Crystal Water Villas
Location: Gravois Mills, MO (Lake of the Ozarks)
QuickQuote: “Through social media and utilizing LiveRez’s SEO/SEM program, I’ve been able to eliminate the cost of advertising on sites like HomeAway and FlipKey and have not jeopardized in any way the number of reservations that have come through this year.”
Efficiency is Sherry Shippee’s best friend.
It’s allowed her to manage more than 30 lakefront vacation homes on Lake of the Ozarks all by herself. And her business, Crystal Water Villas, continues to grow 15 to 20 percent a year.
Her business is doing so well, in fact, that she recently was able to quit advertising on sites like HomeAway and FlipKey.
Wait. She manages more than 30 properties all by herself? Grows 15 to 20 percent a year? And doesn’t rely on HomeAway for her business? How does she do it?
For Shippee, it’s a combination of outsourcing work to the right people, utilizing technology, being selective with her inventory, and providing guests with outstanding customer service.
By sticking to these simple principles, Shippee and Crystal Water Villas now do more with less work and lower costs.
Rule 1: Niche Marketing Increases Efficiency
Shippee understands that her business operates in a niche market and rather than try to be all things to all people, she focuses her efforts on the guests and owners best served by her business.
You see, Crystal Water Villas manages only short-term rentals and only properties that are directly on the shore of Lake of the Ozarks.
Some may think that such a specific niche may limit her, but not when you look at how big Lake of the Ozarks is and how popular it is with visitors.
“If you stretched out the shoreline of the lake, it would be as long as the state of California,” Shippee said.
That’s a lot of shoreline, a lot of real estate and a lot of room to have fun whether it’s out on the water or inland nearby.
There’s no shortage of fun activities at Lake of the Ozarks. Shippee said you can often find guests boating, parasailing, visiting wineries and state parks, or even exploring nearby caves. There are even restaurants that guests can access via the water.
And, for visitors that need a place to stay, Shippee has a prime selection.
“We have the full gamet,” she said, “from (properties) with just the basic necessities – ones that could be used by a fisherman or just a small family that is looking for an economical getaway – all the way up to luxury homes that can house multiple families.”
Rule 2: Choose Quality over Quantity
Despite her growing inventory, Shippee doesn’t take just any home into her Lake of the Ozarks rental program.
“I am really selective of the types of properties I accept into our rental program,” she said. “If I don’t want to stay there, I won’t put it on our program.”
Shippee understand that it’s important that guests have an outstanding experience when they stay with Crystal Water Villas. And, they won’t get that if they’re stuck in a sub-par home.
“I want to make sure our guests have a very exciting and memorable experience while they’re staying at the lake and at our properties,” she said.
You see, choosing quality over quantity translates into less work for Shippee and better experiences for her guests – again, two more measures of efficiency.
Shippee extends this quality over quantity approach to other areas of her business, as well as the idea of niche marketing.
Rule 3: Outsourcing to Professionals Increases Quality and Efficiency
Shippee understands that running all of her company’s marketing efforts by herself would be a tremendous drain on her time. So, she outsources the work to professionals and then meets with them regularly to strategize.
The social media company that Shippee works with helps Crystal Water Villas build a following and increase engagement on its social media channels and even creates focused content for the company’s blog.
It has also helped Shippee run some very successful social media promotions.
One promotion asked guests to share photos of their stay on Facebook, with the guest whose photo received the most “likes” winning a week’s stay at one of Crystal Water Villas’ properties.
Another promotion asked guests to “like” the company on Facebook and then refer their friends for a chance to win free stays at the company’s properties.
Additionally, this social media service helps Crystal Water Villas use its blog to not only inform guests about area activities and events, but also to inform owners about things they can do to optimize their properties to get more bookings.
All these social media efforts are paying dividends. The company has well over 600 likes of Crystal Water Villas’ Facebook page. But, what’s more important than that number is the level of engagement the fans have with the page.
Shippee said that she’s seeing traffic coming to the company’s website from the Facebook page, and this traffic is targeted to the demographic Crystal Water Villas is looking for – another principle of niche marketing.
“We do have a smaller number of likes but those likes are specifically guests that have stayed with us before or have a love of the lake like we do,” Shippee said. “And, that’s exactly the type of people we want.”
Another thing that is driving business to her website is LiveRez’s SEO/SEM program.
“I’ve always been very annoyed with our web position and could not quite figure out how to get moved up on the search engines,” Shippee said. “When we started (on the SEO/SEM Program), we were ranking in the 30s, and some even in the low 30s or 40s, but (SEO/SEM Manager Sam Martin) has gotten us up to where we are single digits now, with the exception of maybe three or four terms, which are like 13 or 14.”
One strategy that Martin and the LiveRez SEO/SEM team have taken to help boost the website’s ranking is to pay close attention to consumer experience, especially on the website’s front page. This attention to detail has not only led to higher search engine placement, but also increased conversion rates.
“I’m just tickled pink,” Shippee said of Martin’s work. “I think he’s done an amazing job.”
Through a combination of better search engine optimization and her social media efforts, Shippee has been able to drop her advertising efforts on sites like HomeAway – a change that is leaving her with more money in her pockets at the end of the day.
“Through social media and utilizing (LiveRez’s SEO/SEM program), I’ve been able to eliminate the cost of advertising on sites like HomeAway and FlipKey and have not jeopardized in any way the number of reservations that have come through this year,” she said.
Rule 4: Embracing Technology Increases Your Efficiency
Shippee is a big believer in adopting new technology to help streamline her business.
In fact, she’s even helping educate her guests about how the technology she’s adopted can help streamline their booking processes. Currently, she’s running a promotion to better educate her guests about booking online, by giving them discounts to book online.
This promotion, along with the efforts of her social media team and LiveRez’s SEO/SEM program, has resulted in a significant increase in web bookings. So far this year, she’s already seen a 30 percent increased in web bookings, as compared to the first four months of last year.
“I count that toward the promotion plus the efforts of both Josh on social media and Sam with search engine optimization,” Shippee said.
Shippee said the savings in time with online bookings are “just phenomenal.” She estimated that when bookings come in over the phone, she normally spends five to ten minutes on the phone, answering questions and then inputting the reservation into the system.
“(When bookings come through online), it saves an enormous amount of time for me because I’m not taking that reservation over the phone,” she said. “Plus, it is giving the guest the opportunity to utilize all the features of the website. And, I think the more that they are exposed to the website, the better that creates our brand image within their mind. So, when they are thinking of vacationing at Lake of the Ozarks again, the first place they are going to come is Crystal Water Villas.”
Another LiveRez features that is saving Shippee time and helping keep Crystal Water Villas top of mind with guests is LiveRez’s new customer relationship management (CRM) tool.
LiveRez’s CRM tool lets managers create their own message templates customized to recipients and then control when those messages are sent through a number of event-driven send rules. This essentially allows managers to automate much of their e-mail communication with guests and owners.
“Oh my gosh, (the CRM tool) is amazing,” she said.
The CRM tool has been especially important to Shippee because just the communication aspect of managing 35 Lake of the Ozarks house rentals all by herself is a huge job. The system allows her to automatically send out e-mails informing guests and owners about reservations. Shippee said she’s using the CRM tool to e-mails guests about rental agreements, reminding them of payment due, and providing them lock box codes to the properties they’ve rented, as well as informing owners when their properties are booked.
“All those things that I used to do continually have all been automated. I almost feel like sometimes I can sit back and eat bon bons,” Shippee joked.
A Model for Success
Shippee is a good example of a manager whose smart business decisions are really paying dividends. Whether it’s adopting new technology like LiveRez’s CRM, outsourcing her marketing efforts to proven professionals, making smart decisions about her inventory or just ensuring that all of her guests have amazing vacations, Shippee has outlined a proven model for success.
Through this combination of niche marketing, quality control, smart outsourcing and embracing technology, Shippee has her business running on all cylinders.
It really is efficiency at its finest.