VRS477 – A Masterclass in Hospitality: The Sweet Success Story of Chalets Hygge Elite Hosts


This episode of the Vacation Rental Success Podcast is sponsored by OwnerRez
The World's Most Powerful Vacation Rental Management Platform That Homeowners And PMs Rely On


“That's the biggest thing I am a big believer in, you take care of people. And that doesn't mean you get run over like a doormat, but you take care of people and do it in the right way and things come back. And so with the concept of Hygge and leaning into it, it's something that I really believe in and I really wish for everybody to experience and have in their life.”

If there is a recipe for a successful property manager, it starts with owners who are 100% committed to hospitality and the guest experience.  They get into their guests’ shoes every step of the way to ensure everyone’s expectations are met and mostly exceeded.

American-born Kerri Gibson and her French Canadian husband Philippe are among these elite owners and managers for whom second-best is never an option.

Their stable of six beautiful chalets in the Eastern Townships of Québec has brought the two ex-corporate managers into full-time hosting and their story is inspiring.

The Scandinavian concept of ‘hygge’ is built into every part of their business from the name of the business (Chalets Hygge) to the décor, their website, and the warmth they deliver through marketing messaging.

In this episode, Kerri shares how they started up the business, their operational and marketing methods, and how they are achieving such great success after just a few years in the business. 

Some of the masterclass tips you’ll hear:

  • How they got into the STR business
  • The formula they use for renovations – commonalities and differences
  • How networking with local suppliers feeds into their wider marketing strategy
  • Why the focus on brand building pays off
  • Ways that guests contribute to the design flow
  • Creating a completely turnkey experience
  • How brand building became a core element of the business
  • Ways to use Instagram and Pinterest to increase interest
  • How it all comes together to create 80% direct book traffic
  • Great ways of working with micro-influencers
  • Ways to create the best guest experience

Links Mentioned:
VRS254 – Creating a Vacation Rental Hygge Experience with Sarah Bradford

Pinterest – Chalets Hygge

Instagram

Chalets Hygge

Noise Aware

Stayfi

Blink

Social Links for Kerri and Chalets Hygge:

Andrea Bayer

Welcome to this episode of the Vacation Rental Success Podcast. This episode is brought to you by the kind sponsorship from OwnerRez. Providing a powerful and flexible system for managing vacation rental properties, OwnerRez provides booking and maintenance management, payment scheduling and collection, as well as insightful reporting. OwnerRez will provide you with a long-term booking foundation that is scalable for your vacation rental business, while fully managing your channel listings, but still focusing on your brand, your website, and your way of doing things. Listen-in to the mid-episode break, where you will hear more about this internationally recognized leader in vacation rental software. For more information about OwnerRez, click the link in the description of this episode on your smart device. Let's get started. Here is your host, Heather Bayer.

Heather Bayer

Today I am talking to Kerri Gibson from Chalets Hygge in the Eastern Townships of Québec. Kerri's properties are all self-owned and managed and she now has six of them and is hugely successful, has a great website and terrific branding, and we're going to hear all about it in this episode.

Heather Bayer

This is the Vacation Rental Success Podcast, keeping you up-to-date with news, views, information and resources on this rapidly changing short-term rental business. I'm your host, Heather Bayer, and with 25 years of experience in this industry, I'm making sure you know what's hot, what's not, what's new, and what will help make your business a success.

Heather Bayer

Well, hello and welcome to another episode of the Vacation Rental Success Podcast. This is your host, Heather Bayer, and as ever, I am super excited to be back with you once again from very windy Alabama today. If you're watching this on YouTube, on the video, you'll see the lake in the background has almost got white caps on it. It's only a little lake called Little Lake, but yes, we've got pretty much white caps on there today and the RV is sort of shaking about a bit.  But hopefully I'll stay with you all through this episode.

Heather Bayer

And I'm so happy to come back to interviewing somebody for our successful Property Manager series, which we started several years ago. But it's been sort of intermittent that every so often I will speak to a property manager. Either somebody who's got multiple properties in the hundreds, or equally, a property manager who owns a handful of their own properties. Regardless, you're still property managers, whether you have 3 or 4 or 300 or 400. So I've really enjoyed doing these and haven't been doing enough of them. So you'll hear at the end of this episode where I'm going to be asking for some more case studies like this. And I think after you hear from Kerri, and our discussion on the way she manages her properties, how she introduces the Scandinavian concept of “Hygge” across the branding of all of them, how she creates wonderful experiences for her guests, how her website has evolved to become – and I call it this in this interview – a destination site, because I spent ages on it, going from page to page and really enjoying it. And I wasn't the site visitor looking to stay at a property.  I was exploring it for other purposes, but I became really involved in the site, so it's definitely a good one to take a look at.  So without further ado, let's move on over to my interview with Kerri Gibson of Chalets Hygge.

Heather Bayer

So I'm super delighted to have with me today Kerri Gibson from Chalet Hygge in the Eastern Townships of Québec. Always wonderful to talk to another Canadian company. Welcome, Kerri. How great to have you onboard here.

Kerri Gibson

Thank you, Heather. I'm honestly so delighted to have this opportunity. When I started short-term rentals, I didn't know anything about being a host. I knew a lot about being a traveler, but not about being a host. So I just absorbed as much information and knowledge as I could from others. And yours was actually the first podcast I ever started listening to, and it's still on my weekly rotation. So, yes, you have been one of my mentors from afar, and all the people that you have brought on that have just given me the pieces of information that have built me into the business that we are today.

Heather Bayer

That is so wonderful to hear, and thank you for that. If you've listened to the podcast, you've probably heard me say sometimes I sit here, particularly if I'm doing a solo episode, and think, is anybody out there? So it's always good to know that there are real people out there that do listen.

Kerri Gibson

Thank you.

Heather Bayer

Tell us a little bit about your business and what got you into it. That's a question I ask of everybody, the sort of origin story.

Kerri Gibson

I love the origin stories that I hear on your podcast and from other areas that come from and like most new entrants into the STR space, mine was a very windy, not clear path to how I ended up here. I was always a traveler, and actually I was a road lawyer for my previous life. And so I knew a lot about traveling, and I knew what a good experience looked like for me. But I'm actually a trained CPA by education, but spent the majority of my career in technology. So I worked for technology companies that created tax and accounting software for accounting professionals. So I'm a big lover of technology, have always been, and I spent 23 years doing that, a 23 year, amazing career that I absolutely loved. I am a numbers geek, I love the space, but working for a large, international, publicly traded company comes with a lot of the pressures and a lot of 24/7 nonstop, never taking a moment. So in February of 2017, I just had my moment where I knew it was time and I gave my resignation. And I can honestly say since that moment, it's been the right decision for me.

Kerri Gibson

I had no regrets, no remorse, and it's really been the right way for me to find the new path in my life. I had spent my years accumulating and honing my business and acumen skills. But yes, so I resigned in 2017 and at the time I was living full-time in Montéal, Québec. My husband is French-Canadian, I'm an American, and he had convinced me that I would enjoy the snow and the charming French accent. So I had moved to Québec in Canada full time in 2015. So the first thing I did after I resigned was I treated myself and went to France for three months to learn the French language. Being a resident of Québec, I felt it was my social and cultural responsibility to learn it and it's just a beautiful language. So I came back after three months of doing that and I honestly had no idea what I was going to do next. One idea that Philippe and I had for a pet project, to keep me occupied while I figured out what came next to my career, was to buy another ski chalet in the community we live in.

Kerri Gibson

Because we had gone through a renovation of our own chalet, a few years before and we found we really enjoyed the renovation and design process and we kind of had a knack for it. So where we live is a community of 288 ski chalets, so we're surrounded by them. So one came up for sale, and we purchased our first property in December of 2018 that needed a lot of renovation and hired a contractor, the one that did in our house, and we started working on it.  There were several opportunities on the plate that we considered.  Whether or not we were going to flip it; we tinkered mildly with the idea of it being a rental, because in the community we're in short-term rental is legal, it comes with it, which is great, and we are between 4 ski mountains, the biggest ski mountains in Québec, so we're really well-positioned. So that was on the plate. And I worked on renovating every single day and I started listening to podcasts at the time, downloading books on self-improvement, all the things you go through when you're trying to reorient your career and find what you're going to do.

Kerri Gibson

And then in June of 2018 we had another opportunity to buy another chalet, which was a little more turnkey, so we went ahead and acquired it. So I had two properties at the time, the one I was renovating and the one that really just needed some refreshing. And then in all of this, my husband changed his job and moved to Vancouver. So I now had what was previously our residence, that was now eligible for rental. So I went from zero properties with no experience to three properties on the OTAs in December of 2018. So it was a lot of learning, trial by fire, just getting out there and doing it. Everything I had learned and I had absorbed and creating the listings. I got really lucky along the way. While I was doing this, I met Dany Papineau, who is a STR leader here in Québec. His wealth of knowledge is just amazing. He used to do courses. He also now owns WeChalet, which is a rental platform here in Québec, but he also mentored me, one-on-one. So I learned so much from him. So I feel I had a really good starting step.

Kerri Gibson

But yes, I started with the 3 chalets and we went for it. And at this point, I still wasn't sure if I was going back to work or not. And as I got 3 ready to go on the market, or were on the market, I was thinking, okay, now what? And a neighbor approached us and wanted us to sell as his property as well. That's how we actually ended up buying 4, 5, and 6, was people approaching us, offering us to sell us their property, needing renovation, and we just kept acquiring them, kept renovating. And that's how it turned into a full-time job for me, one would finish and just right as I was finishing or after, someone would approach me and ask for another. And then as owner-operators of six chalets with a very small staff, I mean, it was a full-time job for me, seven days a week. So there was no consideration of going back to work. The question was just whether or not it was ever going to actually make money, to make it worth the time of what I was doing. So, yeah, that's how we got started.

Heather Bayer

That's such a great story. So you have 6 properties now?

Kerri Gibson

We do, we have 6 properties. We actually acquired 7, but with COVID we were able to leave the city and live here, and we actually live full-time in number 7.

Heather Bayer

Okay, so you came back, you're not in Vancouver, you're back in Québec.

Kerri Gibson

Yes, we came back to Québec. We're just East Coasters. Our heart is on the East Coast. I grew up on the East Coast.  But I just love Québec. Vancouver is great, but I always just wanted to be back. So when we got the opportunity for Philippe to transfer back to Montréal, we took it.

Heather Bayer

Okay, so when you're doing these renovations, do you use a formula to fix everything up, to do everything along the same lines, or is every one treated as a completely different project?

Kerri Gibson

Oh my goodness. So the first one that we did, I am not a designer by trade, obviously. I said, I don't know, I had a knack for it. But I spent a ton of time on Pinterest, just looking for design concepts and the Hygge-Scandinavian concept, that I love to see,  is what really, really spoke to me. And that's what I used to design our very first chalet, the one that we renovated, which actually ended up becoming the design and décor concept for all of our chalets. So at the base, they all start with the same, when we start to renovate them, you'll see the same paint palettes throughout, the same natural wood tones. We like to bring a lot of natural elements out, but we don't have a lot of geometric shapes and a lot of bright colors and patterns. It's all very soothing and simplistic with a lot of windows in the design, because while we're in a ski community in ski chalet, we have 288 of them here. It was designed starting in the '60s by a famous Québec architect whose goal was to preserve nature way before ‘eco' was friendly.

Kerri Gibson

So the whole development was built with the intention of leaving as many trees and minimizing the roads and everything in it. So we're in a very mature forest, which is beautiful. So even though you have neighbors, you're not looking in on each other, you don't see them. They were very genius the way they designed it and positioned it. So really you feel like you're in nature when you're in them because the fronts of them are all glass. So we wanted that to be the centerpiece of our design, and it is. We keep the base of simple, clean, neutral colors, keeping authentic to it, nothing crazy. And then when we are designing them on décor, they all actually have their own personality. That's where we start to differentiate them. And so that's where we'll bring in a little more whimsy or pops of color. We have what we call our Boho-Scandinavian. We have our mid-century modern Scandinavian, our traditional Scandinavian. We even have one that's a vintage Québec-Scandinavian. It's one of the ones that was in better shape and it had the original wood paneling and stuff, and we just couldn't bring ourselves to destroy that.

Kerri Gibson

So instead we really embraced the 1970s Québec chalet and bringing in the modern amenities and everything, but really embracing the time period on that one. We have a lot of repeat guests, so sometimes they rotate chalets and sometimes we have some that say, no, this is my chalet, and they come to the same one every time. But those that actually like to rotate because they like to see them all. But they know at the base what they can expect from a design concept and amenities in all of our chalets. It's just the actual décor experience and inspiration and the reading books and stuff. You might find the design will be a little bit different.

Heather Bayer

Let's come back a bit and talk about the concept of Hygge because the company is called Chalet Hygge. I did talk to Sarah – Sarah Bradford of Sarah & T – a couple of years ago, and I'll put a link to that in the Show Notes, because that gives a much lengthier description of what Hygge is about. But can you give us the sort of the Cliff Notes on Hygge and perhaps give us a couple of examples of how this concept is personified in your properties?

Kerri Gibson

Absolutely. So Hygge is originally a Norwegian word, but it has been adopted by the Danish. So the concept of Hygge is attributed to the Danish culture most of the time. And the idea of it is a quality of coziness and contentment that comes from being happy, being surrounded by the little things in life that matter the most. Like being with your family, your friends, a good cup of coffee, a book that warms your soul, but things that just feed into your soul and make you feel calm and content. And they're usually the simple things that we overlook. So the idea is you create Hygge by building an environment that accentuates the ‘simple' in your life, accentuates light, accentuates nature, and just the quiet moments and who you create them with. When we were renovating our house, we redesigned for that because our house at the time, when we were both corporate executives, we were so stressed all the time, and our home was really our haven when we weren't traveling and wanted to be there. And so at one point, we had a friend that said, “Oh, you're doing the Hygge thing.” and I'm like, “Doing the what?”

Kerri Gibson

So I read into it and I'm like, OH!  And I learned a lot more about the design and the simplicity and I'm going for throw blankets and the texture of the material that you use on throw pillows and couches and all that is really important. So that's where I really started taking it to the next level. And then for Philip's 50th birthday, we went to Norway to go cross-country skiing, which was his dream. And we really got an opportunity to learn more about how the Scandinavian culture's lived. And, just to borrow the French expression, ‘Le Joie de Vivre', they have their simplicity of life, the happiness they get just from being with their dog on a ski trail or running into a friend at a coffee shop and hanging out. It's really something that changed my life, when I stopped putting emphasis on the big things to drive my happiness and started looking at the little things and paying attention to it. When did I just voluntarily smile? Or when would I feel like I could sit here just a few more minutes and be comfy and enjoy the moment? And so I really started very proactively thinking about that in my life and introducing those.

Kerri Gibson

So then when we started designing the chalets, I designed each one with that intention and tried to think about how do I create this space where knowing who our guests are going to be, they'll have kids or they might be here for work. So how do we create the space where they feel inspired to work, but then they can shut the door and they can go relax with a book in front of the fire or have hot chocolate with the kids. When I'm looking at it, I think about how we can use each space to create a moment of tranquility or happiness, or togetherness, depending on the room. And we've made  design changes throughout. Sometimes our guests will rearrange things just to sit. Not major rearranging, but like this chair, instead of being here, they'll put it here. And we've checked some of that because I'll ask them, can you tell me about why you rearranged this chair, what you did, or how you use the chalet? And it's like, you know what? I used it because blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.  Or I found this was the best spot for me to have my tea in the morning while I was reading the news and have a moment away from the family. I was, like, that's genius. That chair should stay here, like I said. So, yeah, learning that flow. And we talk to our guests a lot and I always ask them, what's missing in the flow? What would you see in the flow that would make it more usable, make you feel more relaxed?

Heather Bayer

Well, I would encourage everybody that's listening to this to go to www.chaletshygge.com and have a look at the photographs that are on the home page, because they capture that whole concept, every single photograph. The particular one I love is of, is it Maripa?, sitting in the chair with the dog, and the fire's going and there's books and it just draws you in to that whole idea of what vacation is about. Take a look at all these pictures. I remember years ago, we used to say, never use people in your photos, and that's long gone now because I think we have to use people in the photos to help site visitors imagine how they're going to….inspire, capture, the magic of the place, etc. There's another photo of someone just sitting in a robe, drinking a cup of coffee. That's what we all want to do in the morning. You want to sit there and wrap up and have all the cares and worries of work gone away. So that sort of takes me to who your target market actually is. Who are you targeting and how do you get them to come to you?

Kerri Gibson

Yes, I'm definitely a believer in knowing your avatar, knowing your customer, and not trying to be all things to everybody. Especially when you have 6ix chalets. There's no way you can be all things to everybody, we just don't have room for them all to come. But I am a big believer in that, and I think about that very clearly and very often when I'm making decisions about putting myself in the guest's shoes and being a very intentional.  So the most significant thing that all of our guests have in common is a love of nature and wanting to get away from the fast pace. We have guests that enjoy nature in different ways. We have our guests that are here to more relax and be meditative and just take a deep breath. And then we also have guests that are here for all of the adrenaline sports that there is. I mean, we're a four-season location, so we have mountains, we have lakes, we have every possible outdoor activity you could imagine year-round. So that's the overarching thing, is that they just need to be in nature.

Kerri Gibson

Our properties are not budget, nor are they luxury.  I call it elevated accommodations. I know that's one word I still struggle with trying to find, but elevated accommodations for our guests, the accommodation and the experience of the accommodation is as important as the location and what they're going to do, the activities, it's part of the experience. Renting our place because they intend to spend time within the chalet and we're pet friendly, not because we have to be. We've been pet friendly since day one. People like to bring their dogs to outside adventures and people just like to bring their dogs on vacation, they're family members. We have 2 pets ourselves and I hate when I have to make vacation accommodations for them.

Kerri Gibson

We are also completely turnkey rentals. So when I furnish it, I make sure that absolutely everything they need from a household experience is there, like no, I don't want my guest to worry about, okay, do we need tin foil, how many dishwasher pods are there or do we have enough toilet paper? All of that we call a complete turnkey rental with higher-end amenities. Our furniture is comfortable, we invest in our mattresses, our linens.

Kerri Gibson

So our guests are as worried about the accommodation as they are the stay.  And they tend to be more financially established, they're professionals or retirees or they have older kids. So yeah, that's really who we cater to and when we're going after them and identify, we use all of those elements on our website and in our social media so that people can see exactly who can experience our chalets. And very much our brand is also about everything that's around us, so we're always featuring local businesses and activities to do, so people can envision everything that they're going to do when they're at our chalets and whether they want to be active or not. But yeah, their accommodation is important to them. They just want to show up and be on vacation and they don't mind paying a little bit extra to make sure everything is just taken care of.

Heather Bayer

The one thing I particularly loved, and there's a lot I love about your website,  it's something to explore. So often you go to a website and it's just, okay, let's look at the pictures and the amenities and that's it. But this is a real destination website. One of the things I loved, I was browsing through it and you talk about the Eastern Townships being a culinary paradise. And then you include recipes for things to make, for dishes to make with ingredients from all the local outlets. Where you get the cheese from, where you get meat from, where you get quiche dough from. This is a recipe for a quiche Lorraine with brisket and a smoked trout quiche.  And I was just so taken with this that if I was still running my company, I'd be saying “We should be doing this. We should be doing this for each of our areas. Let's highlight the local retailers”. So I love the fact that you actually work with your local retailers. You make them a part of your business almost.

Kerri Gibson

Absolutely. They're a part of the experience of our business. Like, when you stay at our Chalets, you can walk to our little village of Orford and go to most of these places to pick up. Vacation is the whole entire experience of everything that's wrapped up into it, and I'm so proud of our region and of where I live, and I feel so lucky to live here.  I really think it's something to be experienced for all it is. And these are also small business owners, just like me, and tourism is what our little village is built on. So supporting each other and referencing each other, yeah, only makes us a stronger community and makes it easier for people to come and enjoy everything we have to offer when they don't have to hunt it down. It's just there at their doorstep. And I try to work with local influencers, more like micro-influencers, but they're really experts in the region and where we're at. Like, the one I created the recipes with, she's an amazing chef, and she comes in and she builds – these are her recipes – from custom, and I feed her all of the local food suppliers and the new ones, and she just looks at everything they have to offer and she talks to them and she creates these recipes.

Kerri Gibson

So then she cooks them in our chalet and she's sharing her stories while she's doing that. And I'm re-sharing and all the other local businesses that are being tagged that she's tagging or re-sharing. We're also including in that our local tourism board and our Provincial tourism board, and then they're re-sharing all of this on their story. So it's just exposure for the whole entire region and everybody profits when you're such a supportive community. I love it.

Heather Bayer

I think that's what good marketing is about. It's not simply marketing your own property and what you do, but it's marketing much wider than that, because that ultimately brings everybody back to you. It creates the back-links and just brings more and more traffic. The more you talk about what's out there in your area and share them, then the more traffic is going to come to you. It's just the perfect way of working and I'm so surprised that more people don't do this.

Heather Bayer

I'm going to take a short break here, not to get a message from our sponsor OwnerRez, but in fact, today we're going to hear from one of their clients. And Bruce Ikelheimer has actually been a guest on the show and in that episode he talked about using OwnerRez as his PMS platform. So I was pleased to ask Bruce what he thought about OwnerRez.

Bruce Ikelheimer

Hello. My name is Bruce Ikelheimer, I'm the owner of Banjo Vacations. We're a small vacation rental management company in Asheville, North Carolina, currently with eight properties. When I first started getting into this business, we just managed our own property and I knew I needed some help, and I looked to OwnerRez.  Their automated messaging and channel management made running my own one property super simple. So simple that I realized that I could easily start adding more properties, and over the years, as I've grown, I've taken advantage of more and more of their services, like using the text messaging. Now that I have owners, I've gotten into the property management side and I absolutely love their owner statements. I'm actively trying to grow my business and I see OwnerRez as an important partner along the way. When the question's asked on forums, I always recommend OwnerRez.

Heather Bayer

Back with Kerri.  You talked about using Pinterest when you started out.

Kerri Gibson

Oh, my goodness, yes.

Heather Bayer

Do you use Pinterest as part of your marketing strategy as well as maybe Instagram, etc?

Kerri Gibson

So I do have a business account on Pinterest and it is ‘Chalets Hygge' and it has each of the chalets and the inspirations of what I used to decorate each chalet. I've not gone beyond that, and I really need to.  Everything I've listened to on marketing podcasts, everyone talks about how much traffic Pinterest generates and drives for them. And I have the content, it exists on my website, I just have to link back to it. It's really is on my list of things I need to do and I'm super interested to do because when I look at where the traffic is coming from on our website, even though I pay little attention to Pinterest, it's still is driving – I can't remember 5% or something like that, and I'm putting no effort there whatsoever other than my own inspiration boards when I want to save something or look for the chalet. So it is definitely on my radar. I will say that is one of the challenges because we are small. It is me, and my husband joined me full-time in February of 2020, right before COVID, that was a little bit of a scary few months, but it's me and him and then we have two, I call them chalet operations staff because they're not just our cleaners.  We couldn't do our business without them. So it's just the four of us and yeah, there's only so many hours in the day, but I have so many dreams. I have a list and Pinterest is on that list. So, long answer, but yes, no, but I would love to do more with Pinterest.

Heather Bayer

I remember Jodie Bourne came on the show a while back just to talk about Pinterest and she really fired me up when she said Pinterest isn't just a social media site, it's a search engine. People go on to Pinterest to search, and if you think about it that way, then it becomes a little bit more of a motivator to get on there and populate it because it's easy enough. And of course, apart from anything else, it's fun. Really.

Kerri Gibson

It is fun. Oh my goodness. It's so addictive. They've got it so well designed. You can just keep rabbit holing-up one picture or article after another.

Heather Bayer

Yeah, exactly. So we've talked quite a bit about brand building here. How do you go about getting your brand of Hygge across all your platforms, everywhere you market? Is it the one thing that drives your brand marketing?

Kerri Gibson

Oh my goodness. One thing that drives? I would say that's a really good question and I am really thinking about that and everything that I do with our marketing. I'm constantly putting myself in our guests' shoes, remembering what it was like. That's the biggest thing I am a big believer in, you take care of people.  And that doesn't mean you get run over like a doormat, but you take care of people and do it in the right way and things come back. And so with the concept of Hygge and leaning into it, it's something that I really believe in and I really wish for everybody to experience and have in their life. So I feel that when you are connected with your ‘Why?' and you're authentic in your ‘Why?', and it's not just a name or phrase or something you pick that you really need to, I really feel that comes across when you're communicating, whether it's on your website or on Instagram, but your passion, your belief, your desire of that for others. I'm a huge lover of Simon Sinek's “Find Your Why”, and I really learned that hospitality aligned with my ‘Why?', and that it just filled my cup.

Kerri Gibson

And I do believe because of that and because I'm people first, and I'm always thinking about what would our guests want, what would they need? I think that comes across in all of our marketing and I think that draws people to us on social media. It draws our market to us because people make comments in our guest books and whatnot that I love so much. I read every single one of them, like, we didn't get the chance to meet Kerri in person, but I feel like from the time I found her Instagram that I found a new friend and that she knew what I wanted before I even stepped foot in here. So I think the biggest thing that probably drives our marketing, and thank you for making me think of this, is our authenticity and our desire to really share that with people and putting our guests at the forefront of every decision, and not just saying that, but truly putting our guests at the forefront of every decision.

Kerri Gibson

 I find my content comes to me more easily when I do that, and it's not forced. I don't just post on social media, like, generic quotes and phrases that I found from Googling.  I try to put something that's real and authentic and something maybe a little bit inspirational, but also what I was doing when this was taken or what I was thinking when we did this, or just try to let people in on what's going on and why we make the decisions we make and why our brand is here.

Heather Bayer

I spent a lot of time on your site going through all the testimonials, and I'm sure, as you say, you just said that, that you read every single one of them. Because I always think there's such value in these for somebody else, for somebody who is trying to get into this business perhaps, and is not quite sure what to do, then just go and read the testimonials of a very successful host and you'll find out if your target market is similar, you find out what they want. I really couldn't pick out any particular one, except I think there was one here that really encompassed every other one.  It said “The Denmark Chalet was fantastic for our family of five.  The communication and kindness of the hosts was evident from the very first moment through emails, a welcome gift, and suggestions for local activities. The home was perfect.” And then she goes on to talk about the neighborhood and whatever, but that says so much of what you do that I have no doubt drives your success. And it's something that Tyann Marcink talks about a lot is this communication with guests prior to them arriving, this communication that says, you're coming to my place, I love it here, I want to share what I love with you before you get here, not for you to arrive and just look at a few brochures and decide what to do.

Heather Bayer

So I'd just like to ask you, what do you do between that time of somebody booking and them arriving? What is your flow?

Kerri Gibson

Sure. And actually after your podcast with Tyann not too long ago, I actually would like to add a few more. I got very inspired by some that were on there.  But absolutely. So when our guests book, the first thing they get is the thank you for booking and welcoming email. Here are some basic things to know just to get ready.  Here's the address of the property. Here's check-in and check-out to help you with your pre-planning. And also I always draw attention to – because the tranquility and the quality of life in our neighborhood is very important to me because we do have nature – making sure that they have read and acknowledged the rules, and telling them if you're not comfortable with this at any time, it's very important to us that this is the right place for you to stay, so please let us know so we can help you find another place that suits your needs. And I've had people appreciate that so very much, but just re-emphasizing. And then we tell them a little bit about the history of our community, how it came to be, the significant geographical locations near us, the hiking, the bike trails.

Kerri Gibson

And then we go into a little more of…if you would like to know more about outdoor activities, click this link. And then it takes them to part of our website on that. If you would like to know more about restaurants, here's our favorites. So yeah, they'll get that one and that's right after. And then most of our guests, because we're a drive-to location, for 50% of our guests are local like Montréal, Québec City. So our reservations typically are, you know, like one to two months out. We're not booked way in advance and I actually like it that way because especially the past few years we were positioned more to respond to what was going on in the market because we weren't already booked six-months out and had a lot to figure out.

Kerri Gibson

Then two weeks before their arrival we'll send them another one saying hey, your vacation stay's coming up. Just a reminder, we're going to send you everything you need to know about check-in. Here's the address. You'll get your personal code and all the details of the chalet, like your Wi-Fi code, etc.  Here's a list of things to do. Leaning them back to that and we always point them to our Instagram. And oh, another thing I didn't mention there, we try to get them to sign up for our email list, because we do a once a month newsletter that features something about the chalet's renovation, any  changes we've made,  a new local business and what they do and a seasonal activity. So we try to encourage them to sign up for our newsletter then, so that they can see and sometimes we're able to work deals, like we have some lavender fields that are about 5 km away. We get discounts for our guests there. So yeah, it's every way we're trying to get them in and then lead.  Our Instagram is not only good for just having followers, that's  always great, but we're constantly posting stories as we do stuff and as our guests do stuff and tag us of up-to-the-moment things that you can be doing right now, such as: “Hey, for apple picking, the apple picking orchards are open”  or  “Hey, it's the wine festival, there's stomping of the grapes”. So it's not just a formal communication, but we have the mass communication that goes out.  And then the week before, they get everything that they need for checking-in and our guests are always free to ask those questions. Most guests have my personal cell phone and text us. And then the day they check-in, at about 08:00 pm, we ask “Is there anything you need? Anything that hasn't met your expectation?” And then, unless they want something, they don't hear from us again until their next for departure. And it's just  their reminder of check-out. And then two days after, a thank you for staying, we hope you took a bit of Hygge home with you, and, like all small businesses we depend on reviews, and the links to all the places that they can give us a review.

Heather Bayer

That's terrific, and that's such a great workflow. We're sort of getting towards the end here and I want to just find out what's in your tech stack, because everybody wants to know what everybody else is using. Can you share what you use and what you find most useful?

Kerri Gibson

Yes. I am a technology junkie. I am not an actual programmer or developer, but I worked in the technology industry and I love it and I love what it does for running a business. So I knew as soon as the business was going to be something that I wanted independence. I did not want to rely on the OTAs. I'm a big believer in the old saying, don't build your house on someone else's land. The OTAs are a business and it's their right to completely be in business and run their business the way that makes sense for them and their shareholders, etc, whoever they answer to. But that does not always align, especially with us, as small businesses, of who we want to be. And we need to remember they're just a marketing platform. They are not our business. So if you're a professional host, I think having a direct booking site is absolutely imperative. And so in 2019, when I thought, okay, this is going to go somewhere, I need to own my guests. I need to own my guest's experience. I need to be the one making decisions for my guests. I started looking to buy a website and I'm a very Type A personally.

Kerri Gibson

I had my requirements spreadsheet list, wrote everything down, had demo calls with all the vendors and at the time I ended up going with Lodgify, who's the hub of our business, who I absolutely love. It was the right decision. They started out with this website, but the reason I ended up going with them is because I saw their ability to grow with our business.  At the time, they allowed me to build a very simplistic website that was basically listing all our properties and a method to pay. Right? I hadn't built a social media presence, basically for return guests. So everything I do now needs to work in some way with Lodgify, to integrate and make my life much easier. So I use Lodgify for our website, our PMS, our CMS and our operations checklist and guest management post booking, so automation of all the messages, the outreaches, those things. And then we use Zapier to connect a lot things, to automate things, like especially where we use Zapier the most is to automate between QuickBooks and Lodgify and to automate between Lodgify and Google Calendar. Because we do still use Google Calendar to manage our team's activities, which is one thing I would like to move away from, but that is one thing we use right now.

Kerri Gibson

We also use Excel a lot. We generate our own KPIs. So I'm a financials geek in numbers. So Philippe extracts everything from Lodgify and QuickBooks and has built an amazing KPI dashboard for me that's automated. Others that we use, we use Noise Aware for noise detection, which honestly was one thing that scared me when I first started hosting.  You hear all these horror stories, in four years we've never had one horror story. I don't know if we have dream guests or what, but we have some that are messier than others. And then we use Blink for our cameras, the Amazon Blink, and that's able to connect into our tech stack in the Google Home. We use Mailchimp for our newsletter of course, and WhatsApp we use for our team communication. And then Philippe can only say this, but ChatGPT is our newest because it's actually an amazing tool and it's helping us figure out how we can make them better. Because we do use RemoteLock, which is a wonderful company and we're able to control everything from it, but it's not integrated with Lodgify and I don't know if that's going to happen anytime soon, just based on priorities that both companies have.  But he is able to find out from ChatGPT how he can use Zapier to integrate RemoteLock and Lodgify, which will be great.  But I have a ton of interest in adding technology this year. Revenue management is one that we are most definitely going to be adding. In fact, we're going to add it this month. We played around with it last year, but just ran out of time to actually implement it. And I'm not going to lie, I have the fear even though I know it doesn't exist.  These things are smarter than us, but I still spent a lot of time understanding the market and knowing the pricing and exactly where we should be positioned, but I know I'm missing out on the everyday ebbs and flows, so we'll be doing that. You have me 100% convinced that I have got to get my Digital Guest Guidebook up.

Heather Bayer

Oh, absolutely, yes.

Kerri Gibson

So Touch Stay, that for sure. I'd already done a demo with them last year and I actually started building it out. But they're going to be integrated with Lodgify soon, so I'll absolutely be doing that. One thing I want to do is beef up our guest letter. So I'll probably be looking at Stayfi to help capture more emails of people as they arrive.  I'm really trying to find ways to beef up our email list because right now we have 600 subscribers. It's a good start, but I do want to grow that because that is our best way to reach return guests. And I would love to have a content planning tool, because managing the marketing and the messaging – and you can reuse content, absolutely – but you have to tweak it for Instagram, you have to tweak it for Facebook, you have to tweak it for your website. So even if it's the same photo, it needs to say something a little bit different. So I would love to have a content planning tool where I can just sit down one day a month, ideally, and just plan it out so it's there. Because right now it takes up so much of my time.  Probably 70% of my time is spent on marketing. And I'm also looking at Breezeway for operations management. Yeah, a lot of tech on the horizon for us.

Heather Bayer

I've mentioned Breezeway a lot.  We didn't employ all their services, but we did use the text messaging side of it and that revolutionized what we did.  Emails that you might not pick up in time. So, yeah, text messaging was great. Of course, Touch Stay's moving towards two way messaging. They've got an API with Lodgify. They'll have the two-way text messaging as well.

Heather Bayer

Anyhow, Kerri, this has been just a great conversation. I know we can go on and on. I'm quite sure you've fired up the desire in me to come to the Eastern Townships because when I started CottageLink Rental Management, we used to manage properties in Québec as well. We had them in the Laurentians up as far as Tremblant actually, and we constantly had people saying, I'm in Québec, can you manage our property? We pulled it back a couple of years ago because we visited every property, so it was a little bit more challenging to get out there. But I have not been to the Eastern Townships, so I will have to make a trip out there at some point. Maybe we can meet face-to-face.

Kerri Gibson

I would absolutely be delighted to have you come and stay and yes, we've joined VRMA, so I'm very excited about that. We've not been to any of the conferences so far, but this year I plan to go to 2 or 3 of them. I'm really excited about that.

Heather Bayer

Oh yes, definitely do that. I always said the educational aspect is great, the networking is great, but I just loved the exhibition hall. There was just so much stuff. It was my version of binge shopping.

Kerri Gibson

Right. I'm sure I'm going to love it, too, with all of the technology and seeing what's new and great and out there, I love that.

Heather Bayer

Well, thank you. Thank you so much for joining me. It's been an absolute pleasure having you on the show.

Kerri Gibson

Thank you. I absolutely loved being here. And you're right, I could talk to you forever. But thank you very much for allowing me to participate.

Heather Bayer

Thank you so much, Kerri Gibson, for joining me. That was such a super conversation. I could have gone on and on and on, asked so many more questions. Please go visit Kerri's website, chaletshygge.com, and you could find a link in the Show Notes. As I said in our conversation, her website is a destination, and I think if that's anybody's goal, is to really do something better with their websites, take a look at this one. It really personifies what a good direct booking website is all about. Yeah, go explore it. Read the reviews, read the location segments, and you'll get a ton of ideas on how to make your own website even better. Okay, so, as I mentioned right at the very beginning, I didn't know anything about Kerri or Chalets Hygge until Kerri sent me a message in response to my request for potential case studies on branding. And I spent time going through her website and decided it would be great to bring her onto the show. So if anybody out there would like to do the same, if you feel that you're unique in any way, if you have a great website that you'd like to share with a lot of people, then please get in touch with me at heather@vacationrentalformula.com and I'll be in touch with you.

Heather Bayer

The audience – you, the audience generally love these case studies because hearing about how other people do it and how other people are successful is just another tool in your toolbox to promote your own business and make your property or your property management company even more successful. So, yes, I always love to hear from my audience. So if you've enjoyed this episode and you'd like to leave me a great review, then please do so. Mostly they go on to i-Tunes, but whatever method that you use to consume your podcasts, you could probably review it on there as well. So always love to see those reviews just the same way as you like to see the reviews about your properties.

Heather Bayer

It's been a pleasure being with you. I am continuing to enjoy my time down here in Alabama, even though if you actually watch a video of this episode, you will see a little bit of shaking in the video. And it wasn't me shaking, it was the whole RV shaking as we've got some very high winds out here at the moment. So yes, it wasn't me shaking my head, it was just some other trembling going on around me.

Heather Bayer

Thank you very much for being with me. I can't wait to do this all over again next week and I will be with you then.

Andrea Bayer

This episode was brought to you by OwnerRez. For more information about this internationally recognized leader in Vacation Rental software, click the link in the description of this episode on your smart device, or head over to vacationrentalformula.com/ownerrez to find out more.

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 at vacationrentalformula.com. We'd love to hear from you and I look forward to being with you again next week.