Rentals United – The Secret Sauce of Stay Alfred – Interview

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joining me on this podcast video
recording of the Secret Sauce as we’re going to call it and let’s just launch
ourselves right into it I wanted to find out who you are and what you were doing
before and and your current position at Stay Alfred
Sure 😀 first of all, thanks for having me this is exciting to be a part.
My name is Doug Truitt. I’m the director of distribution for Stay Alfred and prior
to Stay Alfred I had been in the hotel space for 19 years. The most recent
position was before starting with Stay Alfred was as the assistant general
manager for Red Lion Hotel at the park in the Spokane Washington which is a 400
room hotel with five food and beverage outlets and 30,000 square feet of
convention meeting space so annual revenue of about 15 million dollars
a year. And it was a great space, a great place to be but the hotel
space definitely was lacking that that little bit extra that I think that the
vacation rental space came from so, yeah currently director distribution
and manager of advertising presence on all of our third-party channel, OTA´s for Stay
Alfred. Our distro team, as we call, consists of three teams. So
distribution, building and maintaining the advertisements, the OTA support team
which is receiving of all the reservations, processing making sure that
everything coming from the OTAs are doing what they’re supposed to do. And
then guest reviews and reputation management so I’m asking asking for,
responding to and escalating issues based on our guest valuable feedback
throughout our organization to try and make sure that we’re always constantly
doing better. Well you are a busy man 😀 there’s a lot there’s a lot to do but
it’s it’s really fun I really enjoy enjoy the challenge the OTAs bring a
very challenging presence to to the game of VR but there’s so much so much to
do. Great, well we´ll get back on the topic of marketing so
I’ve got quite a few questions for you. Tell me a little bit what is Stay
Alfred for those who don’t know because I I expect we’ll get a lot of viewers
from Europe and they may not be familiar with the brand so what is Stay Alfred
and what vertical does it address Sure 😀 so you know stay Alfred offers upscale travel apartments in the walkable downtown
neighborhoods of 33 US cities and counting. Our next-generation booking
process 24-hour seven-day-a-week customer service and professional
housekeeping staff provide our guests with the reliability of a hotel stay
while our spacious accommodations with a kitchen, laundry and private bedrooms
give guests the convenience of an apartment we live to offer travelers
what we call our tagline of ¨your place in the city¨ so it’s a really good
concept for us to really embrace all travelers that come to any of our cities
for either work, for family, for tourism for any kind of venue that they’re
coming for, it really really encompasses being able to have your own place and
not worry about small tiny hotel rooms or somebody who has cat allergies and
maybe their cats left over in their their flat or
whatever. The vertical to which you know we address really I think really stems
from its its its own really niche really I mean you have your traditional
vacation rental you got your you know your surf and ski you’ve got your
resorts you got your, you know houses on the beaches and you got your stuff up in the mountains but then on the hotel side of it you got
all these really prime urban downtown locations with all these great hotels or
tiny hotel rooms so we really have this niche right in the middle between all
that which is the urban downtown markets where there isn’t a
whole lot of vacation rentals that you can really access at least in the
domestic US and so we’ve we found a way to be in those places and actually
attract a market of folks who don’t want the hotel room but also don’t want to go
stay you know 10-15 miles outside of the really big core of where people want to
be. So, I would say that’s probably the vertical that we address is really
more so the the accommodation side and then part of our technology as well that
supports it. So can you disclose what’s the percentage between leisure and
business? Right now it’s more predominantly on leisure, but we do have
a very strong business presence and we are expanding our efforts to invest more
into that, we do have a national corporate sales team that their sole
focus is going after big large companies that feature with relocations or
short-term short-term job needs or project needs there is a very large
market for that for us as well being that we’re in these prime urban downtown
markets like downtown Seattle in Boston Washington DC in these these places that
have a lot of a lot of business activity that are happening where these big
companies need accommodations where folks don’t have to get rental cars and
and be in a hotel room and the connection… treat their employees a
little bit better with a full fledged apartment. Okay but it’s still short
term right? Or are you also looking at midterm now? we’re we do short-term we also do we
also do long-term and what we deem is long-term is anything longer than 30
days. But we do have we do have quite a bit of business that comes for longer
than 30 days. Denver in the city of Denver right now we have quite a few
long-term stays that occur there in that city as well as Boston and even Washington DC and there’s a little bit of littering of other other
types reservations and things that come in for longer than 30 days days but I
would say our main core focus is a short-term rental side but it is
something that we’re moving more towards to try and figure out more of that
advertising to that longer term stay guest. Cool 😀 and, so tell me is for Stay Alfred the brand really important ?the consistency of the brand? is there some…
Come on 😀 yeah! of course it is! Tell me more about it. Some of some of the ways that
the brand is important in consistency is I mean just as I explained about the
difference between a hotel and a vacation rental I mean the reasonwhy
hotels are so successful is because majority of corporate and travel clients
are able to, or even families are able to know the reliability and the
consistency of going and staying at a Hilton or Marriott. But the reality
is in a lot of vacation rental markets as far as property managers are out
there they have very unique pieces of inventory right, and they’re all
different for Stay Alfred we actually have a you know a way of creating a unique from from combining
the space and the comforts of the travel apartment and the consistency and
reliability of a hotel, the average size of a hotel room according to
USA Today is 325 square feet, but the average size of a Stay Alfred apartment is
nearly three times that with the pricing that is you know very competitive
to hotel concepts and so we also focus on building our own furniture. So we
don’t we don’t own the companies that make the furniture but we’ve worked with
companies for our own custom furniture so, we have a custom kind of iconic
quotation mark chairs what we call it it’s a it’s a green chair you’ve
probably seen it in a lot of our advertisements but it’s the same sofa
sleeper, the same chair, of the same dining set, the same dish,
the same bed, the same linens, the same towels, same amenities, all those pieces
that go into all of our apartments they’re the same whether you’re in
Boston or you’re in Seattle or you’re in San Diego or New Orleans and I think
that consistency really is something of value for a lot of customers because
they want the more space they want a full apartment they want a washer and
dryer in their unit they want these these pieces to make it feel like
their place in the city, but they also want to know that if they go choose one
in one city and they choose it another they’re going to have a very similar
experience and consistency and that establishes loyalty I really feel. so it´s funny you say that because I said in the Sondar. Sorry, and it was the same kind of
concept, right I stayed in the Sonder in one city and one in the other and the
apartment was extremely similar, so how do you differ from from your competitors? Sondar is one of them right? There’s a lot of competitors out there you know and you know as we all know
that there’s there’s quite a few in the VR space and they’re all vying for a
piece of the pie, you know promising an increasing market space that is what
we’re doing but you know I think you know, we are also one of the ones that
that one of the first ones I actually have the loyalty program so I don’t know
if you’ve seen that, seen us pushing on that but, we have one
of the first loyalty programs in the short term space and the Stay Alfred
Rewards or the green Green Suitcase Society
which is you know, not unlike what you find in the hotel chains where repeat
stays lead to free nights and I think that’s a very valuable thing that has
been missing as a calling from the vacation rental space. A lot of folks are
saying: ¨well yeah I love staying in the vacation rental I love doing this but I miss all my Marriott Rewards points¨ you know, those
kinds of things, so, I think we’re really bridging the gap where I don’t think
really anybody else is actually successfully attempt that and we’re
fully launched it’s fully out there and then we’re
getting a lot of great organic feedback from it without pushing too much.
Congratulation, that sounds like a good program and it true it’s missing
it’s missing so… which leads me directly to the next
question and I expect that some of your investment went into creating new
programs that will help the brand and what have they been used otherwise for?
What have you been money because I see that you’ve raised about
62 million dollars? Yeah, all together is that… okay. Yeah, we use our
investment rounds to really expand the business, strengthen our inventory
acquisition, build and improve on the technology and then also move Stay Alfred to the next level, which you know, we’re looking to
get into Europe we’re getting really close there and then as well I mean just
really I would say the biggest part is investing and trying to just constantly
gain more acquisition of inventory and really aid those efforts. We’re also
funding a lot of our technology and trying to make sure that we are, not only building more on top of our technology but just improving upon. I
mean as we all know technology is constantly changing and evolving and the
guest needs are changing and evolving and so that requires a lot of attention
and a lot of innovation as well and so that’s that’s where we put a lot of our
focus aswell. Just quickly on inventory how does it work with Stay Alfred, do you lease long-term? You acquire? Is it a mix how does it work with Stay Alfred? There’s a mix we do a lot of master leases is what we call it. which are long-term leases working
with developers and owners of properties we do have whole building
inventory as well, where we actually take over the entire building, some we take
over you know several floors in a building
so that’s I mean we have we have a very healthy mix of all but that’s pretty
much the go forward strategy in the future, is mostly you know that more
longer-term secured inventory. Okay and you’ve got your European locations
pinpointed already? Where you gonna go first?
We’ve got a big task list of what we’re trying to get into. We have some have our
sights set in UK. You’re looking at Brussels, Warsaw, Krakow, We’re looking at
Barcelona and a few other spots there so, we’ll be coming right they near to
Rentals United soon 😀 Great, we´ll welcome you 😀 You talked shortly about tech, I want to deep dive into tech. What have you built? What has Stay Alfred
built and what has Stay Alfred outsourced? Sure, you know we’ve built quite
a few things we’ve built our own guest app, native app, we’ve
built some housekeeping apps for our internal teams.
We’ve built our own website for ourself We’ve also built the loyalty program
that’s intersects with all those systems. We’ve built a dynamic
revenue management system internally for ourself, there’s quite a few
other things that we’ve built a little more granular but you know realistically
that’s what we’ve done, outsourcing, you know there’s bits and
pieces of outsourcing that have happened over the time
not a whole lot though, we really try to keep things close to us to make
sure that we have the most control over it and if we don’t know, we are
gonna invest more resources and time of internal employees to actually build
on that instead of actually you know outsourcing it all.
Controlling the projects and keeping the flow is really important. So how many program
are we always talking about today? Today we’ve got…
mmm-hmm sorry I would have to count them. I would say right now we’ve got about 12
or 13 programmers. That’s a lotta testing consisting of various roles right,
senior software engineers you know lead software engineers that
kind of thing. Nice one 😀 and so I don’t know if you heard but there is one company in the
States that is now outsourcing or reselling their own software the
software that they build for their own property management company they now are now selling it. is this something that you’d be looking
into doing in the future? You know, I don’t believe that it’s
really on the roadmap at this point right now but I mean hey
anything’s possible in the future and you know that would be obviously
something for my cohorts to actually speak to but yeah I think anything’s
possible for Stay Alfred I mean this space is constantly changing and
evolving and I think everybody is pivoting and reacting in various ways I
think that we are sticking true to our core of what we do and that’s we’re
offering amazing places and we’re easy to do business with and
that’s kind of what we try to aim for right now
on our traditional you know niche the best of hotels and best vacation rentals
kind of thing so. Because how many apartments you have now or how many units?
We’re up to 2500 units right now Tigers! Tigers! Okay this is close to your
heart let’s talk about marketing and distribution. How do you choose your
channels? how do you know where’s the best, which are the best OTAs to
advertise on for business travel leisure Sure, Similarweb, just look it up, just look
up the channel and see what kind of traffic they’re getting and where it’s
coming from everything else and you’d be able to figure out if you’re going to
spend time with it or if it’s worth it. No, I kid I mean there’s there is that a tool that we use to
kind of sift out leads and stuff because a lot of folks will come in and say: ¨Hey
we should you know get on your OTA and we want to make sure that what we’re
partnering with is something that is a customer that
they have on their platform that Stay Alfred can accommodate and actually
meets really well with, but I think there’s some there’s some interesting
channels that are emerging out of the space, one of one of them that we’re
actually looking at right now and about to about to integrate with is Anyplace.com I’m not sure if you’ve heard of those guys but they work mostly with
just 30 day plus days and so it’s an Interesting Channel they actually have a
very good brand and they have a great site and they seem
to have a really good model figured out. A lot of things too with channels
that come into consideration for me to choose is a channel that’s
somewhat easy to do business with because we try to be easy to do business
with so we’d like to make sure that somebody else’s is emulating that as
well. And I know that channels you know as soon as I started
realizing when I first started doing distribution, is that you know they are
just a marketing platform for us. They aren’t ours they
were not trying to rob direct bookings from them or anything our presence
out there is because we don’t have the SEO and the PPC spend that those
channels do. With Google to actually drive stuff to us, so we utilize them
to actually extend our brand out there get new customers in and once we
have them if people decide you know they can they can come and stay with us
directly the next time and do our loyalty program do other pieces so I
really feel that those new OTA channels that come out and selecting
them really it really depends on if they’re easy to do business with, if they’re
not really putting a lot of constraints on your business model to do certain
things and just yeah just in general just really easy to do business with and
make a good relationship for the end user which is the guest. How did you come
about Anyplace.com? How did you find out about it? Honestly
we look at every type of marketing materials that are out there, subscribe
to everything we possibly can that comes back through distribution you know or an
OTA kind of stuff and so… We saw that these guys were raising some
money and went and looked them up and saw that they’re getting some traffic
and they had a really cool little you know piece of a market that I think
that was something we’re trying to align ourself with a little bit more going
forward strategy and so that’s kind of where I got another one
that’s very similar to them is a Second Address if you’ve heard of them,
they have stuff as well, very similar in that nature and then actually
through Rentals United we’re going to be Integrating ¨Homes To Go¨ shortly, so kind
of vacation rental metasearch type channel, but yeah I mean we’re constantly
thinking about stuff but we also don’t want to overly saturate with lots of
tons of channels because you start thinking about it it’s a lot of
work it’s a lot of maintenance and instead of steps deluding yourself down
and spreading your stuff really thin it’s better to I think in my opinion to
concentrate your efforts on the channels and make sure that you’re operating on
all eight cylinders, so to speak, with regards to what those channels are
offering and what you can optimize and do on them if you don’t spend
enough time or if you over saturate yourself and all these channels you
won’t be able to actually see what they can do individually to their full
potential. That´s some very good advice. And so how do you market to owners that I have I know some property
managers here they will not invest at all in their own website because it’s
too expensive right, so they say we just work with OTAs we don’t you know we
don’t advertise my own website what we focus on marketing on is owners that we
make a real push for. So what do you how does it work? how do you market not so
much to owners but to the companies that you lease the buildings from? Is
there a whole sales team dedicated to that? Yeah, we do, we actually
have a full business development team that basically goes out and looks for
inventory and looks for relationships, high-level relationships
with developers and property owners but we also have a b2b marketing team as
well that is helping to elevate that as well. You may have seen some of our stuff
we do we’ll do webinars as well and not and not just talking about you know, get more inventory just for Stay Alfred selfishly, but
almost more for the space trying to actually help developers and property
owners and other folks understand about this space so that it isn’t something
that has to be the you know frowned upon because it’s a short-term rental or not.
It could be something that is a really unique opportunity for developers and
property owners to help with lease up is what they call it in being able to get a
lot of their their units rented to meet the needs that they have for their own
business and we’re a great partner for that, you know, we have great reviews
from lots of our developers and property owners, based on just how our guests are,
how we operate the business and what we do and I think that our b2b marketing
team does a great job of surfacing those aspects in venues like webinars
as well as just marketing pushes and email campaigns and things that they’re
doing to try and really really leverage that kind of community to bridge with
the vacation rental space or the short term rental space. Nice initiative, I’d
love to have the link of the podcast and and I will add it to notes of this one.
Sure, yeah, I’ll have my team send out Yeah, cool, so last two questions promise. Your feelings about the relationship
with Rentals United 😀 Oh, those guys… 😀 you know, honestly ,Rentals United it’s
something that has been a blessing honestly, I think for Stay Alfred
We started off when we were a little bit, quite a bit smaller with Rentals United.
We had just migrated from Kigo as a PMS to Streamline and before Kigo had managed
Booking.com and all the OTA´s pretty much all
through that platform and we outgrew Kiko but by quite a bit and then
we joined with Streamline and realized oh wait, what’s channel management? We
actually have to figure out how to do channel management. Oh okay,
so we started talking to Rentals United and, you know, it just became a really
great relationship that has developed over the years just because as stay
Alfred has grown massively and expansively, I think that Rentals United
has reacted accordingly as well for our business. Because it is very unique, we
distribute more like a hotel so, multi-unit style logic and that is
something that I don’t think was the core of Rentals United when we first
started. And I think that you guys have really adapted to that and made a strong effort to figure that piece out because it is a
big piece that’s coming up in the space. And just I don’t know I just think that
there’s a a sense of genuine… horrible English here, but just a really genuality,
just something very genuine about Rentals United and the relationship we
have with them. Seeing them at conferences, meeting with them, talking to
them, being able to have one-on-ones with James the CEO and really
just being able to know that we have a very confident relationship and that
things are resolved very quickly when we have any issues that happen.
I think it’s a great relationship and but we are honestly right now, we’re
building our own integration to Rentals United, to go directly with them and it’s
a really exciting thing for us just because it just strengthens our
relationship and the speed at which we can do business. Well with you as our
partner may it so long continue. Very last question. Your industry predictions
for 2020? What do you think will happen next year? It´s a tricky one, isn’t it 😀 I bet. yeah, I think industry
predictions I mean we’re gonna Stay Alfred’s really gonna focus on what
we’re doing and then try to keep it there and hopefully you know stay away
from a lot of the I think from the noise that may happen with all the the
changing and pivoting that happens because we really have a really good
core of what we’re doing I would say predictions wise I think that the market
is going to continue to expand. I think that there will be hopefully some
loosening of inventory or cautiousness to doing short-term rentals. I think that
this market it’s really gonna expand a lot and start showing that there’s a
tool set for property owners and developers to really maximize what their
business efforts are and their intentions are doing because there’s
there’s a lot of expansion out there there’s a lot of new builds there’s a
lot of things going on and I think that if I think those folks are gonna start
really realizing that you know this space is something that is definitely
needed and that the majority of the travel space is starting to ask for it
really heavily and actually almost demanding that it is there. And so I
think that’s something that’s really going to happen
in the next year and that hopefully it’s going to start loosening in that
way.Great, great, thank you so. It´s been really interesting. I’m going to type all of this up. Publish the videos and
the podcast and hopefully our listeners and viewers will be able to
learn from you and from your success at Stay Alfred, so, thanks so much and take
care. Yeah, thanks I appreciate it.

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