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FROM FARMERS TO VACATION RENTAL TITANS

A Case Study

The alarm goes off. It's 5:00 am...


Time for Jo to get up and help her husband Pete milk their dairy cows before transitioning to her new role as a vacation rental owner. Jo and Pete have had some good years in the milk business, but those aren’t likely to come back.

The price for milk in New Zealand has gone down significantly for 3 straight years, with no guarantee or even expectation of a comeback. It’s a massive problem. New Zealand farmer bankruptcies and suicide rates have both been increasing at alarming rates. Estimates are that 80% of New Zealand farmers are operating at a loss. Jo and Pete are no exception.

The Transition

So, recently they purchased an old rundown cottage, fixed it up with sweat equity and thoughtful interior decorating, and have started using it as a vacation rental (typically called a “bach”, like batch). They also own a beach house that’s been in the family for many years. So they have two lovely homes to offer guests.

With Pete running the farm, Jo is in charge of the fledgling vacation rental business. She is a natural host - gregarious and friendly, always eager to greet and get to know each new guest. Her initial prep goes beyond what most people expect: rather than just some coffee and a little cream, she stuffs the fridge with eggs, bacon and a full jug of milk.

We met Jo a year ago, and she quickly became more than a temporary host/landlord. In the first week, she and Pete came over to the cottage and talked us through their list of “must-see” attractions in the Taranaki region. The day we had a flat tire, Jo was there to help us within 10 minutes of receiving a text. Jo is a very good friend.

The more we got to know her, the more fascinating and perilous her story became. It turned out, the losses they were experiencing from the farm were substantial, approaching 6 figures. The turn to the vacation rental industry was much more than a side-business or part-time hobby. It was a lifeboat. The one they hoped to jump to if the farm ultimately sank.

Their challenges were substantial. Jo’s round trip drive between the two homes is nearly an hour and a half. And while beautiful, the Taranaki region is not known internationally for tourism, especially when compared to Auckland, Taupo or Queenstown.

Now we were not passive observers. We wanted to do everything in our power to help Pete and Jo succeed in their new venture. Kati has a background as a professional video editor (for Fox and Disney, among others). Her eye for optimizing visual images of any kind is keen. (As a former marketing guy, my main role is to document her prowess).

The photos for Jo’s listing were fine, but not amazing. There was a palpable gap between the warm and cozy sensation that both Jo and her cottage inspired, versus the relatively ordinary way that her place came across in her listing photos. Kati offered to do photo shoots of both homes. Jo accepted.

The shoots went well. Kati was able to home in on key elements, like the warm wood floors and charming knick-knacks, while accurately conveying the bright, clear space that many of the rooms contained.

The morning Kati delivered the fully edited photos to Jo via email was one we will never forget. Within minutes, Jo called us in tears. She was ecstatic and grateful that her beloved homes were now represented on the web just as she had always seen them in her heart.

Now that she had stellar photos, Jo took things up a notch. She began advertising to the Taranaki community that she was open to manage and represent other vacation rentals as well. Over the next few months, she shifted through many offers and ultimately added 9 more properties to her portfolio. Kati photographed the first few. Jo shadowed her and asked insightful questions. Jo and her team learned quickly how to approximate Kati’s results.

It struck us that if we could create a system out of the techniques Kati used to produce great photos, we could help hundreds or thousands of vacation rental owners boost their businesses to new heights, instead of just one at a time. So we did.

One year later, Jo was up to 18 properties under management. Jo and Pete were able to take their first vacation in years. She estimates that her first property now receives 70% more inquiries than it used to with her initial photos. Their transition from farmers to vacation rental titans was on schedule.


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