Feb. 9, 2022

Sustainable Growth Strategies with Jim DeVos of Best Beach Getaways


Jim DeVos is the type of business leader and entrepreneur that any employee who takes pride in their job would love to work for. Jim's  career started in the airline industry with Piedmont Airlines, where he honed the skill of team building, opening up 3 hubs and 70 new markets. He then went on to work as an advertising exec for 17 years, and got to witness the the tail end of the Mad Men era of agency life and the days when 3 martini lunches were the norm. 

Jim's experience in sales and marketing ultimately led him to open Best Beach Getaways in 2008 with a partner, and within one year they managed to grow to 100 units under management. While this growth was impressive, their limited understanding of the operations side of the business quickly caught up with them. Jim recalls some of the struggles during this time, which fortunately led to great victories on the other side - including a portfolio that now includes 460 prime oceanfront condos in the Florida Panhandle. 

Topics we also cover:

  1. Keeping employees happy, and how long term retention has enabled their success
  2. Why profitability and managing your margins is so important  (hint, you can pay people more, which helps with #1 :) 
  3. Acquisition strategies, and importance of how they are structured 
  4. Software challenges, and why they decided to build their own systems
  5. His brush with fame!

Watch episode on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/EsUodnofoHg

CONTACT JIM DEVOS
https://www.bestbeachgetaways.com/
jim@bestbeachgetaways.com

CONTACT ALEX & ANNIE
AlexandAnniePodcast.com
LinkedIn | Facebook | Instagram

Alex Husner - Linkedin
Annie Holcombe - Linkedin

Podcast Sponsored by Condo-World and Lexicon Travel

Transcript
Alex Husner:

Welcome to Alex and Annie. I'm Alex. And I'm Annie. And we are the real women of vacation rentals. We are here today with Jim DeVos from best beach getaways in Panama City Beach, which is also where Annie is located. Jim, welcome to the podcast.

Jim Devos:

Well, thank you, Alex. And Andy, welcome. I appreciate the opportunity to be here.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, we're so excited to have you any, do you want to get started with some questions? And are you You know, Jim, personally and professionally, so you've got a little bit of history there to start diving in? Yeah. So

Annie Holcombe:

I thought actually, Jim, if maybe you can kind of give us a 30,000 foot view of your experience your career, we were just talking about it earlier. You're, it's pretty vast. And it's done a little bit of everything. But it's obviously led you to where you are today.

Jim Devos:

Sure, happily happy to do that. Oddly enough, my first job really out of coming out of the military. My first job was in the military coming out of the military that was being a travel agent. And, you know, an early in my career I also got involved in in charter airline sales and group vacation sales and a tour operator business interests. So after about an after about six years of doing that, I actually was recruited into the advertising agency world to work on an airline. And I knew a lot about the airline industry, because of my background, but really nothing about advertising itself. So really, for like the next 17 years or so I became an ad guy. And when I started that career, I really got to see the tail end of the madman kind of life of an advertising agency executive, you know, three more Martini lunches, and so forth. Not me personally, because I have three martinis. But the people that I

Alex Husner:

bring those back, it was fun, completely.

Jim Devos:

Of course, of course, the memory gets a little foggy after a couple of martinis. So yeah, I don't know what happened.

Annie Holcombe:

You get those contracts signed. Right. Exactly.

Jim Devos:

Exactly. So, you know, although I really, really was never very good at holding up my end of that discipline. But But from there, I went to work on the client side. And I hit it up. And actually, when I was the Advertising Age, the business I also worked on a variety of different variety of different brands, I worked on some hotel brands work on airlines, worked worked for a number of packaged goods, Procter and Gamble companies, and that sort of thing as as an as an advertising and strategy guy. And actually, one of one of my clients recruited me to take over the marketing department for a food service management conglomerate. And, and I did that really for about 15 years or so. Before my business partner in best beach getaway, so actually used to be my boss. And I started best beach getaways about 13 years ago. Wow. It was really what what led, what led really led us into this business was my partner had, he had retired from the company that we were both working at. And he and he started acquiring vacation rental properties and, and he started digging into the vacation rental industry. And he and and he hired and subsequently fired a number of vacation rental management companies. And while I was still I was still actually head of marketing and strategy for this food service management conglomerate. And he came to me and he said, you know, we could do this better? And and I said, What do you mean? And he said, and he started to recount the the horror stories of dealing with some of the people in our industry back 13 years ago, and 1314 years ago. And, and so he said, So we sat down and we looked at we looked at what we could do differently, what would that model look like? And and could we really do something successfully and so and so with with that, and you know, with with that in mind, we went to market in 2008. And, and in our first year in the business due to due to our aggressive and may I say brilliant marketing approach. We we had over 100 properties signed in the first 90 days of existence. Wow. Yeah. Wow. And that caused that caused us to consider ourselves just a an overnight success. Yeah, absolutely. Right. But But then, but then reality sunk in and because

Alex Husner:

he doesn't at

Jim Devos:

all. Yeah, well, there was that there's that yeah, we opened the doors right during the recession. Good move. Yeah. but we also hadn't done a terribly good job on the on the operation side of really putting the right people and processes in place. And frankly, we lost about two thirds of the business that we'd signed on. Because frankly, we didn't do a good job. And, and that's what it was, like, really the first three or four years of our business. We were we were running the business remotely. I was in Atlanta, he's in Atlanta. And we had we had, we had a director running the operation down here. And and it just, you know, this is there's something about this business, that at the end of the day, what it really is, is an entrepreneurial business, and it's a local business. Yeah, absolutely. Right. So, so what, so my partner, and I said, one of us has really got wet, we've either got to sell this thing, closest thing, or one of us has got to go run this thing. And, and he had little kids in school couldn't do it. So. So I said, Well, all of my kids are grown. So why not? Is there you know, living at the beach is not bad duty. Right. So, so take advantage

Alex Husner:

of Atlanta, Atlanta, but

Jim Devos:

now, oddly enough, we relocated to Panama City Beach, then I worked out of our office on 30. A. And and, and I'd have some of my colleagues call me and say, Well, how is it and the reality is from where we live, my commute, my commute to my office on 30. A was about the same length, as my commute from my, from my home to my office in Atlanta. The only difference was the scenery was way better. Oh, gosh, yeah. So. So it long story short, I think, I think what, what we're where we are right now, as we've, we've grown to about 460 properties, we've got four offices, and we've got a, we've got a great tenured management team, our average tenure, now we've been in business now for 13 years, our average tenure is about nine and a half years, which I think in this business, I think, is almost unheard of. Yeah. And and to be honest with you, we, we wouldn't be where we are, if we didn't have the team that we have, yeah, they're completely committed. They're, they're process oriented and driven. And they're, and they're constantly looking for ways to make things better. Now, I want to roll back to one thing. And that's that. And that's that, I think what we've done at best beach getaways. If you walked into our office in Panama City Beach, one of the first thing that you would see is a gigantic four by six vinyl wall covering on our entrance wall that says team BBG. And that's the way everybody thinks here. Yeah, yeah. It's It's just we've got a great culture. And, and I'm proud of that crowd of people that would that we have on the team for that very reason. Yeah. So you've, you've

Alex Husner:

got such a recipe of success there that we can kind of unravel here. I'm not even sure where to begin. There's so many good things in that. But yeah, I just in the time that I've known you, Jim, I can definitely tell you do have a great team and that your team has that entrepreneurial spirit, all of them do. Because, you know, trying to make things better. I know you've done a lot of software initiatives on your own. Yeah. And it that's, you know, that's kind of a common theme that Andy and I have been recognizing, among some of the people that we've talked to recently they've become very successful is that they are and they have to developing their own platforms and technologies to meet the needs of specifically what their business uses. And I think where that connects the dots with the employees, and why you have such little turnover is you're giving them the tools that they need to succeed and you're not forcing something down their throats, that is not really meant for your business. I think we see that pretty commonly now that when you know, staff members are leaving, they're often they're not happy with what they're having to do and the tools that they have to do it and the lack of training. And it just creates a bad inner office atmosphere there. But when you're actually listening to what people need, and you're developing what's going to make their job easier. It's easier to keep people to stay and condo world we're very similar that we have our own software and several other systems in place that we've developed. And I would imagine are 10 years about the same as that I've been here for 12 years, our CTO has been here for about the same amount of time and you know, it's everybody's been here on the executive team for actually the reservations for quite a long time. But you know, just having that right mentality that sets the stage for how the whole business operates. So

Jim Devos:

Oh, yeah. You bet. You bet. It's funny you talk about you talk about software, and one of the things that we did that we've done is We knew we needed to develop our own software. And we wanted to get to we want to get to a complete system. But we the way we started, was we started kind of from the ground up, we built it. And it, we describe it almost as a as a skyscraper skyscraper, and we're building it one floor at a time. Yeah, yes. And that's really kind of the way we've done it. And I, the thing that I like about what we've done, when I was, this is, this is sort of off track, but maybe not. When I was when I was when I was in the advertising agency business. One of the one of my clients was a was a car company. And it was a British car company. And, and and what I wrote, What I discovered, in my experience was that the best cars in the world are designed by the British or the Italians. And they are engineered by the Japanese. Okay. The car company that I was working on actually was the reverse it was it looked like it was it looked like it was designed by the Japanese and engineered by the Brits. Oh, wow.

Alex Husner:

Sorry. Reverse execution. Exactly,

Jim Devos:

exactly. But one of the things that one of the things that I when I looked when I looked at a lot of different software platforms, what I saw, what I saw was they were designed and engineered by, by technology people, not people in our business. Yeah, exactly. And so and so what you got to have the software engineers, no question about it. They've got you they've got to do, they've got to do the engineering, but what you need is you need the experience, people in our business, really doing the design.

Alex Husner:

Okay, use analogy. That's true. I need to remember that one.

Jim Devos:

Yeah, that car was a horror story. But yeah. But it's a great way to look at things. You

Alex Husner:

know, there's a lot of software, that's a horror story, too.

Jim Devos:

I'm sure we've all had some of it.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, more than our fair share, I'm sure.

Jim Devos:

And you raised one of the things that you raised Alex, that it's funny a side story. The one one of our operations managers, who's really been with us now seven or eight years, started started with us as an inspector, then became a property manager. Now she's one of our operations managers. And about two years ago, now, she, she was getting married. She's and, and she was concerned about the amount of time commitment that she had. And because she had, you know, new family, new, you know, new husband, new stepchildren, she, you know, she felt like she needed to really reduce the amount of involvement that she had in business and, and another rental management company had come to her and said, Well, look, you know, we will, we will pay you more money, and we will, we will reduce your span of control, you only have to manage X number of properties. So, we, we sent her, you know, we we said, Listen, if that's what you need to do, we love you, we'd love to keep you but, you know, everybody has to make their own personal decision. So, so we, we had a, you know, good buy lunch with her and then and said, Listen, if you ever need anything, please come back. Come talk to us. So two weeks later, she calls my director of operations and says, Have you filled my job? And, and he said, Well, why? And she said, I want to come back. And he said, Well, why? Yeah, she said, Because I can do more. With, with your, with your software and processes. Yeah, for a wider base of business that I can do for a for for about 25% of the span that she had. Right, without the tools that we have. Yeah, so yeah. So it was it product productivity level? And in terms of what we've done is just really, yeah, yeah. Very pleased with where it's going. Yeah.

Alex Husner:

But equipping your people with with the right tools, I think is just a common, you know, theme that we keep hearing and people that we're interviewing, and it's just it's very interesting. Very interesting.

Annie Holcombe:

So with your with your software, and I know that you're planning at some point to kind of take it to market. You know, you're working on it still. Where are you at with it now? And what do you ultimately see it doing? I think when we initially talked to you, or I know, since I've known you a couple years, it started out as a housekeeping maintenance. Yo function, correct? Yep. Yeah. Yeah. And so where is it? Where is it kind of morphed into and where do you see it ultimately going?

Jim Devos:

It's ultimately what ultimately that you know, the ultimate thing is something actually Andy you view it, I think It seemed something that you posted on LinkedIn. I can't remember now. But you had said something about coming out of the vrma. Which, by the way I didn't go to, because I think I've told you, I hate going to

Annie Holcombe:

you. We missed you.

Jim Devos:

But I probably should have been there. Yeah. And so I said that to my business partner, he said, Yeah, you should have gone to

Annie Holcombe:

Vegas next year, you can go Oh, nobody can.

Jim Devos:

Oh, I'll tell you some Vegas stories. But you had said something about, about people in our industry looking for the singular solution. Yeah. Right. Yeah, that's what we're building is the singular solution. That that carries it all the way from reservation management, channel management, accounting, integrated accounting. Sorry about that. integrated accounting. So yeah, it's gonna be

Annie Holcombe:

out of business is what you're trying to say.

Jim Devos:

Yeah, sort of. But but the good news is, I've got a home for you.

Annie Holcombe:

You heard it, Alex. If anything, they're

Alex Husner:

connecting the dots. Oh, that's funny. Yeah. No. See,

Annie Holcombe:

you ultimately think that and that, I think that was a question in coming. Going into vermin coming out of an in a raises a comment, I believe it was Carl Shepherd, who used to be head of HomeAway. He was one of the fireside chats. And I think one of the things that he said was that companies when they start to get up to 1000 units, they really need to develop their own platform and software and technology stack to be able to handle all the things that they're going to do that they've customized and touted as their differentiators along the way. So my thought was like, was it can anybody really, you know, do all in one. I mean, I know that some, like the CASA is an example. They have a really large technology stack, but they still use some other people in the industry, because they just haven't figured out everything.

Jim Devos:

Well, here's, here's the thing about all that. Okay. And, and you've picked the perfect example, then in, in my mind Vacasa. Okay, you've got somebody there. Who is the Darling, this is gonna sound bad. So who is the who is? Who is the darling of the investment community? Right? Yeah, they are throw they throw money at that thing? Like, like, they're sailors on liberty.

Alex Husner:

There's better be good.

Jim Devos:

And, and I don't, nobody talks about nobody talks about profit. Margin. Yeah. efficiencies, productivity. And, and I think, and to be honest with you, when I think about the business, and I'm no, I'm just sort of thinking back here. And having talked to a variety of different people in the business and actually having acquired a number one. Nobody talks about nobody talks about, about profitability, and managing margin. And, and looking for multiple streams of income and managing those streams. And, and, and I come from my last 15 years in business was in the food service management world. Our entire existence was built upon the idea of of Yeah, of, of managing pennies, and it was managing pennies. And so one of the things that I think, when I think about our product, or our software product, is we are going to be able to help rental management companies, when we get there, we're going to be able to help them manage their business better, and manage better productivity and improve margins. Right. I think that's what I think that's what the single solution really is about.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. And yeah, you're so right on that. And I think, I mean, it comes down to the businesses like yours, and like ours that were built on that true entrepreneurial spirit, you know, when they first started that, yeah, finding those additional revenue revenue streams. Yes, that is 100% important. Increasing margins. Yes, that can be a game changer for our business. And that follows right in line with revenue management and how much that has really transformed our industry over the last five years. And you can you can make more money with less property if you're properly managing that referee. Right. And I know you guys are excellent at using revenue management down there. But it's it's interesting when you look at Vacasa I mean, it is they're just there's a reason why we're all just kind of mystified by them because it's operated so completely different that Simon Lehman had Matt Roberts on stage at vrma for one of his fireside chats and he Max came straight out and said they're not worried about profitability. I mean, they're they're doing what they're doing, and they're trying to go public. And that's just not what they are choosing to do. But the time will tell, I guess, but it's just it's, it's unusual for companies like ours to operate very differently. But I mean, entrepreneurial and local. Those are the two things that you said, come to mind for vacation. Yes, that's, that's so true. You know, I mean, that's the experience that we're able to give our guests and our homeowners is, it's just different. I feel like then a casa can give as a national company that, you know, they are very regimented in the processes and the software that they have to use and everything else. But we're, you know, we are all truly entrepreneurs at heart. So it's a different mindset.

Jim Devos:

Well, well, the business, here's the thing. At the end of the day, it's somebody by them there, you know, and you don't want to throw rocks at the Casa. I mean, they've got I know, I know, a lot of people working work for them. I think they're good people. It's, it's, it's, you have a getting to sort of the esoteric level, it's, it's really just studying the business model. And you look at the business model, and the question I always asked myself, is that a model that can sustain? Right, yeah, right. And, you know, and so, let me shift away from Vacasa. Let's talk about Airbnb for a minute. Okay. They've been in business. They've been in business for as long as I've been in business. Okay. They've they've yet to make their first dollar. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Okay. So so there's something. There's something fun to me, there's something fundamentally flawed with the whole concept of, Oh, I'm just gonna go to the investment community, and I'm gonna get him to throw a bunch of money at me. Yeah, you know, I just know you need it. I would like that we've done you know, a lot of what we've done, growth wise, when I when I came to the Panhandle in 2012. We had 109 properties. We got 460. Now, yeah, that's huge. Yeah, a lot. A lot of that was acquisition. Okay. And, and we, and one of the reasons why we've been able to acquire so well, is because we manage our margins, we just and I'd, I'd like to take all the credit for that, because I'm on the podcast. Yeah. But I really can't. My business partner is an operations guy. Yeah. And he and he, he's taught me so much about, about how you manage operations and how you manage margin. And he asked me to talk about very backgrounds. He grew, he's, you know, he started, he started working in kitchens. You know, then he then he went, then he went to work in Howard Johnson's years and years ago, and, and he worked for Spyro, the Italian pizza boy, yeah. Yeah, he worked. He worked for a company that owned Geno's east in Chicago. I mean, so he came up in that, in that Penny's business, yeah. And so we by virtue, more of him than me, we are we run the business like it's a penny's business. Yeah. And I think if you do that, then then you can pay your people. Well, yeah, you can. You can, you can acquire. Yeah, I mean, there's a lot of things. There's a lot of things that you can do, to really make to really make. Make a place. Yeah, that that attracts people.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, that that is a good point. I mean, you're you are able you're able to pay people and that you get people to stay that way, too. It's it's a different different approach. But the right approach as far as I'm concerned. Yeah. Yeah. So

Annie Holcombe:

I'm kind of on the topic of the won't talk about the mocassin like Airbnb, that type of thing. But in general, a lot of talk has been though, in the last year, and I think COVID exacerbated the, the ability to do this was was acquisition. And so I know, you are one of the few that did acquisitions right prior to COVID.

Unknown:

Yeah, it turned out to me were so smart a turnout, but it

Annie Holcombe:

turned out to be a blessing. And it worked. There was obviously quite a few people that it just that it was not good. Yeah. So what do you see within the you know, and I think the Panhandle has been like a target for some of these these groups to come in and try to acquire businesses. I mean, cost has done it. We know that Steve Milan with his the trips has done it, you know, so I think that there's a lot of people that are looking in this region, because there's a lot of inventory, what is your take on acquisitions? And do you think that that's the way to grow? Are you think that you should do it organically?

Jim Devos:

Yes, and yes. Okay. Yeah. Yeah, they're the thing about you know, it's like, like when My when my sons were young, they're not anymore. In fact, my oldest son just got his AARP card. How about that? So, yeah, we mock him regularly. When my sons were growing up, and, and, and I coached a lot of football, because they were all football players, I love playing football. So I did, I did a lot of coaching. And, and one of the things that, that you always look for in football, is you look for the opportunity to create chunk plays, right? Not, you know, not three yards in a car to dust but 15 yards 20 or 25. That's what an acquisitions and acquisitions, right? So so so you have to be able to do, you have to want to be able to do those, if you really want to grow to be some reasonable size. But you also you you've got to be out there organically as well. And, and so you're constantly balancing acquisition with organic growth. Now, the thing about acquisitions this, if you don't do the acquisition correctly, you're going to, you're going to lose some of the value that you tried that you were acquiring in the first place. Because at the end of the day, every acquisition, the value of our company, by the way, the value of our companies in the vacation rental industry, is quite simply the contracts we have. Yes. I mean, it's it's yeah, you know, that the use desks, the laptop computers and a topper? That's what we got? Yeah. So so. So you've got to be really careful when you do an acquisition about number one, making sure that you perform it correctly, that you go in and say, Okay, you get as much detail about what, what what their performance, you look at how you apply your business model. Yeah. And you say, Can I, can I, the way we look at it is, if I can't make more, that it's probably not a good acquisition. Right. Right. So So you have to look at the acquisitions that way, number one, number two, you have to see if the people of the people that are part of that organization are going to be a cultural fit, are they going to fit? Yeah. If if they don't? They then then you're, you're gonna lose them. And, and it's the people who make up the relationships with the owners. So you get

Annie Holcombe:

to do that, right?

Alex Husner:

Yeah, well, and I think it comes down to, you know, in the simplest terms, when you acquire a business, you're either acquiring it for the product for the properties or for the people and the assets that they might listen to so and we've we've done a kind of a hybrid of the two prior to COVID. And it was November of 2019, we bought condo Lux, which was our largest competitor for over 30 years. And they, they aren't on their side, they sold at the perfect time, because if they had waited a few months, and tried to sell it, literally the whole thing going down in a fireball, and they would have been able to sell it, I mean, we would have just been picked up the inventory. So they sold it a good time. But we also part of that buy was not for the there's a couple pieces, I think two people maybe we kept is very minimal. But they had an incredible digital prose presence. They had great inventory and all the buildings that we were in, and they had a gorgeous office building, which we needed at the time, and that there's some of the other companies looking at buying them. Nobody needed an office as badly as we did. So that worked out perfectly. But then fast forward, July of 2020 20, during the pandemic, we didn't acquire another company, but it was almost more or less given to us that there they were really going down in flames and there was nothing really to sell. But we basically assumed the rental contracts and laid them out the remainder of what they had fulfilled. But two, you know, completely different acquisitions. In that one, we weren't we couldn't really be as picky up front about the inventory. We just had to get a hold of it. And then we said okay, this part of the inventory is going to work this part is not but ended up getting a couple really great people from that company. So you know, picked up some good units and got some good people but it was a smaller, you know, kind of transition there or transaction but worked out well. But it's a vacation rental acquisitions are definitely interesting. And when you talk to people outside of our industry, they're like, What are you buying? I mean, you're, you're essentially buying air. I

Jim Devos:

mean, you're buying contracts

Alex Husner:

that everybody can leave your program and you've got nothing's better make those people happy.

Jim Devos:

Yeah, that's it. That's one of the things I did. Now. One of the things that again, you mentioned early on I had I had a lot of, I've had a lot of variety in my background. Yeah, yeah. When I, when I was with, when I was with the food service management company, we were, we were, we were a publicly held company, but we were when we were in an acquisition mode as well. So we were going in, probably in the span of about five years we acquired for fairly large for fairly large companies and one small, all of them were smaller than we were but, but some of them were of consequence. And and the business by the way, is very similar because it was, it was a contracts business. Yep. You know, it's it's food service management, you're typically managing foodservice operation inside of either a inside of either a company like Microsoft, we had Microsoft was one of our clients, or inside of a hospital, you're doing retail or pay and patient feeding. So so it's it's a contract driven business. We're after about five acquisitions and five acquisitions. And, and half of them went really well. The other half were pretty bumpy. Because I was the head of marketing and strategy for the company. They said, Hey, we want you to dig into these acquisitions. So we want to have a, we want to have a lessons learned out of that. Yeah, I understand. The understand the acquisition. And and so and so there was I interviewed I interviewed senior leaders from the companies, the acquired companies, and talk to them about Okay, tell me about the acquisition, from your perspective. How did you find out about it? What did it mean? What did it do to you? What did it mean to you? What, what worked from your perspective? And what really we what did we screw up from your perspective? And it was really an interesting exercise. In fact, in fact, I wrote, I wrote a basically a guidebook for how you acquire for this company, and they and they use it today. 15. Yeah. And, and one of the, you know, the first thing that I discovered was, was, it's the first thing you have to deal with as the acquirer is the me issues of the employees. Yeah. Now, in our business, it isn't just a me issue of the employees. It's the me issues of the contracts as well. Right? Yeah. So that's the first thing you have to do. Second thing you have to do. I described. You know, you're talking you talk about the take the band aid offs quickly or slowly. Yeah, right. Yeah. You take it off quickly. In the acquisition. Yeah, you move that you make the transition very fast. Yeah. Because if you don't, if you don't, it creates all kinds of problems in terms of in terms of cultural fit in terms of associate retention, all of that. So So acquisition acquisitions, are you they can be incredibly successful, or they can be terribly miserable. And by the way, we've acquired seven or eight companies. Wow. Since 2013, yeah. Okay. Most of them have gone really well. Two of them have gone very badly. Yeah. And, and it

Alex Husner:

was what was the characteristic? You know, what

Annie Holcombe:

did you learn from that?

Jim Devos:

Yeah. Oh, yeah. The, the, the first thing the one of the ones that went very badly, that was probably the worst. It was, it was one that the we bailed. We, it was basically if you don't pay my owners this month, I'm gonna go to jail. Kind of an acquisition. Oh, wow. Right. So So, so? Well, yeah, that's done. Yeah. He didn't do that. So so we did that. We bailed the guy out. And, and we didn't, we didn't do our due diligence, because he was at the 11th hour. And, and I should have walked away. I should have walked away. But but the properties were, they were third, most of them were 38 properties. And he had some destined properties as well. And they were all houses falling. And so so it was like it was like the quality appear. It appeared to be there. Right. Yeah. Okay. So. So within 30 days, within 30 days after the acquisition, I discovered it was a gigantic mistake. made the best out of it. But frankly, I mean, we we it was a it was a loser. It was a razor so so it was Don't Don't rush the process. Right. Yeah.

Alex Husner:

That's good advice for I don't

Jim Devos:

care. I don't care what what what the need is don't rush the process. Yeah. Um, the actually the other acquisition that we did that was a prop was problematic. Actually, it was during the pandemic. Great move there. But it was the same thing. The guy was the guy was he was up against the wall he'd been dipping into, he'd been dipping into the escrow funds to operate the business. Oh, yeah. And that's where the that's where the problem is typically in our business is not having the financial discipline. Yeah. And so and so. That one, that one was it. I mean, that one actually is going to be a great acquisition. It's a great acquisition for us. But, but there were more issues with the owners with that one. Yeah. That with that one, then?

Alex Husner:

Well, from a trust standpoint, right. I mean, in any acquisition acquisition, when you first get in charge of the company, I mean, you've got to be front and center to make sure those homeowners know who you are. Oh, yeah. I'm sure that you're going to step in and know what to do and take care of them. And if you're taking over after what, they've been an unsettling situation, and previous Oh,

Jim Devos:

yeah. My foot. I got one foot in the hall. Yeah, I'm digging my way. I'm digging my way out of it. And and that's just not, you know, that's just the end. That's, you know, that's one of those. I look in the mirror and I go stupid. Yeah,

Alex Husner:

I bet you that you definitely learn from it, though. And that's

Jim Devos:

painful and expensive lessons. ones I will take to my grave. Yeah.

Alex Husner:

I've got a question for you. It's your vacation rentals are often described as the Wild West. Right. And would you say that were more like the wild west now or when you started in 2008? Because I think you really could probably argue either way. But I'm curious, which was Wild West, do you think it was? Wow.

Jim Devos:

I think I think when we started it was It was wild. Yeah, I think I think it's I think we're becoming I think we're growing up. We're growing up. It's, you know, look at, by the way, revenue management. You mentioned revenue management earlier. Yeah. I mean, we we we use a we use a revenue management company. Yeah. Beyond pricing. Yeah. Or beyond is around today. Yeah.

Annie Holcombe:

Bill for this ad.

Jim Devos:

Yes. Right. Exactly. Exactly. You, my team says my team says to me, in the past when we were doing it manually, my owner Services Manager, my reservations manager, and I did did pricing? Yeah, manually. Right. Okay. And we were always a company that had, we tried to have more seasons built into our manual pricing, you know, so we had like, us every two weeks was a season so that you could go in and quickly. So you're loading 26 seasons. 300 properties? Yeah. And and you'd start in August, and you'd be done in November, right. Yeah. And by the time you were done, everybody, nobody was talking to anybody anymore. We were all Exactly. Right. Yeah. So so. So when we started when, when we started hearing, and seeing about, you know, what, what's this revenue management stuff? Yeah. And so my partner and I went to the data and rate management, Revenue Management Conference in Atlanta, the first one, yep. And it was out of there that we that we came out of there saying, oh, man,

Alex Husner:

yeah, we, we've,

Jim Devos:

we got to do that. We're gonna table this. Right. Right. Well, well, you're you're leaving money on the table plus your plus the the late you're not getting to market quickly enough. Because you're you're I mean, I'm, you know, I'm, I'm, we're still working on our rates in November for crying out loud. Yeah, the next year, and it's so so Okay, we got we got spring break in the beginning of summer done. But it's the end of November. We're still working on the back half of CPQ. Season. And you know, in the fall, yeah. Well, that's nuts. I mean, that's what we did over a year, but it's but really, when I look at our advanced bookings this year, yeah. 2022 versus 21 and 21 versus 20. I mean, it's all revenue. It's all revenue management. It's, it's having the right tool now. Now, shame on me. I was I was in the advertising agency business, when American Airlines started revenue management, the airline industry, right, right. Yeah, yeah. And so and so. I never thought about bringing that I never myself thought about bringing that discipline to do this business. But but it's now if this is if you're not doing it, if you're not doing it. You're you're not going to be in business in the long run. You're just not we just because your competitors are doing it. We just

Alex Husner:

talked about interactions. Operator yesterday from trip shot Greg Fisher, who's also down in

Jim Devos:

Troy. I know Greg, yeah, yeah.

Alex Husner:

And we were talking about the evolution of revenue management from the airlines. To the hotels to vacation rentals now is now it's just beginning and tours and attractions. And it's so funny because it's like that's they're exactly at the point where vacation rentals were, you know, five ish years ago Yeah, and even less than that. I mean, everybody's kind of come on their own journey of revenue management, but I think everybody's doing at least a little bit of it. Now, some are doing it full throttle, some, you know, somewhere in the middle there, but it's, it's a, it's a big change. And in an organization to do that. I remember when we first started going down that path, we'd have guests call it they'd say, Well, you when I called a couple days ago, the price was X amount, and listen to our reservation. Alright, explain it. It's like the airlines. It's same price. Make the people happier. We've got to figure out a better way to

Jim Devos:

Well, no, no, but but, but that's reality. I mean, it's it's reality of supply and demand. That's what it is. No, I'm going to tell that you I'm, you know, we're talking about all the forward thinking stuff. I'm going to, I'm going to tell you a story. I'm not going to tell you who and I'm not gonna tell you where, Okay. A couple of weeks ago, I was I was I was down along the Gulf Coast of Florida, down further south from where we are. And talking to a talking to a rental management company that was looking to be acquired two things about that. One is, and this is something to think about. I think there are people my age, my age or younger, who were actually starting to look at getting out of the business, right? They started the company, they've got 50 properties, 100 properties 150. And they're getting tired. Yeah. And so they're looking. And so I think in the next four or five years, you're gonna see a number of companies who, who get acquired by other companies. Anyway, so I went down, I met I met with these with the principals in this company, and I said, and I wanted to learn about their business. Talk about it. Okay. Um, I said, What software do you use? We don't use software.

Alex Husner:

Oh, property.

Jim Devos:

70. They're tired. 75 properties. Well, how do you keep track of reservations? The one of the principles pulls out, have you seen those accounting journals?

Alex Husner:

Oh, yeah. The big ledger? Yep.

Jim Devos:

Could you could you imagine I'd shoot myself, I would say to myself in

Alex Husner:

today's day and age, back in the day, yes, everybody. Somebody That

Jim Devos:

is crazy. It's just crazy.

Annie Holcombe:

First hotel that I ever worked at. We had it was a Ramada. And we had the cards. And the cards to say, like, what, you know what the status was? And yeah, I can't remember. I think it was somebody I know in the industry. And I'm trying to remember who exactly was talking about, and they were from Myrtle Beach, how they had their board was reservations was basically sticky notes. And their CEO had come in one time and leaned against the board and walked away. And this

Jim Devos:

is bad as bad.

Annie Holcombe:

It's just It's astounding to me that people that are better that archaic this far. But it's crazy. You know, they're still.

Jim Devos:

That's what I said that the principles when I was when I met with him, I said, I understand why you why you're tired. I guess. I said, if I had to do, I wouldn't be in this business. Yeah.

Alex Husner:

Well, here's here's here's a quite one last kind of industry specific question. Then Andy's going to get into our next segment here. But do you see yourself expanding into other destinations?

Jim Devos:

We're, we're now on Anna Maria Island now. Yeah, yeah. So short answer. Short answer is yeah. Yeah. I think I think, you know, my, my, my, my business partner has has, he has probably bigger eyes than I have, in that, you know, he says, Well, you know, we ought to be looking at the mountains and we ought to be, what about some ski thing? Why don't we look at Ski thing, which, which, by the way, I talked to a guy who is a who's a beach guy who's got hit a ski operation, as well in Colorado. He said, Don't do it. It's really hard. It's a bad idea. Yeah. So So the short answer is, I think, I think, to me, floor, now you're in Myrtle Beach. So you may see it differently. And I'm familiar with your you know, I know you're. I've been there plenty. I think, for me, I think Florida is just, it's just a tremendous. There's a tremendous opportunity here. Yeah, more people are discovering what we have here. And believe it or not, as developed as developed as the panhandle of Florida is say this is still being discovered. Yeah, it's amazing. Absolutely amazing. So I think the I actually I actually had a I traded an email back and forth this morning with with The CEO of the channel management company that we use. And, and I was, I was I said, I said to him, I said, my, my business partner keeps asking me what I think 2022 is going to be like, and, and I keep telling him, I think 2022 is going to be at least as good as it was 2021 And I said, here's why. Number one, the airline industry is in chaos. Okay? People don't want people don't want to get on airplanes now. Even even even with prices being as cheap as they are. Yeah, they the buy by Operations Manager, Annamarie Island took her daughter's to a concert in Dallas because daughter, a teenage daughter wanted to go see I don't know who the hell it was, but they wanted to be. So she took so she took him took him to Dallas. Her flight coming back got canceled. She ended up having to drive home.

Annie Holcombe:

Oh, to Anna Maria Island.

Jim Devos:

Yes. Oh, Dallas from Dallas. Right? A three day drive. Exactly. Exactly. So so that's what that's what now the reality probably doesn't fit the perception. But I believe the perception among the traveling public is flying is a nightmare. Number one, number two, I think that the cruise industry is going to take three or four years at them at minimum to get halfway back to normal. Okay, so what are people going to do about vacations? Well, the well if you if you if you pay any attention at all to to advertising on social media, advertising on TV, whatever, who you see in Airbnb, verbo Oh, yeah, they're there. They're building the category for us. Yeah, thank you very much. Yeah. I don't have to do it. Because they're building the category for us. Yeah. So so as as mature as we may think this business, this business, short term rentals, vacation rentals, as we may think it is. It isn't. I think there's, I think there's a ways to go for it to hit for it to hit the mature button. Yeah. And, and I also think that people in up in this part of the world, you have a lot of self manager, you know, people who, MAN Yeah. That's getting tougher and tougher. Yeah, it's getting tougher and tougher. So, so the, the part of the market that self manages now, I think you're gonna see move it, they're gonna start looking at vacation rental management companies. Yeah. Now that said, from a value proposition perspective, we as vacational managers need to figure out what the value proposition that's compelling for those self managers. I don't know what it is. Yeah, I don't know what it is. But it's something we should be thinking about. Yeah.

Annie Holcombe:

I think regulation and the the professional side of the industry, yeah, really forcing the hand of the other side of the industry these individuals. Because that's what's that's what's dragging us into these regulation battles. Guys, it's not the professionally managed guys, sir. Yeah. Yeah. Well, um, Jim. So I think like the thing that's so cool is we could talk to you all day long. You've got so much. I mean, yeah, I get together for lunch, and we have

Jim Devos:

this old and whether I'll have

Alex Husner:

to come down so I can join you for lunch. Oh, yeah. You got it. You gotta make it out. Man. Lunch.

Jim Devos:

Oh, God, no. I can't do that stuff anymore. The price is too much. The price is too high for me.

Annie Holcombe:

Oh, my gosh. So we liked it. We like to wrap it up and just ask a couple of just frivolous questions. One yesterday that fell flat. So I'm afraid to ask you, but I know you've got to have a story about the brush with fame.

Jim Devos:

Or brush with fame. Yeah. Okay. Do you know who McLean Stevenson is? Well, I know the name. Okay. Her Colonel Henry Blake. From mash. Okay. Yeah. Okay. If you know, okay, her he was before, if you watched mash at all. He was. He was he was the he was the guy who ran the MASH unit. And back in the day, well, when I when I was when I was the head of head of the advertising group for Piedmont Airlines. We would film commercials, we would do a bank commercials out in Los Angeles every year. And one year, we chose Henry. We chose McLean Stevenson to be our to be our spokesman. And so I got a chance to visit with him. And and, oddly, you know, this is six degrees of separation. Oddly enough. He was from the Bloomington Normal Illinois area. Okay. I went to I graduated from college at Illinois State which is in which is in normal Illinois. Well, my father in law ran conference center on Lake Bloomington, which is where my wife and I lived when when I was going to college. Well, a lot of the people who had lake homes around the lake knew McLean Stevenson. And I knew them. And he knew them. So so it was so it was so brush was saying, here's a guy who at the time was pretty famous. And and we're talking about people that he grew up with and in in Bloomington, normal Illinois, and people that I knew, so it was really kind of cool. Wow. Yeah, yeah, he's he was, and he was a very funny guy. It's I mean, he's past. Oh, he's he's been past probably 10 or 15 years old. But he was he was very, I mean, if you ever go watch an early mash name at first. Yeah, but if you go, if you go watch The Early Show, deal. See how funny he was his he was comedic timing was really something really cool. Really cool. So did that fall flat? Or was that Oh, no, no,

Annie Holcombe:

that was good. That was perfect. That was perfect. So the the other thing that I will in this isn't a really a question as much as it's putting you on the spot. When you are ready to go public with your software, will you come back and say, Oh,

Jim Devos:

I'll sure I'd love to. Of course, that's, that's like, now that depends on how many followers you get. We're working on. Any any time in fact, as you're doing these things? I mean, if you if you, you know, moving from talking to different people to talking about topics and subjects. Yeah. Just I'm happy to come back and have those chats. I mean, yeah. And I, I know you both Yeah. But you know, but I know anymore, because you're just anyway. And yet I showed up. Yeah. How about that? So So yeah, I'd love to do that. Yeah, I think these kinds of things. I think what you're doing is going to help our industry become a better industry. So I appreciate what you do.

Alex Husner:

I would appreciate that very much. And I think I agree with you. I think we've we've gotten so many great stories from people so far that we're starting to see those common threads between the people that we talked to that are all these incredible leaders that we probably will move into having some episodes that are more topic based that we might have a few guests on, they'll speak on a different topic, and you'll definitely be one of them. And there's a whole different a bunch of different categories. We could put topics. But well, we we appreciate you being here so much, Jim, and you are definitely one of the true vacation rental entrepreneurial evangelists and your motivation and inspiration to a lot of people out there. So I will tell you, yeah, yeah, love what you're doing and keep it up and we will look forward to talking to you again soon. Great. Same here. You guys have a great Thanksgiving. Thank you. Thanks, Jim. Bye bye.

Jim Devos Profile Photo

Jim Devos

President Best Beach Getaways

Jim is business builder with very specific skills that include developing Consumer and B2B growth strategies, group facilitation and team performance improvement, thought leadership positioning and focus group research and moderation. Starting his career out with Piedmont Airlines, he honed the skill of team building opening up 3 hubs and 70 new market destinations. His experience working throughout his career in sales and marketing ultimately led him to join Best Beach Getaways, a leading property management company in the Florida Panhandle.