VRS471 – Going Above and Beyond with Short-Term Rental Hospitality – Catherine Ratcliffe?


This episode of the Vacation Rental Success Podcast is sponsored by Hostfully
An All-In-One property management platform that allows Vacation Rental Owners & Property Managers to handle all aspects of their business in one easy-to-use space.


The Destinationaire Awards are presented to hosts and managers who show a high standard of commitment to the guest experience, team culture, the foundation of a strong community, and proper representation of Hospitality as a whole.

Founder of the Awards, Wil Slickers, says, “A Destinationaire is a person who is wired to create remarkable experiences that are anticipated and shared.”

Catherine Ratcliffe, the owner of Lost Together Stays, was nominated by multiple people and in this episode shows how remarkably able she is, to not only meet the criteria of a Destinationaire, but vastly exceed them.

Catherine shares:

  • How the loss of two wonderful women in her life inspired her business
  • The importance of creating a family legacy
  • Why she was ‘fired’ by two property management companies
  • The Lost Together brand and how it came about
  • The team culture that keeps her cleaning staff loyal and invested in her vision
  • How a Lucy Maude Montgomery quote is core in managing her people
  • How a tractor and a Jack Daniels barrel became part of the story
  • The tech stack that underpins good systems in the business
  • Her tips to create a successful business

Links:

Lost Together Stays

Breezeway

Touchstay

Owner Rez

Avalara

Price Labs

Stayfi

Heather Bayer

Today I'm super delighted to have with me one of the recipients of the Destinationaire Awards. I spoke to the founder of the Destinationaire Awards, Will Flickers, a few episodes back, and I'll put a link to that episode in the show notes, because I think you'll want to check it out.

Heather Bayer

The award features those who are truly wired to create remarkable experiences. That comes straight from the ‘Slick Talk Hospitality Podcast' site, talking about what a destinationaire actually is. It shows a high-standard of commitment to the guest experience, a team culture, the foundation of a strong community, and proper representation of hospitality as a whole. Now, over the next few months, I'm hoping to interview all of the recipients of the award this season, and the first one is Catherine Ratcliffe. Her company, Lost Together Stays, is a brilliant example of what a destinationaire is. So without further ado, let's move straight on over to my interview with Catherine.

Heather Bayer

And don't forget, we'll be pausing halfway to pose another question to David Jacoby from Hostfully, our sponsor. So hang out for that one as well.

Heather Bayer

So I'm super happy to have with me today, Catherine Ratcliffe from Lost Together Stays. As I mentioned in the introduction, Catherine was the recipient of a Destinationaire Award, that was presented at the Book Direct Show in Miami back in October by the founder of the Destinationaire Award, Will Flickers. Did that come as a surprise, Catherine?

Catherine Ratcliffe

A complete surprise……. Absolutely no idea.

Heather Bayer

Yes,  I was sitting there and I think I knew you were a winner, and I saw your face. It was clear that nobody had spilled the beans before the event happened.

Heather Bayer

So we're going to go in and talk about how you felt about winning the award. But firstly, I wanted to thank you so much for joining me today and talking about what it is, what's in your DNA and the company's DNA that brought you to this spot where you've been given one of the industry's really prestigious awards.

Heather Bayer

So yeah, thank you. Thank you for being here and we'll kick off. I'm going to ask you to tell us a little bit about yourself and where you live and where your properties are.

Catherine Ratcliffe

Well, thank you so much Heather, I appreciate it. So I am originally from Ottawa, Canada, and I moved here to the Tampa Bay area in 1998.  I moved in, very probably, not the most parentally friendly way. I was a dual-citizen, so I packed my futon, my dog and my milk jug.  I thought I knew everything there was to being an American, and I always talk about this when I do presentations because I think it's important to the fabric of the lesson I learned at a very young age, which was that you think you know everything and it's the small things that you miss. So I packed my milk jug and I moved to Tampa and realized only in Ontario does milk come in bags.

Heather Bayer

I knew that's where you were going with that, because I thought, why are you taking a Canadian milk jug, or Ontario milk jug, to somewhere where milk comes in cartons. It doesn't come in plastic bags.

Catherine Ratcliffe

It does not. So that milk jug has been used to water Christmas trees, to bathe my children, and has been part of every training session or presentation that I have ever done because it's really the foundation of not missing the small things, so that's part of what I've tried to do. So I've been a working mom, I'm in a large group employee benefits firm. So it's fast-and- furious-mom-on-fire.

Catherine Ratcliffe

My family was obviously in Canada, my husband's family – just before we got married his mother was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's, so we didn't have a lot of ability for some family support; so it was literally on fire.  He traveled, I traveled, and so our vacations were ‘the moment' that we could try to make it all look like Norman Rockwell imagery for our children and everybody else that was around. And you put so much thought and planning and money and importance on those events, and it would be those small things that would fall down. Whether it was – I didn't know where the property manager's office was – I don't know, for me, I just always wanted to get it right and to not feel like I didn't have it together for my kids, because for the other 51 weeks of the year it was just all kinds of craziness.

Catherine Ratcliffe

So I was a guest for a long, long time first, and then my mother died in 2017 after a long illness that kept her in an in-patient facility for a long time, and she never got the retirement that she wanted, and I sort of had this complete midlife crisis saying, who says you get a retirement?  Because my mother-in-law had died at 62 of ALS, and I really embraced this ‘in the moment' kind of mentality.  I was desperate for pictures and stories and memories, and I was tracking down all my mom's co-workers that were retired and vacationing in Florida.  And then I transitioned to – What was the memory?  What were the stories going to be for my children? Because I had been living this life-on-fire as this amazing professional, but not always the best mom, there were things I just failed at.  I kept some silly things, the daycare sent me a note one time with my youngest daughter because she'd gone to school with two left shoes, you just do the best you can and you hope for the best.

Heather Bayer

It brings to mind that image of the swan sailing serenely across the water, and you don't see the mad panic that's going on underneath.

Catherine Ratcliffe

Absolutely. So I really started thinking about, well, what was this legacy going to be? Because so much of who I was for 51 weeks of the year was defined by my career, and I'm not sure that there was going to be anything tangible from a large group employee benefits firm, that was going to be there for my children to kind of hold on to. So I said to my husband one day,  I'm going to buy a condo on the beach. He thought I was just crazy, like, okay, sure, go do that; it was a very silly reaction and he didn't come with me, my middle daughter came with me. And we went, and I lined up viewings, and I worked it all out, and I came home, and he said, how did it go? And I said, good, I put an offer in, and he said, what? And I said, it's going to be great, and so he was just completely baffled. And I showed him how I had worked it out, as it was already a rental property I had the metrics. I knew that what they had done previously, and I had seen it, and I knew what I would do slightly differently – with no experience mind you, other than being a guest.

Catherine Ratcliffe

And so it went through, and there was a lot of harried moments in the process going through it, but we did. And then it was managed by a property manager, and I am a person who always asks questions, I'm very process-oriented – and that can be a good thing or a bad thing – and so the property manager fired me because she said I asked too many questions!  I just wanted to understand, that's just who I am. So I was frantic because I was at a conference in Orlando. I thought, oh my God, how am I going to tell my husband that not only did I put us in a situation with this condo, but now we just got fired by a property manager for my questions? So we found another property manager, and it was also not a great experience because they didn't get us any bookings, and so here we were. We financially took a complete chance on this condo, and they didn't get us any bookings, so I frantically went on Vrbo and put my listing up, and it started booking; I had help with a friend in doing that. So then they fired me, because they said their model didn't support me getting all the bookings. Well, it wasn't my intention to do this, but here we were, I had to cover the mortgage, and so I started just doing it on my own.

Catherine Ratcliffe

I realized that my first piece was identifying a cleaner and making sure that I had a very close relationship with that cleaner. The cleaner needed to be respected, needed to have realistic parameters of what they needed to do, what time frames they had to be able to get that done in, and the compensation had to be fair. So I believe that I pay my cleaners probably better than most people, because I rely on them so much. My condo is only an hour from my house, but again, I was working this full time job. I travel all over the country, my husband travels, I have three children, I have a dog. With all these kinds of things I couldn't just run over. So our first thing that came up was a plumbing issue, a.  I was at work prepping for a big client meeting, and I couldn't just run over to the condo and deal with the plumbing issue, I had to triage that. I realized it didn't really matter if I was 15 minutes from the property or 9 hours, I had to have a system, and so that's really what I worked through.

Heather Bayer

There's a couple of things I want to just go back on here. One is your story is remarkably similar to mine. My mother died at 65 from MS, and I went through exactly the same, looking for what am I going to give my children for those memories, and then buying that first property and having absolutely no clue what to do, you do your absolute best. We had our share of plumbing issues as well, so, yes, I very much relate to what you're talking about. Then that point about cleaners and having that relationship with the cleaner. I mean, I don't know about you, but with mine – Carol was my first – she started out as a cleaner. We changed her name to Property Manager. So she became the property manager for the properties that we owned. I think she almost gained two inches when we said, you're not our cleaner, you're our property manager. It was like just changing that title made a massive difference to her. So I'm glad you mentioned that, so often you hear people, it's almost a throwaway line about a cleaner. “Oh, I need to get a cleaner.  I need to get somebody to come in”. You agree with me that that's just not the way to treat that part of the business?

Catherine Ratcliffe

No, absolutely not. I mean, I have such a personal relationship with my cleaners. It's very important to me to know them and for them to know me. So you remember them for other things, whether it's Christmas or whatever it is, you always want to make sure that you share with them any successes and give them every opportunity. We really try to establish a relationship. I think having been a small business, because from a brokerage firm perspective, we are a small business, and I really learned how to create that family environment with all of your team members and making sure that you recognize them in the good times and the difficult times. Because when there is a complaint, when something does go wrong, you have to address it, and sometimes that can be difficult. Sometimes I think you worry too much about upsetting the cleaner or giving negative feedback, which as long as you give it constructively, it's not necessarily negative, but balls do get dropped sometimes. I always use a line from ‘Anne of Green Gables' where they say, tomorrow's fresh with no mistakes in it, and what I love about the short-term rental experience is that I have a new opportunity every seven days or four days to start over.

Catherine Ratcliffe

So this went left, this was not the way we wanted it to go, and so I can regroup with that person and just say, all right, this is what we're going to do differently, or, you know, the guest is being unreasonable about this, but we need to be client-centric on this and kind of show up a little bit differently, and that's always helped. I think even from a business model perspective, I try to protect my cleaners in those ways, too. I have a property in Homosassa, Florida, which is renowned for snowbirds coming down, and I don't have anything over seven days available, and I do that very, very strictly. A lot of people say, but you can be booked for three months in the wintertime. And I say, yes, but my cleaner can't get paid, and I need to make sure my cleaner gets paid every four to seven days, and that is my primary goal. I would rather have a lower occupancy and a more reliable and tighter relationship with my cleaner than have a guest that's going to be here for 30 or 60 days.

Heather Bayer

Tell me about your other properties. So you started with the condo, where did you go from there?

Catherine Ratcliffe

So from there I went to Blue Ridge, Georgia, Just outside Blue Ridge in Epworth. During COVID we went and at the condo Monday through Friday and then went home on the weekends, and it was great. At one point, I told my husband, I think we're going to have to rent the house in Tampa and just live here because this is too amazing, you can't ask me to go back home. And then as the world started to come back, there was a lot of people, and I think beaches in Florida sort of were off the rails pretty quickly. And at that time, I had also come off a fairly interesting family situation because my brother is a federal politician in Canada and I wanted some privacy, I couldn't get any kind of escape from anything. So I thought, well, the mountains is a great place. My husband and I had gone to Ellijay, Georgia, for our first anniversary, and so I started looking and I went up there and met with a builder and talked to him about what I was looking for, and so we started the project there and the design.

Catherine Ratcliffe

And again, my husband said, how are you going to manage something 9 hours away in Georgia? You're going to have two properties now, and I'm still working, and I said, it's going to be fine, I know it's going to be fine. So that took a lot of community investment, in a different way that Madeira did, because Madeira is just a beach town, so it's very different to Blue Ridge. To be successful in that community, I had to really change or expand some of my thought processes. So I don't consider any part of this a side hustle, which you'll hear some people say, and I don't really consider myself an investor. This is my legacy to my children, and I really believe in becoming part of the fabric of anything I do, and so with Blue Ridge, I was so invested in the community. I loved going there, I went every month and I would meet with town people and my builder, of course. And you got to the point where if I came to town and I hadn't called him ahead, he would be really disappointed to find out I was in town through somebody else.

Catherine Ratcliffe

But I would go up and I would just meet with people and talk to them. And I was involved in all the different social media pages, and interestingly, one of my brother's federal election was in September and their municipal election was in October. I watched the entire thing, and I couldn't say that I had one view or another on an issue, but I understood the human element of it. The mayoral election was hotly contested and I went and spoke to the daughter of the mayor who lost her position. I just wanted to check in and see how her mom was doing from a personal perspective, because I knew what that loss kind of felt like. And it meant so much to her that I had even known that that was the thing, because they viewed me as an outsider from Tampa, and that kind of changed once I started to be invested that way. I wasn't really viewed as an outsider, so I've been able to build a great community of people that I can call when I need help. It became important to know their children's names and what they were interested in and all their different things.

Catherine Ratcliffe

And I loved it. It was like just joining a little reality show that I just felt so privileged to be part of. I absolutely loved it. So I think you have to – for me anyways – I felt I had an obligation to not disrupt in a negative way what I fell in love with. So I really researched by following all the different social media pages, like, what are the issues? What are the issues that the folks are struggling with and why don't they want people coming here for different reasons? And sustainability and supply chain in Blue Ridge is very, very important, so I spent some time thinking about that and I went through and made sure that anything that I'm ordering for my guests or anything that my guests would need, whether it was coffee, toilet paper, Tide, whatever it was, I would order from Costco. And I got a storage unit and filled it up, so that my guests were not depleting what was on the grocery store shelves so that the locals, when they would go shopping, wouldn't have a shortage of any of that. But at the same time, any of the local things that I could provide, like in Blue Ridge specifically, I have the Blue Ridge Olive Oil Company where I leave some balsamic vinegar and olive oil for my guests and that I wanted to really support those small businesses and add those elements in.

Catherine Ratcliffe

So it was just a really neat journey. And when I built it, we had a lot of fun with it because I wanted a place where my brother's family and I could come together. So I have three children and I had a friend tell me after I had my third child, the world is not built for a family of five, and I said, I'm not sure I'm willing to accept that. I think I'm going to try to work on that. And so my world is really defined by we're a family of five, we don't fit into a nice tidy box and we have strong personalities and going back to your question about the name. That was sort of where it came from. So, first of all, the song is a little bit of the inspiration, which is the Blue Rodeo song Lost Together, and the lyrics of it really ring true with me. So when I would find myself on vacation with my children and all of a sudden I'm in that ‘mom moment', I was a little bit lost on what to do. They would say, what's for lunch? And that sort of thing, because I wasn't with them for lunch most times, except Saturdays and Sundays, but otherwise they were in daycare and then they were in school.

Catherine Ratcliffe

And so you spend your time saying, get off your cell phone and we're going to have some quality time. And that's everything you build up in your mind. And then you get there and you're like, I don't really know how to start this conversation with you. I don't know how to spend time, I'm not sure. So in all the different properties, we have a flow concept of how do you be together, but also have an opportunity to regroup and to start afresh. So for me, that might be my own personal time out. I did not parent that situation in the best way. I did not show up in the way I wanted to in that moment. I need to regroup with a cup of tea, a cup of coffee, whatever, and start back again. And so the flow is all designed through that. But also because my mother and my mother-in-law were in wheelchairs at the end of their lives, I'm always very cognizant of my own mortality. So the builder was dying laughing with me at a couple of points for he just couldn't understand – so there's a main-level room with an ensuite, and there's the loft with an ensuite upstairs?  His concept was everybody builds the loft. It's to be this big, beautiful, luxurious room. And I was trying to do the equal on the main level, and he asked, I don't understand it. And I said, well, this is my geriatric unit, this is all well and good upstairs, so I can make it upstairs, but after that, this is it. So he laughed, but there was a lot of thought that went into some of those things. And then we expanded in March to Homosassa, Florida, which is sort of Weeki Wachi/Crystal River area. It's an old Florida fishing town. It's renowned for manatee and scalloping, and my brother-in-law has a place up there. It's silly because we both live in Tampa, but it takes us an hour to get to each other, so we never see each other in Tampa, we see each other in Homosassa; we're a mile away.

Catherine Ratcliffe

My oldest daughter was going into a junior year and my middle daughter is fast tracking through college while in high school and it just felt like they were slipping away, and I needed to create these tangible memories.  They've all put sweat-equity into each property. They've been there to plan it out and everything, but I wanted more. So with Homosassa, it's been really special to watch my brother-in-law teach them how to drive a boat and how to fish and how to do all of these different things. Just those memories that they'll never lose and they'll always be able to go there and say, this is what I got to do.

Heather Bayer

I think you've really been hitting the core of why you've got this award, going back to what Will says on his site, Team Culture, because I think it sounds like your team is not just your cleaners and your plumbers, but it's the family as well. You're building the family in, and I love the story of what you're doing in Blue Ridge and becoming part of the community. This is clearly not a rinse and repeat exercise for you when you buy a property. And I did take note of what you said about this is not a side hustle, as I feel sometimes that there is so much out there that says, start this Airbnb and make loads of money and sit back and just watch it come in. So it's so refreshing to hear you talk about your commitment to getting involved in the community, because we hear so much about communities struggling with short-term rentals, and it's people like you that are going to turn the tide. I think the other way, if we can get more of you, we need to start cloning you.

Catherine Ratcliffe

I try. I just I love it. I love the uniqueness of each environment. I always tell people I'm a reluctant runner when people ask for my bio. That's always something that's in there. People say, what do you mean by reluctant runner? I say, well, my mother-in-law and my mother were in wheelchairs, and I feel a responsibility to myself, to them, and to my children to use my legs while I can. So there's a gentleman here in Tampa called Matthew Cole, and he does some 5Ks up in Blue Ridge. I brought a girlfriend of mine up there and I said, let's do a 5K, and we do a lot of 5Ks here. We do the Skyway Bridge and all that kind of stuff; it's just a fun thing we do. So let's go to Blue Ridge and do a 5K, and she was thoroughly entertained. She'd never been there, and we had such a great time, and it brought attention from somebody who had never gone there before to do it, and it's really supporting some of those local businesses, and we had a lot of fun. But the unique thing about doing that, and I've heard you say this to many, many people on your show and on some of the others, is to experience being a guest.

Catherine Ratcliffe

When I go, I go with a particular mindset, but by bringing some of my friends along, we can see it in a different light. So I'm going usually with my family and I'm not looking to get rowdy or anything like that, but when I went with my girlfriend, she said, let's do Bloody Marys in the morning. And I said, sounds like a great idea, and then I realized Fannin County does not sell  liquor. You can buy wine and you can buy beer, but you can't buy liquor. So by going with somebody else, I got a slightly different lens because that would be something that was very important for somebody else that was coming along to know those types of things. So I've tried to, with each property, bring different people to the area and have them go through the experiences with me slightly differently so that I can learn and I can be a better host.

Heather Bayer

I want to come back in a few moments to talk about your target market, because you're beginning to touch on that. But I just want to take a break from the interview and go across to the President and Co-founder of Hostfully, who's our sponsor. David's answering one of the most common questions we hear from property managers when they consider switching to a new property management system or are starting up for the first time.

Heather Bayer

So welcome back to David Jacoby from Hostfully. David, some people consider you both a property management software and a channel manager. Tell us about your channel integrations.

David Jacoby

Yes, you bet. Having direct channel integrations with the popular OTAs, the popular channels, is really important for a strong property management software and that's been our focus from day one. So we are very proud to be the only property management software in the United States that has preferred partner status for Airbnb, Vrbo and Booking.com. So that's them saying that our integrations are in the elite category, not just us saying that. In addition to that, we were one of the first property management softwares to integrate with Marriott Homes & Villas. So we have direct integration with them, and pretty soon, maybe by the time this goes live, we'll be live with Google as well. So having those big channels and direct integrations is really important. And in addition to that, we have integrations with lots of other niche channels like Golightly. We were the first that they integrated with, so we're constantly adding lots of other niche channels, like Find Rentals to help with your distribution, and in addition to that, having an awesome direct booking website. We have many ways of helping you with that. So we have an out-of-the-box booking website that's just a couple of clicks and you're live.  And we have integrations with some of the best website builders in the industry, like Hudson Creative Studio and Boostly and ICND and a few others.

Heather Bayer

Terrific. Thank you, David Jacoby.  So, back with Catherine Ratcliffe, and we're talking about your target market. Now, Catherine, you've got thethree very different places. Do they attract very different groups of people?

Catherine Ratcliffe

Yes and no. They're different areas. So some people desperately want the beach and other people don't like the beach, they don't like the sand, and they want to go to the mountains. But the fundamentals of the guest profile are the same. So I think I'm my target guest. So I'm looking for groups of people that don't fit in that tight tiny box.  So it tends to be designed for people that are, whether it's a group of friends or siblings or a family like mine, where you're really trying to put together this great vacation and you need your own space. So nothing is a two bedroom for me. Everything that I do is a three bedroom and up, because I'm looking for, again, that family of five that feels like there's no comfortable place for them to go – or greater. My brother has five children. So you're trying to corral seven people, or if we're together and we're twelve, what does that look like, how does that feel? And so going through that process of that guest identification, it's certainly not somebody who's looking for the lowest cost place to go. I'm never going to be that, but I think I'm going to provide a great experience.

Catherine Ratcliffe

So I'm looking for a guest that is truly looking for an experience, not just a place to lay down at night.  So the properties are very unique and very personal. I didn't want anything that had pictures or anything like that. Not personal in that regard, but personal in that there was a story behind the things within the property and the layout. And I share that story with my guests and I think it helps the guests to understand that this is an experience. And I feel like when you meet them, at that point, they respect your place a little bit and they choose you for you. They choose you for what you provide in that experience. So it is somebody who often is, again, very much that demographic of working parents or multi-generational trying to come together and not always perfect. So that's where from communication to the layout, I try to set expectations and anticipate needs.

Catherine Ratcliffe

As I walk through the property, and my middle daughter can tell you when we built the cabin in Georgia, it was 5 hours with the electrician where we were walking through the property and we're opening ‘pretend' doors and thinking about where will the guests think that the lights should be and what's going to make the most sense.

Catherine Ratcliffe

I really spend a lot of time to make sure that, like me, that mom has hung all her hopes on this one week vacation and reconnecting with their kids or their spouse or getting along with their in-laws or whatever it is that they're doing, that you don't fall down on the small things. Of, the grocery store closes at six on Sundays and you arrive at seven, those types of things. So the the guests that's doing the best you can.

Heather Bayer

Yeah, I very much relate to that. I remember going to the Bahamas once and the flight was delayed and we had absolutely nothing with us and had no idea that the store closed at six in the town on the way through and we dawdled and missed it. So no cold beer or wine on that first night – I love that.

Heather Bayer

I just want to go back to something you said about the story behind things in the property, can you give me some examples?

Catherine Ratcliffe

Sure. So I had a lot of fun building out the Blue Ridge property and I felt a very strong connection to all of my family as I was building it. I was very close to my mother-in-law, I was one of very, very lucky group of people that adored their mothers-in-law, and so I have a few tributes in there of her favorite things.  There's a Jack Daniels barrel in there. She loved Jack Daniels and we used to say her two best friends were Jack and Ginger, aAnd so there's a Jack Daniels barrel. I reached out to a local person who would build it for me and I like to talk to each of the partners that I work with. So I was talking to him and I couldn't believe when he said that his father-in-law had just been diagnosed with ALS, and I was like, this is meant to be, I was just amazed. And so we've stayed in touch and talked a little bit about what that feels like to be the son-in-law, daughter-in-law of that situation and all that kind of thing.

Catherine Ratcliffe

There's a table there that I feel a very strong connection to. My grandfather worked for Massey-Harris, which then became Massey Ferguson in Toronto. So I was looking for a 1960s tractor that I would be able to chop down into a tractor bar. So I found this man in Georgia that had one for sale and I contacted him and we're talking and we have this honest moment as I'm asking questions about the tractor, is it the original paint? And all that kind of thing, and he says to me, I feel like I need to be honest with you, he said, it leaks oil. I said, well, I feel like I need to be honest with you too, it's about to become a bar. It was just a really funny moment because he didn't want to, you know, swindle me and sell me a lemon tractor.  It's a beautiful tractor, and I found a local craftsman, he's an older gentleman, and he made it all for me and put a motorcycle battery on it. It's got headlights and everything. So there's a lot of fun things like that that are very personal.

Catherine Ratcliffe

So those stories are in my guidebooks for my guests to read, and I think that's where they get excited about it, and it's a very personal experience as opposed to, here's your cookie-cutter property, and this is what it is.

Heather Bayer

I love that you do that. You use Touch Stay for your guides, and I love that you put those stories in there. I mean, I've been through one of the guides, I've looked at it and I got really absorbed in it, and that's what makes these guides just really stand out, because you can imbue them with your personality and with the stories behind the property. I really love that.

Heather Bayer

I just want to touch a little on your website on losttogetherstays.com, and I'll put a link to that in the show notes and encourage everybody to go have a look. There's a few parts of this website that I really love. You have a great ‘About Us' page. I am so focused on having a personal ‘About Us' page, and I loved to see yours. Your photographs are outstanding. Professionally done are they? Or do you do them yourself?

Catherine Ratcliffe

Yes. They're all professionally done by local photographers.

Heather Bayer

Yes. And they just stand out so much. Tell me about direct booking, how is that working for you?

Catherine Ratcliffe

It's going well. I appreciated a lot of the necessity for it through COVID and through some of the platform changes that were there. I was only ever on Vrbo, and I use Stayfi as well to capture the guests' emails and then market to them afterwards. I think for me, it's about control of the guest experience and getting the right guests in my unit because that's important to me because they are so personal. But also, I wanted to own my reviews. So going back to the beginning, I wanted this as a legacy piece for my children. When I'm gone, all those reviews are on my website. No one can ever take them down, and they can read all the very personal reviews, and those will be the stories that they'll have.

Heather Bayer

The reviews are wonderful. I've spent some time and I think everybody should do this, go through Catherine's reviews on the Lost Together Stays website, because it's the reviews that often tell you, isn't it, what a host is doing well, but they also tell you what guests want and how you're meeting those needs. So I learned a lot from your reviews, always still learning. So, as I say, I encourage everybody to go and take a look at those.

Heather Bayer

So, Catherine, what would you say are the biggest challenges you've faced over the course of building up these three properties and making them so successful.

Catherine Ratcliffe

So I think the first thing is getting your tech stack right. It's really important to make sure that you don't overlayer and that you have the appropriate layering of that technology so you can focus on the things that really make you great at what you do, and setting door codes is not what makes you great at what you do. So really focusing in on that and then staying true to who you are, because sometimes, and I've experienced this in my professional career as well as this, sometimes people come along with a lot of ideas about what you should do and how you should do it and how they know better. And so you need to stay true to that, but also always be willing to grow and learn and be open. I read other people's reviews too, and so sometimes it really strikes me that, man, and I did this with the beachfront, all I need to do is make sure there's a pizza cutter. Like, wow, I can do that. So be learning all the time, but also don't lose yourself in it. Just because somebody says you should be pet friendly doesn't mean you need to be pet friendly.  That's important too.

Heather Bayer

Yes, exactly. I just wanted to go back onto the tech stack you mentioned. You'd mentioned Touch Stay and Stayfi is something you use. What else would you recommend in terms of your own tech stack?

Catherine Ratcliffe

So I use Breezeway to manage my cleaners because I am in three different areas and three different sets of cleaners and different things that need to be done in Blue Ridge. It's totally different than what used to happen at the beach and that kind of keeps me organized on lawn care or whatever has to be done. And that's very helpful. I use Owner res for my property management system and so that works out my communication flow. I use Avalara for my property tax and I use Price Labs for all my dynamic pricing, which helps me as well because I can kind of see where I'm at and where I want to be with all of that. Those are the main ones that I use.

Heather Bayer

Yeah, that's great. I loved what you said about don't overlayer because it's very difficult or challenging not to jump on the next best shiny thing and then before you know it, you've just got multiple software platforms that are abutting each other or overlapping each other. So I love that piece of advice. Talking about pieces of advice as we're coming to the end here, what would you, somebody who's listening to this, who is thinking maybe of getting into the business or has one property and thinking about buying another somewhere else, what would you recommend to them that they do?

Catherine Ratcliffe

I would say have confidence in yourself, listen to the experts, listen to a lot of podcasts, and really don't view it as a profit center view it as creating an experience because people are entrusting their memories with their loved ones, with their people, to you. And so you need to be authentic in what you provide and meet their expectations. And if it's not the right moment to do that, then don't do that.

Heather Bayer

Yeah, exactly. That is great advice. I love the best. Don't view it as a profit center. I've been in this business since the 1990s, and there was nothing out there to help you do this stuff. Then you just really had to do it from the seat of your pants and just hope for the best. And I learned a huge amount along the way just by listening to guests, just by hearing from them what it was they wanted, not what I thought they wanted. And it certainly sounds that's your philosophy as well. Let's just wrap up, just go back to sitting there in that room at the Destination Air Awards in Miami. How did that make you feel? How did you feel when they called your name out?

Catherine Ratcliffe

I mean, absolutely stunned. This was a very secret passion of mine. This is what I have done evenings, weekends, and given so much of myself personally, too, and I didn't think anybody in the room knew who I was. I knew who most people in the room were, and I felt very much like I was celebrity crushing all the way through it. So when they said my name, it was just I was absolutely shocked and honored. I've tried always to execute on the basics and believe that the good things will come about by doing that, by focusing on those little things and keeping the guests front of mind. And so I've done very well with that. But I never expected to be honored in this way by people that I consider to be the best in the industry. So it was an amazing honor. I could not believe it.

Heather Bayer

And having talked to you for this past 40 minutes or so, so well deserved. I'm in awe of what you've done. What is next for lost? Together stays. Are you done or is this going to grow more?

Catherine Ratcliffe

Yeah, it is going to grow more. We have two markets that we're focusing on for 2023, and they will not. It's all based on what makes sense for our family and where we go and the communities that we serve. So we expect to have two more coming for 2023.

Heather Bayer

That's fantastic to hear. Catherine, thank you so much for joining me. It's been an absolute I loved meeting you in Miami, and it's been a pleasure catching up and hearing more about Lost Together Stays and your philosophy behind it and the future ahead of you. So all good fortune going ahead, and thank you for sharing all this, and I'm sure it's so motivational and inspiring.

Catherine Ratcliffe

Thank you so much, Heather.

Heather Bayer

Thank you so much, catherine, that was truly inspirational and I think for anybody thinking about getting into this business or really growing into the business and making it something super, super special, then go back and listen to this again, listen to Catherine again, get in touch with Katherine, ask her any questions that you have. I'm sure she would love to speak with you. So I'll be so interested in hearing how her business grows and hopefully we'll come back in a year or so and go back to her and see where Lost Together Stays has gone over that time. So do go to the show notes. There's quite a lot in there in terms of links for you to go see. Go and check out her website. In particular, look at some of the reviews. Ask yourself, could I get reviews like this? I want to thank Will Flickers and the Destination Air Awards for recognizing Catherine and bringing her to the attention of the thousands of people that are going to download this episode, because I think it's so well deserved and so worthwhile for her to have this recognition. OK, that's it for another week of the podcast.

Heather Bayer

I hope you enjoyed this one. Of course, if you would like to leave me a review, I would love it. You know me, like everybody in this business, we like to see a five star review. If you've got any comments or feedback for me, please let me know at Heather@vacationrentalformula.com. And I want to say to anybody that has sent me an email that hasn't been responded to, please do so again because I now have an assistant. Our assistant, Tess is now in the background checking out all my emails, making sure they get responded too, because with the influx of messages that were coming in, I was getting lost in it. And after ten years, I've decided to get myself an assistant and Tess is already doing a fantastic job. So if you have emailed me, haven't had a response, I'm so sorry. You'll probably get a response now because she's going through my back catalogue of messages now and checking with me to make sure that I have responded. But anyway, I aim never to leave anybody unanswered in the future. Well, that's it for another week. Looking forward to being with you again next week.

Heather Bayer

I've got a great interview coming up with my friend Andy Medic, where we're talking about properties we've stayed at in the last year and sharing some of our feedback on them. I think you're going to find that really interesting. And then we're also talking to David. Jacobi from hostel. You've already heard from him in this episode, but I'm talking to him about the Hostel survey that is going to be published very shortly and there's some really interesting results from that that will definitely be worth listening to. And as we come up to the New Year, I'm interviewing Andrew McConnell from Rented for our annual review of the year. And look forward to 2023, and that's going to be super interesting as well. So stay tuned, keep listening, and I'll be with you again next week.

Heather Bayer

Thanks for listening and don't forget to check out Hostfully, our podcast sponsor. Head on over to the Virtual Vendor Showcase, where you can find out more about this incredible company. And don't forget to use the promo code VRF 100 to save $100. We look forward to you joining us on our next episode.

Heather Bayer

It's been a pleasure, as ever, being with you. If there's anything you'd like to comment on, then join the conversation on the show notes for the episode of Vacation Rental Formula. We'd love to hear from you and I look forward to being with you again next week.