Oct. 12, 2022

The Vacation Rental Power Couple: Lance & Elaine Stitcher of Seaside Vacations & Sales


Lance & Elaine Stitcher are owners and co-founders of Seaside Vacations & Sales, a premiere vacation rental management company that represents nearly 300 properties in Chincoteague Island, VA and Ocean City, MD. This power couple has grown their business rapidly in the past decade by staying focused on the fundamentals - company culture, happy homeowners, work/life balance, innovative marketing and dynamic pricing.

This episode is part of our Spotlight on Exceptional Property Managers, brought to you by Wheelhouse: The Ultimate Revenue Driving Machine.  

CONTACT LANCE & ELAINE STITCHER
Seaside Vacations & Sales
Lance - Linkedin
Elaine - Linkedin

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

Alex Husner - Linkedin
Annie Holcombe - Linkedin

Transcript
Alex Husner:

Welcome to Alex and Annie, The Real Women of Vaction Rentals. I'm Alex.

Annie Holcombe:

And I'm Annie.

Alex Husner:

And we are joined today with Lance and Elaine Stitcher, of Seaside Vacations and Sales, and just industry celebrities, I would say, It's so exciting to have you guys here. Welcome.

Elaine Stitcher:

Oh, we're so happy to be here. And that is incredibly kind and all at the same time.

Lance Stitcher:

It's for having us. It's awesome.

Annie Holcombe:

I had heard about you for so long. So to finally meet you in person, you were everything that I had built up in my mind. But I do say I daresay there are likely a few people on the fringes that don't know the story of Elaine, and Lance and how you guys came to be. So why don't you give us a little bit about your background and how you came to this organization that you've got?

Elaine Stitcher:

Absolutely. I'm going to start and then let you jump in. So Lance and I met here in our community, he was the general manager of the homeowners association. And when he was looking for a change, I stumbled on a position with Vantage resort Realty in Ocean City, Maryland. And I've always been passionate about the vacation rental industry as as a traveler, I was fascinated by it. So I encouraged him to apply for it. And I was right. He was really great at it. Are you jumping?

Lance Stitcher:

Advantage resorts LT for three years in Ocean City, Maryland. We built it into a really strong multi market company working from the Jersey Shore all the way far south as Myrtle Beach. And in 2015, we were having some differences of opinion on a few customer service issues. And we couldn't agree to what the proper course forward was and and I told the lane that you know what, we can do this, we can do it better.

Elaine Stitcher:

Oh, when y'all thought he was crazy. We have one

Lance Stitcher:

sophomore in high school and a sophomore in college. And she told me that I was crazy, but

Elaine Stitcher:

I didn't say it that nicely. Yeah.

Lance Stitcher:

Anyway, we sat down beginning in August of 2015. And we spent about three months building a property management company.

Elaine Stitcher:

And it was terrifying. We built I bet I bet started we

Lance Stitcher:

built a website with property management software and a credit card processor, which was incredibly difficult to get when you actually had no business that

Alex Husner:

was Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Lance Stitcher:

And policies and procedures and plans and a marketing plan. And we spent three months building this company and one of them we were like, Well, okay, let's go see if we can find somebody to use this as, as a property management company.

Elaine Stitcher:

And it was the perfect combination. I'm the creative person, the writing, marketing. That's my background. And I used to teach as well. Lance is the numbers guy and we always joke that together, we make one mostly normal human being. Yes. Well,

Alex Husner:

that's two really great sides.

Elaine Stitcher:

Yeah, we had to come to the table. And it was interesting. You know, we live in the Chincoteague, Virginia area. And our business actually started in Ocean City, Maryland. Naturally, some of Lance's clients from Vantage, you know, after a certain amount of time, they joined us and our business started to grow there. And then we found ourselves wiggling into the Chincoteague Island market, which is home for us but also a very difficult market to break into. Our island is three by seven and there's a lot of very deep roots there in what we do. But then it started to explode there. And it's just incredible how

Lance Stitcher:

fast it's actually got that whole story started over a jalapeno pepper. Elaine needed a jalapeno to make dinner. She sent me to the store. I spent 15 cents, but I ran into an old friend who introduced me to a contact who really got our foot in the door and Chincoteague and that was our that was the beginning of our primary growth spurt.

Annie Holcombe:

You owe it all to a Jalapeno, yeah.

Lance Stitcher:

From one Jalepeno, to now just just north of 300 properties, right? Yeah.

Alex Husner:

That's incredible. I mean, and yeah, one of the themes we talked about on the show a lot is just recognize recognizing those signals and those events that are just guiding moments that are you know, make him go in a different direction. Yeah, it was a jalepeno for y'all.

Elaine Stitcher:

And if you had told us 15 years ago, we would be doing this and where we are now. I never would have believed it. Yeah. And in Chincoteague, our growth has been pretty much organic. I mean, it's been amazing. just word of mouth. We believe it or not, nobody was using professional photography or 3d Matterport tours. Oh, gosh, yeah, that makes that makes such a huge and we came into town. Yeah. So it just kind of exploded there. And then ocean city was growing a little bit more slowly. And being an hour apart. We found a really great team out there to run Ocean City, and it has exploded over this last year. Thanks, Jessica. Prepositions. Yeah, it's crazy. It's over 150 There now as well. Wow.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, that's incredible. I mean, really seven years since we started it, that's not a long time they've had that's a very quick growth. Right. But how have you done it? I mean, tell us about what you've done. I mean, homeowner, homeowner acquisition, that's probably the biggest thing. But how have you handled that?

Lance Stitcher:

So in Virginia, our homeowner, homeowner acquisition strategy has been extraordinarily organic, and largely built around a social media presence. Really,

Elaine Stitcher:

yeah, involvement, involvement in the community, showing the town that you're not just there, for the short run to make a buck. You know, caring about the community, showing them that we want to make it better and stick around.

Lance Stitcher:

And that for the property management aspect of things, just doing it better. You know, if you want to grow, you've got to be the best at what you do. That's the, that's the easy way to do it. If you can't afford to go out and buy the business. Just be better at everything that you do. And it will come to you.

Elaine Stitcher:

I always use the term when I talk about our business, small business with big technology, because we've tried really hard to, to maintain that mom and pop-ness. And, you know, not get too big, still be able to give that hands on attention. But obviously, all the technology is what makes the rest of the magic happen.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, absolutely there and that that really is the sweet spot in our industry, because it is such we are a hospitality companies at the end of the day. Technology plays such a huge role in that, but it is it is it's an assistant to the hospitality and the service that you're providing. So

Elaine Stitcher:

and it gets harder as we grow. I mean, it's definitely, and I that's one of my concerns is not getting too big. I don't want to lose that. Because then

Alex Husner:

yeah, 300 is a good size. That's probably like the sweet spot. And that's what we were when I first started with Condo-World years ago, and we're about at 500. Now. But you know, that 300 mark is still really good. And we were very good company at that point, too. But it's definitely in markets that I mean, where you guys are going to be able to scale into different areas. That's that's got to be a challenge. And how do you how do you maintain the business and operations?

Lance Stitcher:

So from that point of view, it's really it's really about the people. It took us a while it took us a couple of tries to find the right people to be able to pull everything off. Ocean City, Maryland was the real struggle, but Jason and Dorothy are, you know, internally, we kind of refer to them as the, you know, younger llanthony Lane. Perfect. Yeah. These are values are very closely aligned to ours. And they've been able to really take over the reins for that team. And, you know, even though it's local, it's in a straight line. It's 26 miles, but it's a 45 minute drive because that's how the coast is. But it's really been able to figure out what we can you know, what we can run centrally and what has to be done in specific markets regardless of how far apart they are.

Elaine Stitcher:

Oh, and these two markets are vastly, vastly different. Yeah, Maryland is City Beach high rises the boardwalk Thrashers french fries. Chincoteague Island, like I said, Three by seven, no high rises. No boardwalk wild ponies get in touch with nature just coming out as a beach. Yeah, different guests, different owners. Everything is night and day.

Alex Husner:

I have always wanted to come up to see when the ponies do the swim. You absolutely should. My gosh, we have to plan for that. Yeah, it's just watching the videos. I'm just in awe. It looks so cool.

Elaine Stitcher:

It's amazing. I feel very blessed to live there. And I still pinch myself. And one thing I think is really good to bring with you into this business that I tried to never lose is I remember what it feels like to be a mom with two little kids that just lived for that annual vacation. We scrape, scraped and save every penny we had. And at the end of that vacation, I was so sad. And I knew it was gonna be another 365 days before. And I tried to channel that to every single guest. I tried to remember how much that meant to me. And we always say that the big, you know, the it's not the size of the vacation whether somebody spent $500 or $5,000 on vacation and it's important. Yeah, like I did.

Alex Husner:

And that's a really that's a really important thing to remember. I'm glad you brought that up because it gets easy to just for the operations team. I mean, if you're seeing guests, I mean multiple hundreds of check ins on a Saturday, it just, you know it feels like they're all the same, but you do have to remember that that you want to help them as much as they can because this is such a special time and these are we have guests that have stayed with us for literally some for decades. I mean, it's crazy the memories that they they make with us so that's a great point.

Annie Holcombe:

I spent a lot of I grew up in Washington DC area so Senior Week out on Ocean City. That was our that was our getaway. But my family always went down to the Outer Banks for our vacation. And to that point, I think about all of my childhood memories that are like the ones that really standout in my mind, and every one of them was that vacation that one, week were going to the same house every year. And I don't think people do that quite as much. We just have so much access to travel but but it is really important to understand that there are people that that's all they get is that one time. And you know, I heard somebody say several months ago about the fact that we know we're in an industry where we can be celebrating a child's first trip to the beach, or grandma's last trip, you know, and it's just you have to think about that all the life that happens in between it all those memories that you're a part of, even though you're not actually part of it, that they're going to remember you but your company and the the, the home or the the Condo that they stayed. So it's I think it's great that you guys are channeling that but wanted to touch on, um, you guys have been able to grow. And again, having multiple markets, that's operational, it's always challenging marketing standpoint, when you have different markets that are so very different because again, I know Ocean City very well. And that's just, it's it's a big difference between the two. But adopting technology is something that a lot of vacation rental managers have been challenged with, and some are still very fearful of taking that leap. You've been in the industry just long enough to kind of see this expansion that we've had that COVID sort of brought about of the advancement of technology. So what was it like for you to, you know, start your business to get your technology and I believe you recently moved over to Track or within the last year or so moved over to Track? And so what was that process like for you to go from what you initially had to selecting a really strong enterprise system like Track.

Lance Stitcher:

So we had our particular I guess I had a really big advantage in that I had helped build a very large, very strong company. And I had those VRMA connections, and I had those conference experiences. And I had a lot of industry contacts. So I got the opportunity to go big, then start from zero, and then go big a second time. I had, I had already been through property management software changes, I had already built three different websites. So I had some big advantages on knowing when when it was time to pull some of these triggers. Like when we made when we made the switch to Track. We did it. We did it over the course of our busy season

Elaine Stitcher:

my gosh, we all thought oh, crazy. I it was insane. But you know what? He was 100%. Right to do it when we did because Track exploded after that.

Lance Stitcher:

Yeah, had we had we waited 60 days we might not? Yeah, I mean, we would have been we would have been another another 12 or 14 months getting live. Because it occurred at the time when there was a lot of Inhabit was let's just say Inhabit was buying companies and V12. was being sunset,

Alex Husner:

right? Yeah. So this is 2019.

Lance Stitcher:

Yeah, that was 2019. So you know that that was a that was a big move for us. And of course, the property management system we were on had an integrated website. So not only were we changing property management software, we were building a website at the same time.

Alex Husner:

your PMS for that exact reason that if you want to switch property management software now to have to switch your website to I mean, that's that is your whole business, your PMS, your website are literally the front door and everything behind as to how you can run. But yeah, I'm sure that was a challenge.

Lance Stitcher:

Had we been had we been a new company in the industry, that might have been an incredible challenge. Yeah, I mean, having those old relationships and friendships, but honestly, those friendships in the industry, I knew who was building my website, and I was able to pick up the I called the owner of the company, I said, Hey, here's what I'm doing. He said, I got your back. Don't worry about

Elaine Stitcher:

Yeah. friends in the business, Amy and Carrie, the Refosco. They were such wonderful friends and mentors, and we could pick up the phone anytime and you know, kind of pick their brain and still do. Yeah, yeah.

Annie Holcombe:

That's what's so what's great about our industry is that there's such a collaborative nature that has just been fostered. And again, I think COVID gave us that opportunity to really foster relationships from afar because you know, doing zoom, but I think we all understand that we've been sort of the taken a backseat to hotels, and we've had to be scrappy, and we've had to work with each other. But it's it's given us these really great bonds and relationships. I don't I don't know, I came from the hotel side years ago. I don't know that any other industry really has it like we do. And it's so it's so special. It's

Elaine Stitcher:

true. And it's genuine. We go to these conferences and we run into you guys and our other friends. Its like a Family Reunion. I

Alex Husner:

mean, it's one Yeah. Oh, it's definitely it's definitely Yeah.

Lance Stitcher:

Yeah. So was it said back to that technology front? Finish. So anyway, so we went Track in 2019 And we got that live up and running pretty strong. And then we came into, we'd actually just been to a VRM Intel event down in the Outer Banks in February, late February of 2020. Here's an idea. Here's an idea. Okay. We came home and turned on the TV, and they were talking about this COVID 19 thing. So two weeks later or so, or I don't know, three weeks later, we are. We're sitting there and all of a sudden, the town shut us down. Yeah. And we were like everybody else in the country. Oh, my God, what are we gonna do? We spent three days probably having zoom meetings with, you know, all of our everybody who attends VRMA conferences that we've met, everybody's trying to figure out what to do. We put our team to work immediately, kind of, you know, we let's, if we're not canceling reservations, let's get our minds off of all these cancellations.

Elaine Stitcher:

And I'm pretty sure I hadn't handled every single cancellation.

Alex Husner:

We jumped on that time. It was like Black Friday and reverse undoing all the reservations.

Elaine Stitcher:

And none of us didn't know then what we were, you know, right. Yeah, yeah.

Lance Stitcher:

But we also use that time wisely, because that's when we really amped up our tech stack, kind of the last Notch was we brought in at the same time, we brought in Breezeway and we brought in a dynamic pricing tool. And we built those out during the shutdown.

Alex Husner:

Those are expensive things to bring on when there's no money

Annie Holcombe:

when there's no money coming in the door. Yeah.

Elaine Stitcher:

I think we started doing that once there was a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel.

Lance Stitcher:

It was it was a calculated risk. And think back to that time that the tech companies had nothing coming in either. So they were really willing to work with us and a lot of what ifs and assumptions about reopening, but if you know we had some protections, if it didn't go well,

Alex Husner:

right, exactly. Well,

Elaine Stitcher:

I don't know if you guys notice we have a real estate brokerage as well. In Virginia, you have to be licensed. And we had no intention really, of doing real estate. We know a lot of people here, especially from Lance being, you know, the general manager or the community for so long. It's sort of just, we backed into it. Somebody came to us one day and said, Hey, can you sell my house? And we were like, yeah, we can. Yeah, so we personally do mostly listings, because, you know, the vacation rental side of things is our baby. But we have a few other realtors in our office now. And it's just kind of crazy how it's how it's

Alex Husner:

it definitely helps the Vegas rental business side too, though. We we've received.

Elaine Stitcher:

Yeah, we've probably sold 30 Plus houses to guests over the last two years. Year after year, that then buy a house and let us manage it.

Lance Stitcher:

Which Yeah, go back to the very beginning days when we were small and wondering, you know, is this all gonna work out? But so that first person said, Hey, can you sell my house. And by that time, we had already committed that we would never take our own photos because that's it's so hot. It's another story. Very badly app, but we had a professional photographer and I said, Grant, I said, need you to come down here and shoot this house for me. And he's, he's amazing. And we were I think the first person in Accomack County every US professional photos. Wow, it turned the listing market upside down. He sir, said, Hey, we want you to sell our house. And yeah. And actually, the revenue from real estate sales enabled us to accelerate our growth.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, we and we've been having a lot of conversations as of late. How real estate is a component that are their stakeholders that need to be at the table with vacation rentals when it comes into regulations. In that, you know, there are some markets where there are real TOS realtors are aren't doing. They're not doing their due diligence in a proper way and grabbing the right numbers. And so they're it's not that they're falsifying they're just misleading people down a path of an expectation that on the flip side, the vacation rental companies can't deliver on and it just creates so much friction, and ultimately regulation this

Elaine Stitcher:

year. That's yeah, issue and managing these owners expectations,

Alex Husner:

right. Because yeah, the realtor told them they're gonna get Yeah, exactly. Return based on

Annie Holcombe:

last year's numbers.

Elaine Stitcher:

Yeah. And they've got $100,000 more for the home and they just bought thinking they rent the heck out of it. And yeah, and those owners are very hands on. Yeah, that's definitely been a challenge. I've had two owners. The house wasn't even done. And they were on us to take pictures because they were so worried about getting live and yeah, seeing some revenue this summer. Yeah,

Annie Holcombe:

yeah. So I think there's an opportunity there as you guys have a brokerage is to is to bring the real estate component. You know, I would certainly encourage you as a manager to do that. Like I No, when I was a property manager, we worked very closely with the realtors and I have a friend here that I always joke with I helped him close more deals, but I never got any commission he'll so he'll always give me a big hug and say that's my commission. He at least he at least Did you know, he at least had the conversation saying like, like, this is not my, this is not my wheelhouse, so to speak. I need somebody who's in it every day and understand that, but there are realtors that are just like, oh, well, last year it made this. So you factor in an increase

Alex Husner:

in just keeping your own inventory on your program. Yeah, if the homeowner wants to list it, and you're the listing agent, the next person buys it, it's much easier to keep it on your program. So that's that's kind of been our defense strategy.

Lance Stitcher:

Absolutely. And another just another twist off of that when you involve real estate, because advocacy, advocacy is such a big conversation these days in our industry. Depending on the market, your realtors can be can be your best resource. Yeah. Working in multiple markets and having this conversation with a lot of people I know like in Ocean City, Maryland, when when they're when talk of regulations comes up. The Board of Realtors is the biggest advocate for vacation rentals. Yeah, yeah. Because they know that in a town like Ocean City, Maryland, that the regulation on vacation rentals is gonna have

Alex Husner:

its Yeah. Yeah, definitely the real estate community. Yeah. So one thing I wanted to touch on, too, when you were talking about your website, so you want to track and then did you had to start a new website at that point? How was that process? And who did you work with?

Lance Stitcher:

Well, we worked with ICND. Okay, because we had that relationship. I had had built a website with them in the past for another company. And the entire team there is almost like family.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, we love them.

Lance Stitcher:

The brand, Brandon and Whitney had been friends for years. April. Paul, the whole crew.

Elaine Stitcher:

And they're so responsive. You have a question? Journey. Here. It doesn't matter how many years we've been with them. You know, they drop everything. And they're there when something Yeah, because everything.

Lance Stitcher:

Yeah. So it's been you know, so it was, it was a very seamless project actually went very, very well. Kind of on that same front. We're actually in the, what's our website? 2019. So we're talking we're I guess we're pushing three years old.

Elaine Stitcher:

And we're doing it again. We're in the process. Oh,

Alex Husner:

good for, you

Elaine Stitcher:

know, again, during the season,

Lance Stitcher:

yeah. Yeah, we signed again to do it in May. I think so. You know, I'm a glutton.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. Yeah, that's, you

Elaine Stitcher:

know, you have to say, you know, what his Brandon say, If you ain't first you're

Annie Holcombe:

last you got? Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.

Lance Stitcher:

I mean, you know, I feel like we need to stay relevant and current on the most important technology. And then at the same time, there's also the shiny object syndrome that we have. Oh, definitely,

Alex Husner:

uh, you know, we all get that when we go to conferences. It's like, sometimes I get to a point where like, I just, I can't go in the vendor Hall anymore. Because you just get FOMO you want to be able to do all the things and do all the things. So you have to pick like your top two or three. Yeah, it's tough, but that's awesome. So they handle your digital marketing then to I would assume so.

Lance Stitcher:

Yes, they actually do handle significant part of our digital marketing, we do something else.

Alex Husner:

What is your direct versus OTA business?

Lance Stitcher:

Right now? I believe we're somewhere between 59 and 61%. Directly. Yeah, we bounce. We bounced right around right around 60.

Elaine Stitcher:

I want to get away from Airbnb so badly, I can't even Yeah,

Alex Husner:

we are not Airbnb. Yeah, we have

Annie Holcombe:

We have a T shirt for that!

Elaine Stitcher:

I know that sounds awesome t shirt. But you know, especially for our smaller properties. owners still have the expectation to be there. You know, they still want us to be there. But there's still there's, there's still canceling for COVID and giving full refunds and we have no control. And it's the most frustrating thing in the world. So I long for a day when we don't need them. Yeah.

Lance Stitcher:

It's also challenging. I mean, for a company that is seven years young. Absolutely. We we're not the we're not the most established company in any of the markets that we operate in. So we do have a certain I mean, we've built I think I can remember are in year one, we were maybe 12 or 15% Direct Wow. Yeah. And we have driven and we have pounded away at that every good job. Yeah, yeah. into technology and SEO and pay per click and the ICN details routine.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, well, that's what you have to do and that's that's huge, you know, content

Lance Stitcher:

marketing. So social media. Social media has been an area that's been tremendously successful for us.

Elaine Stitcher:

I sat in a session at DARM. And someone in the audience just came right out and said they thought social media was outdated Facebook, they had they got nothing out of it.

Alex Husner:

And I think I was on that same session was that it was like,

Elaine Stitcher:

when we were when we were starting out, and we had nothing, and we had no money. There are several Chincoteague, Facebook groups that have 20 plus 1000 people in them. And it's little things like, oh, my gosh, my vacation got canceled. We're here. We have nowhere to go. And sweet plants. And Elaine, we say, Yeah, little things like that. And we've had owners come to us and say, You know what we came to you, because everyone comes to you, whether it be for, you know, to rent a place or for property management, we never see a bow word about you guys. And we just have building that cred on Facebook, and it's still wildly successful.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, I think I think a social media aspect of too is that people, it's kind of like they they know what they know. So if they're always on Facebook, they're thinking that that's the only medium that's out there. But every market has a social media platform that works for it. Like what works in Miami is not going to work in Panama City Beach, we have two completely different types of customer. And probably same thing for you guys, Chincoteague And Ocean City, different type of people. So you have to mess you have to have different messages, you have to use different platforms. And I wanted to go back to like the Airbnb conversation. It's funny. So I work for lexicon and we're a channel manager. And so obviously, my business is all about being on the channels. And that's what I drive for. But the one thing that I've spent the last well, since I was actually at as an OTA is talking with people about how like, you know, these, these channels are a marketing tool for you. And if you use them as a marketing tool to grow your database, and grow your reach and grow your brand, then they're going to help you out more than you could possibly ever pay for. But use them methodically and use them use them wisely. And so I spend a lot of time talking with people about, it's always great to cast the widest net be on as many channels as you can get, and use those levers when the levers are appropriate. Don't use them over Fourth of July weekend, unless something happens and all of a sudden, you have a fallout because there was a storm that went up the East Coast and people can't understand geography that you know, you would hit New Jersey, you know, so I think that there's there's a lot to be said. But on the Airbnb note, one thing that I have noticed is that I feel as though because they have not worked with professional management groups. They don't care what we as the professional side, because we're such a small piece of that puzzle to them, that I've had three a four accounts in the last couple of months that have pulled all of their inventory off of Airbnb, and each one of them and said they have not gotten a single phone call outreach or a request to put their inventory back up. And we're not talking like 10 units, we're talking hundreds and hundreds of units in markets, but they just don't it's just a blip on their radar. So I think it goes back to that larger conversation that we need to have conversations with realtors, we need to have conversations with people as they're entering the business to say like, it's not so bad to use Airbnb, but don't let that be your only channel you need other channels and then again, building your brand up and getting a website and having your technology stack prepped and ready to go for when you do have the opportunities to grow. And it sounds like that's what you've done. Yeah,

Elaine Stitcher:

and also helping owners understand the risks of being Airbnb. You know, if someone does have an accident or COVID and they're supposed to come tomorrow, they will cancel and give them a refund. So in that situation we try to be proactive knowing that Airbnb is going to give the guests whatever we want, I'll swoop in and try to reschedule them or try to do things that we necessarily wouldn't do with the direct booking in order to at least keep the reservation rather than completely lose it.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah yeah, you're on mute. And

Alex Husner:

we have found oops sorry there we go. Have you had it happen yet where you there's an issue with the unit and Airbnb moves your guests for you to another unit? That was their new policy.

Lance Stitcher:

We have heard of

Alex Husner:

that issue we've had it happen once and it was exactly the worst case situation everybody fears for that they moved them to a much more expensive property than what we had him in and we could have moved them to another one of our units so it's like you know that's that's where the heavy handedness comes in. But it is our aghast and I think them completely taking the communication is just really troublesome. I mean that that could be a nightmare and especially in the summertime when we're all you know, they're gonna there's only one unit left and the person had rented a one bedroom and they're going to move them to a five bedroom and their property management company has to foot the bill. That's crazy.

Lance Stitcher:

Yeah, well and another thing you know, people do need to learn to use the channels wisely because you know we have our smaller inventory in the shoulder seasons books better. looks better on Airbnb than VRBO for example, VRBO our larger homes. peak season actually are larger homes anytime you hear a book well on VRBO and of course you know the ultimate goal is direct booking if if a guest if a guest comes back in year two through the same channel and not direct shame on us. Absolutely. Actually, we do have some guests who will just love as well

Elaine Stitcher:

they I was going to lead into this actually there are some very savvy guests out there now that know how to use Airbnb to their advantage ya know in that other comes out of that pillow. They know they can go straight to Airbnb and allergic to feathers get me a right yeah, yeah. And and also I have had guests tell me that they feel safer booking with Airbnb and it's because of Airbnb ease, you know, cancellation policies I can't, the word I'm looking for. But just they know that the new

Lance Stitcher:

waiting cert that

Annie Holcombe:

vague term.

Elaine Stitcher:

You know that Airbnb will make it right, right. Yeah. So yeah. And there's a lot of very clever, deceitful at times, people out there that just, you know, I'm not happy with this. I want the whole cleaning fee and two nights and they're milking the system as Yeah. Do you know some will do? And that's a very frustrating part of it as well.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, well, that's good to hear that you have that percentage of direct business. And that's only going to continue to grow. I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if that becomes 80%. In the next one to two years, when really with a tragic trajectory you guys are on? That would be awesome. Yeah.

Annie Holcombe:

You guys have done a really good job. And we talked to Lance kind of in depth about this. But being very in tune with pricing and your market and managing, again, you have to manage owner expectations. But you also have to like work with the market and be flexible. And one of the things that I think again, it goes back to some companies have not been as quick to adopt the technology is that you really went all in with a company called Wheelhouse to do your pricing, and working with Ben Coleman and Rev & Research. And so like talk about how that kind of came to be and what you feel like that's made a difference in your business and allows you to grow?

Lance Stitcher:

Oh, gosh, well, I guess I'll take that when I'm the numbers guy.

Elaine Stitcher:

And Ben just might be at my table this Christmas, though. He's got at everybodys table.

Lance Stitcher:

But, you know, I'm just a really strong believer. And you know, when I began to learn to understand some of the data, I mean, key data has been around now for, I don't know, three, four years, maybe a bit longer. But when I began to understand the data and understand that, I mean, we started playing around with dynamic pricing as early is maybe 2013 14, got introduced to this guy named George Tolski, like the grandfather of dynamic pricing, I was introduced to him, and we hit it off really fast. And actually, I've been intrigued by it ever since. And going back to the early days, you know, I noticed that we had more demand for some weeks than other weeks. And we would, we would alter our rates, and then go back and look at him and a couple of months and see if we were right or wrong. But now with today's today's data tools in the speed with which the data is delivered, you can you can look daily, and see how many people are searching for the second week of July versus the third week of July. And there's empirical evidence as to why your rate should not be the same every day or every week of a given time period.

Elaine Stitcher:

And it's too much to do manually. And that's the main scholar, he was doing it manually. And as we grew, there's just you know, we weren't you we needed a tool that can do it. Yeah,

Lance Stitcher:

at one point, I was trying to do all this manually. And I just, there's so many hours in the day, essentially got to the end of the summer. And we needed to develop rates for the next year. And I'm sorry, I can't do this, you know, I spent so much time either loading rate periods and loading rates into our property management software, or trying to monitor and monetize the rates in the best way possible. And at some point in time, technology just became the answer. Yeah,

Annie Holcombe:

I remember the days when we'd have revenue meetings, and we'd sit in there and talk about what was going on for the, you know, the next weekend or whatever it was, and it was always like, the dreaded call around, get all the reservation is to do the call around and all Yeah. And then when the Internet became a thing, like, oh, we can just shop it on the internet. And it's like, and then when these pricings came around, I was like, Oh my gosh, I have to use this whole team of people that we've been taking every bride out of their out of their, you know, their daily job to do we had times where we had front desk agents calling around you know, to get pricing but now it's all stuff again. Yeah, fingertips and so

Alex Husner:

I remember we we did that even back here, here back in the day that we would call just to just to see because some websites still are tough to actually know what they're selling them for. But we're gonna get sneaky. In fact,

Lance Stitcher:

revenue management conference, that conversation is becoming, it's becoming really interesting in our industry. In fact, I was joking with Ben, yesterday I was I was on LinkedIn, I was like, there's, there's a revenue manager, there's, there's another revenue manager, we were getting more of them. But the differences between traditional vacation rental management and lease arbitrage model. It's almost like a revenue manager probably can't work in both fields, or it's going to take a long time to understand the difference, because, you know, they're managing to yield for a portfolio, whereas I've got a property owner that I'm responsible to and I Yeah, totally. You know, 85% is not good enough for that guy. Right? Yeah. Yeah. It's a week in the summertime. Yeah, yeah. Now,

Alex Husner:

one thing that you've mentioned, Lance, is that you still need to have the human touch behind all this too, right. So how much have has that helped using a tool, using Wheelhouse versus how much more do you have to do now or what has taken off your back.

Lance Stitcher:

So the overall rate strategy comes great out of Wheelhouse, and then it's really just becomes keeping an eye on the cow calendars. Staying in touch with the reservation staff to make sure that you know nothing is is out of line, whether it be little higher, a little low. But I mean, timewise, it saves me 90%. in that field, I mean, to do to do what we're able to do with Wheelhouse I, I need three of me.

Elaine Stitcher:

And wow, three, I love you but I dont know about three of you. And where the in the human touch comes in with the owners as well in. And this is something we're really working on right now to have a model just to really help owners understand why we're doing this, how it works, because they just don't get it. And it's a challenge explaining it to them. Yeah. And getting them to trust the system as well, though, that's something we're working on.

Lance Stitcher:

And we also have had to work with our guests experience people in the way that we target repeat bookings, particularly at the time of checkout, because you know, we might be targeting an 11% increase for next year, at this point in time, 365 days in advance. But we want that guest to know that you know what, Hey, you said, but it's three years in a row. You can book you got a different rate for you, if you want to buy

Alex Husner:

Yeah, and we do that exact same thing. When they check out they get they get a discount, but it's based on next year's rate. Not on this year's Right. Exactly. Yeah,

Annie Holcombe:

yeah, we always, we was in bouncebacks. Like everybody, when they checked out, they'd either get an email or a coupon or a handed to them. That was a bounce back that said, you know, you're guaranteed this discount off of next year's rate. So yeah, we always found those got redeemed like, crazy. But yeah, you have

Alex Husner:

to repeat markets. It's a big thing for sure.

Lance Stitcher:

Yes, it is. Yeah. Thank you guys.

Annie Holcombe:

You guys, you've built up this business, you're in multiple markets. And I mean, Alex is the youngest one in this conversation. So it's a little different for her. But you know, we're not getting we're not getting any younger, we want like to know that we can go play golf on weekends, or Mondays or Tuesdays, or whatever day we want to play golf, and you're fishing and lay on the boat. And so one of the things that really intrigued us is that you guys have a really great kind of a not an exit strategy, but you have a plan for what happens when you guys decide you want to go sunset and live your vacation life. So tell us a little bit about that. Because I think it's it's something that would give other people in the industry some really good ideas about it's not always about selling to the highest bidder.

Lance Stitcher:

So we started working with a financial planner a few years ago, and that actually put some seeds into my mind. And then we have another we have a real estate company in our market that came up with a unique idea for a succession plan. And we've put our own little twist on that. But in quite honestly, I'm not 100% sure of the details on exactly how it works out. But the people who helped us build the company will eventually become the owners of the company, our core staff will essentially will finance a buyout for them over some period of time as we begin to phase ourselves out.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, that's incredible.

Elaine Stitcher:

And we get more questions about that from prospective owners and from our current owners as they see other companies sell. They want to know Look, you know, you're in your 50s you're not going to be here forever. What is your plan? How do I know you're not going to just sell and I'm going to be sold because I don't know it brings down a lot of peace and they deserve it. They have helped us make it what it is and and be a part of the community. Everyone who works for us lives locally, pretty much right there on the island or within a few minutes of it. And that helps a lot with our community credibility as well. Now you go looking out for the people that

Lance Stitcher:

Annie mentioned playing golf and I was it really live there. drove home the point about getting older this week when I was asked if I was gonna be the Senior Club Championship

Elaine Stitcher:

And you darn well, he signed up for the under 50 divisions.

Annie Holcombe:

Sneaking in, right, who's gonna just keep doing it?

Alex Husner:

You used to be where you are pro golfer. I know you're very big into golf.

Lance Stitcher:

I am a recovering golf professional. I am a lifetime member of the PGA

Elaine Stitcher:

woods. You know, I love that story. Yeah,

Lance Stitcher:

it was a very long time ago. And I was 17. And he was an 11. And a junior golf tournament

Annie Holcombe:

But beat him.

Alex Husner:

That's yeah, exactly. That's awesome. That's great. That's great. Yeah. Well, it's been it's super fun to just watch you guys on Facebook. I think you've built just an incredible company. But also the two of you have a great work life balance. It seems like to you're avid boaters and you've got your dogs and your kids and you guys go to the beach, and it just looks like you guys have a lot of fun with all of it. And that's that's what it's all about the end of the day. So

Elaine Stitcher:

you try to work Work hard, play hard. We're still we're still guilty of only you know, we try religiously to take Sundays off. And every year we say we're going to take an additional day, but we don't we work six days a week and you know how it can be anywhere and it never stops. Which is why we try to do things like live on the boat and you know, do things in the evening. We tried to squeeze as much fun in as we possibly can.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, absolutely. Oh, you know what, one thing we didn't touch on the commercial laundry business that you're building? Can you tell us a little bit about?

Elaine Stitcher:

Holy Sheets. Where we wash your sins away!

Lance Stitcher:

So we live in a region that is very challenging for the laundry business. And it's for that reason, nobody really provides linens, it's primarily a sewer system. I bring it around because most of the there's only three towns around that actually have a sewer system that's capable of doing it. Wow. We set out seven years ago to be the first company to be able to provide full service laundry. And this summer this spring, I guess I was flipping through some real estate listings. And I came across this commercial building that was for sale. It was 2700 square feet with 700 square foot office and a 2000 square foot warehouse with water, sewer and coming natural gas availability. And its current it was its current use at that point in time was the church. So I totally I mean, I said I'm gonna run over here. I'm gonna look at I'm gonna buy this church. Other interesting conversation. Yeah.

Elaine Stitcher:

And it's Unbeliev. You know, I mean, the expectations for linens to be there. I mean, we all know it. I remember years ago, having a conversation with Matt Landau, and he was like, you don't want you don't have linens included. And it's just there's there was physically no way to do it. And at that moment, Matt's out there. He knows I swore we were forced in our market to do it.

Lance Stitcher:

correctly, we are not the first to convert a church into a laundry facility.

Alex Husner:

That is awesome.

Annie Holcombe:

Condo world's doing some things. Yeah,

Alex Husner:

we are. Our facility is in a church building as well. So I don't know what it is about those but just good operation there. But and so you're just gonna be called Holy Sheets. Well, that's kind of a jokeeah,

Lance Stitcher:

we told the staff that we bought a church and we were going to do laundry there. They came up with holy sheets. We watched

Annie Holcombe:

it perfect. You cannot use that on something. I mean, yeah.

Alex Husner:

Holy Water and you're washing him to

Annie Holcombe:

where you're sheets are blessed before you sleep.

Alex Husner:

Oh, I love that.

Annie Holcombe:

We could have so much fun with this.

Elaine Stitcher:

Oh, yeah. And that's certainly going to keep us busy this. I'm sure you guys will agree. There's no such thing as an offseason anymore.

Annie Holcombe:

No, there's not. But you know, I think the good part about it is is that you don't have the highs and lows, like so extreme. You know, it used to be I know, when I moved to Florida, I come from Washington, DC area, again, very vibrant around, everything's open. The first year I was here. I worked at a restaurant. It's shut down Labor Day weekend, and then like the beach was empty. And I was like, Where did everybody go? Like, it's so nice. Like, this is just crazy. But that was just how it was. And so again, the things that have happened, I wouldn't wish COVID on anybody ever like the way we dealt with it. However, it was such a great thing for our industry, not only the advancement in technology, the camaraderie that it created the the spotlight on these wonderful businesses that we've all been involved in for so long. I mean, I've been doing this since late 90s. And I just remember going to conferences and things are like you do what why? Like nobody like you gotta be in a hotel like that's the only place people stay well, and

Alex Husner:

people to people weren't collaborative, but yeah, the first the first VRMA I went to was in 2011 I think and Maybe just because we didn't know people then but it just did not feel like the same kind of conference whatsoever as how they are now. Yeah, it's changed a lot over the years.

Lance Stitcher:

And that's one of the great things about this industry with, with all the conferences that are available. And it really, really gave us a springboard to success because we've been active in vrma, and other, you know, other events the entire time we've been doing this. And it's an area where people will share with you absolutely love these relationships. And you think you're the first one to have a problem. But I don't believe there's there's virtually nothing that's original in this industry. It's all been solved. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And people will tell you how people will tell you how to build a successful business, if you'll just listen to them. Yeah. And I've had, you know, I've had some great mentors, that it's funny, we look this this last six, seven months has been particularly difficult, because we're watching, we're watching so many friends and mentors that are that are, you know, capitalizing on this last round of m&a. And they're checking out.

Elaine Stitcher:

They have to do what's best for their families. And we totally respect and understand that, but But thinking about all of it,

Lance Stitcher:

yeah, a day that, you know, we woke up and we looked at each other, and we're like, wow, we're becoming some of the more senior people in the industry.

Elaine Stitcher:

Yeah, that was kind of eye opening, you know?

Lance Stitcher:

Give back a little bit.

Annie Holcombe:

When Alex and I were putting the podcast together we we're like, well, what is our combined industry experience? And it was like, yeah, oh, God.

Alex Husner:

We need to update do we need to?

Annie Holcombe:

We do. Every year? I wanted to ask you guys one last question. It's kind of one that's been I think, on top of people's minds, or it's been a good conversation starter for like future things is, what do you guys feel is like maybe a topic that is not being discussed as much as it should be? In our industry?

Lance Stitcher:

You want to go first you want me to? Okay. I'm intrigued by a few things that I've heard recently. And I really don't know how to phrase this just just yet. But I know Simon Lehmann touched on it. I think he actually mentioned it in 'Simon Says' about, you know, creating some try trying to bring the standards of the entire industry up letting the world know that we're not Airbnb. But just, you know, there's, there's some operators that, you know, maybe they've been around for a while, and they just do things old school, and they need to bring their standards up. Or maybe there's some new people that have not been around for a long time. And they don't understand the industry well enough to know what's right, sometimes what's right and what's wrong. But just to see some professional standards kind of grown, because I think it would help the entire professional community.

Annie Holcombe:

agree,

Alex Husner:

totally agree.

Annie Holcombe:

What about you, Elaine?

Elaine Stitcher:

Oh, gosh, well, you know, we're always talking about advocacy these days. And I think it's so important to connect with your competitors about that, you know, our Islaand, our island is very small. And we've reached out to our competitors about collaborating and, you know, we need to we need to stand together. It's not in our town, but it's probably coming. It's probably coming to all of us at one point. And, sadly, there's not that kind of camaraderie in our market. Obviously, you know, we came into town took a lot of business. Well, they don't really want to hang out with us. I get okay.

Alex Husner:

Yeah.

Elaine Stitcher:

Yeah. But that is so important. And we're trying to actually start something. Build that we kind of want to spearhead that. Yeah.

Lance Stitcher:

Association. Okay.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. Yeah, no, that's great. So are you thinking kind of like, what Rent Responsibly is doing in different communities? Or would you be starting your own? Or?

Lance Stitcher:

That's a really good question. And we've talked about and we've actually had a very brief, very, I think we chatted with Rent Responsibly for just a few minutes at the end of DARM. Yeah, yeah. But it's something that we, you know, we never, we never quite have the bandwidth to sit down and really write it out on what we want to do. But we know it's something that's coming in, it's going to have to happen at some point. And as as it was said, on another podcast here very recently, if you're if you don't have a seat at the table, you're on the menu.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah, we just we just had a small group, actually a small group and then it became a larger group get together here in Myrtle Beach recently that had vacation rental companies, but then also some of the condo hotel companies that you know, they're really run more as hotels, but they are vacation rentals. And I think we don't have any bad restrictions legislation in our area yet, but just like you said it, that doesn't mean that it's not coming. And he's just trying to prepare everybody Yeah. For what that conversation and I think the red flags are and what we need to be what we can do now. Because I think a lot of the city and city councilor, they don't understand that. They won. They don't. They don't understand that we are not Airbnb. I mean, they, they know that we are good businesses, but they think that these restrictions for Airbnb will solve all the problems. But even the condo hotels, those are vacation rentals. So those properties that you just think their hotels, they would be subject to all these rules, too. And my gosh, that's the majority of inventory in Myrtle Beach. But it's a it's definitely something that Annie and I are very passionate about, too. And just, it's crazy. We all know the industry. So well. We think everybody understands what we do and what the product is. But there's still, you know, COVID has has given us a lot of light, but there's still a lot of information that needs to be shared out of education, education,

Elaine Stitcher:

education, and along that line, something that's been huge for us. Lance sits on the board for the Eastern Shore Association of Realtors, I sit on the board for the Chamber of Commerce. Okay. A huge part of that is educating people who are influential in the community that, you know, decision makers, what we're really doing and how we're, how we're managing it and how we're making sure the neighbors aren't disturbed and all of these things and I think I think if anybody out there does not have a seat at those tables, yeah. Get out there. I'm

Alex Husner:

so glad you brought that up. Yeah, for sure. important, important. Yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you guys so much for joining us today. This has been wonderful. And just to hear a little bit more about your story, and we can't wait to see you at the next event. Are you going to be vrma?

Elaine Stitcher:

Yes. And we are bringing our whole team I think we're bringing

Annie Holcombe:

people Yeah. Excited about the answer. You're going to golf. Right. You'll be at the tournament.

Lance Stitcher:

That is undetermined.

Elaine Stitcher:

Yeah. You know what, I think it depends on how we golf this weekend. He's golfing in a club championship this weekend. So we'll see.

Alex Husner:

Okay, not the senior one, right.

Lance Stitcher:

Like I've, I think I've played 27 holes of golf all year and decided I was going to try and play in the club championships. Probably a very, very poor decision.

Annie Holcombe:

Well, let us know how it goes.

Lance Stitcher:

And then so we will be in. We'll be in Vegas for vrma International.

Elaine Stitcher:

And we'd like to go to everything. We can't go to everything.

Lance Stitcher:

Actually, we're helping with the planning of there'll be a vrma Connect in Annapolis, Maryland on December, which

Elaine Stitcher:

are super excited

Annie Holcombe:

about okay, that's a great town. Yeah,

Lance Stitcher:

we were actually that Zoom call was just prior to this one. And we came up with a really innovative idea

Elaine Stitcher:

is gonna be awesome and original and different. And just, you know, we were talking about how there you know, some of those some of the sessions can get repetitive if you go to Yes, definitely. Yeah. Conferences year. So we're really we've got some Jodi's on the committee as well, and we're working on some really fun ideas.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, yeah.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. I was gonna say maybe we need to add that to our schedule. That sounds Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Annie Holcombe:

Thank you guys so much. If people want to get in touch with you guys, as a, as a team, what's the best way that they can reach out to you?

Elaine Stitcher:

Oh, gosh, phone email based and yeah, we're everywhere. We're always happy to, to talk and collaborate and to share our ideas. And yeah, and always looking for new ideas. Yeah,

Alex Husner:

awesome. Well, we'll put links for everything in the show notes. So if anybody wants to get in touch with them, but if anybody wants to share, yeah, well, that's all about that's what it's all about. And that's the right mindset to have. I like to

Elaine Stitcher:

throw this in there. And I probably should have done this a long time ago. Something that I left DARM with that has been keeping me up at night. Okay. Bn Edwards? He said, say yes to everything.

Alex Husner:

Absolutely. There for that. Yes, yes

Elaine Stitcher:

to everything. And I've actually been wanting to call Ben and talk about this further. Because my reaction was, well, how do you you can't say yes to everything. There'll be people scamming, scamming you and blah, blah, blah, that we've been trying this a little bit more in the office. It's really interesting. And I think I'd like to have so many more conversations about this, who's doing it? So that's a conversation for another time, but that has been on my mind. nonstop since DARM

Alex Husner:

that's, that's a that's a great line. And so true. I mean, the more the more communication you have, the more that you're talking to other people within a space, the more you're learning, and you're growing and bringing all that back to your business. So yeah, definitely.

Elaine Stitcher:

There's some brilliant minds out there in our biz. Yeah, absolutely. And we're talking to two of them right now. So

Alex Husner:

you do. Thank you very much. Yeah, we appreciate you guys very much. You are two of our all stars. 100% So thank you for being here. If anybody wants to reach out to any night you can go to AlexandAnniepodcast.com And until the next time, thank you for tuning in.

Lance and Elaine Stitcher Profile Photo

Lance and Elaine Stitcher

Owners and Founders - Seaside Vacation Rentals

Lance and Elaine Stitcher, founded Seaside Vacations with the belief that there is a better way to vacation in Chincoteague Island, Virginia and Ocean City, Maryland. As a working family with two teenage boys and two beach Boxers, they understand how difficult it can be to get away and how precious that time together is. Thier personal service, attention to detail, and providing a good product consistently are the building blocks of our great vacation relationships, whether they be with partners, guests or owners. We want to make this vacation stress free for you - just sit back and enjoy the time with family and friends.

Lance has been on the shore since 1978, and has worked on the ESVA since 1998. Growing up in Salisbury, the beaches of Ocean City and Assateague, and the waters of Chincoteague Island were a part of daily life for much of the year. After attending Salisbury University, Lance has made a career of nearly thirty years in the Hospitality and Property Management industry.

Elaine is a native Delawarean who grew up vacationing on the Eastern Shore and loved it so much decided to call it home. A graduate of the University of Delaware, Elaine possesses extensive experience and knowledge in Marketing and Customer Service, as well as a keen attention to detail that benefits both our partners, owners, and guests.

Together, they combine their love of the beach, the ocean and time with family to deliver a fantastically easy beach vacation. After guests' needs are met, you’ll likely find Lance and Elaine with their family boating, fishing and clamming on the local waters, or enjoying the occasional round of golf.