussing what we wanted the house to be. Why we wanted this house. And how we would best represent our vision for the home to vacationers. In short, we focused on the brand. Like all proper branding exercises we looked both internally and externally.
We did research on the home.
- Who had lived there?
- Was there an interesting history to the home?
- What would future guests find interesting about the home and the legacy?
We then thought about our own personal style(s).
- What do we want to be there when we visit?
- What types of furniture reflect us?
- How do we make it represent the two of us?
It was now time to think about our future customers.
- Who would be renting this kind of home?
- From where are they traveling?
- Why types of groups would be interested in a home and property like ours?
- What other homes are they currently renting?
With a good idea of the answers to all of these questions, we set off on creating our brand. It started with a proper name. We quickly settled on the Peach Mansion to pay homage to the history of the home that was built by a prominent peach farmer in the area. This name would both be memorable and tease the story of the home. Next we had to create a guest experience that would also reflect the history of the home, while also attracting the guests we expected.
Our brand became about a place where memories are made. A place where old meets new…and where togetherness and getting lost by yourself are all part of the experience. This guest experience – demonstrated by photos and the company name and reinforced by the space itself and the amazing customer service of our property manager is the living example of our brand.
We have been open for three summers now. We listen intently to our guests and what they love about the house. We also listen to any challenges or issues that arise – as they certainly will from a 160+ year old house. It is this direct intelligence that allows us to continue to tweak our brand and the guest experience.
The Peach Mansion brand will continue to evolve, but it is built securely on a foundation that both sets us apart in the local marketplace and offers a unique experience that is bound to create memories.
As you look to brand your vacation rental, you need to look internally and externally as we did. You will need to find what are guests looking for that might not already be available. Do your research on who travels to your area. When are they traveling…and with whom are they traveling? Then “shop” the competition. Luckily market research is very easy with platforms like VRBO and Airbnb. Their story and their photos are all out there in one convenient place. But that’s why this is such an important exercise. If the competition is easy for you to shop, it is easy for your customers to shop and compare too. If you don’t resonate and stand out, you will not be as successful as you can be.
When you go to South Haven, MI you won’t find another 5 bedroom property sitting on 1 acre of land. You won’t find another place that boasts the amount of places to enjoy in one property as we do; inside and out. And you won’t find another property that tells a brief history lesson on the town and how the industry in South Haven has evolved other the years. And finally, you won’t find a property that has the same level of design and style as the Peach Mansion. Our furniture is not all purchased from the same place. It is a collection. Just like the home is a collection of memories…just waiting for the next ones to be created.
What is your brand? What sets you apart? What do your guests want when they visit your town?
Why Branding Is Important
Now you know how to properly brand your STR. The why is much more simple. For us, we want to drive as many people to rent directly from us as possible (http://www.sohapeachmansion.com). While I believe that AIRBNB and VRBO are both well worth the money to get found and to be the marketplace they are, I’d rather not pay them their hosting fees and I’d rather our guests not have to pay their guest fee. When people book direct they typically save about 10%. That’s a significant value to many travelers. And while the guest pays about 10% less, the host actually makes a little more too.
A strong brand is important to grow your business. People want to do business with brands that reflect their style and interests. A strong brand also drives direct sales – which should turn into higher margins.