FOUR CORNERS – Steve Silcock says he has a proven way to win over new guests when they come to his office, Bardell Real Estate in Four Corners. He introduces his visitors to someone in his office who seems to always makes a good first impression.
“He literally meets people as they walk through,” Silcock said. “He talks to them.”
That kind of friendly greeting, Silcock said, helps make his guests feel welcome and at easy. Some are small business owners, and others are tourists visiting the area, interested in booking a stay in a vacation home in Northeast Polk County, where there are plenty of short term vacation rental homes available.
“We’ve got a lot of vacation home owners we work with,” Silcock said.
And what they like best about that special someone in his office, he said, is how eagerly the guests are asked to talk to him – and pet him.
“It’s a dog,” Silcock said. “We find he just works in the office, and he’s a great icebreaker.”
The vacation home industry, which has weathered the downturn in the economy and appears to be on the rebound, held its monthly meeting on Thursday, March 15 at the Orange Lake Resort in Four Corners. The Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association represents the fast-growing number of small business owners who manage vacation homes, or fully furnished houses that are rented to visitors and business travelers, rather than to permanent tenants.
This has been a booming industry in Northeast Polk County and in Osceola County near the theme parks, providing an alternative to families that come to this region for extended stays and want a house with multiple bedrooms, a kitchen and private pool — rather than a hotel room — during their trip.
An Flamand, the president of the association, runs USA Vacation Homes at Polo Park in Davenport. Flamand, who served as the moderator for the meeting, said she wanted these small business owners to figure out ways to keep their guests – and their employees – satisfied so they could continue to grow. That’s why she’s asked members like Silcock to offer advice on how they make a good first impression — and also why she invited Sandy Geroux, an author and president of WowPlace International, to speak to the association, offering them tips on how to attract, and keep, good employees.
It’s a part of the CFVRMA’s mission this year to provide practical advice on how to grow a small business.
“Sandy actually has two books she’s written,” Flamand said.
A motivational speaker, Geroux said companies need to encourage innovation among their employees, and the ability to be creative and think outside the box.
“What’s your company’s position on creativity, innovation and risk,” she asked. “Do you know how comfortable your employees are taking risks? You can’t get them to do creative things if they don’t think it’s safe.”
To illustrate the point, Geroux noted that she was invited to be the guest speaker at a conference in San Diego not too long ago, and the luncheon was starting at 11:30 that morning. Geroux and her husband Bruce were at the main lobby 15 minutes earlier, where Geroux noticed several posters that advertised her as the speaker, and included large photos of her. But to her surprise, she had trouble getting into the auditorium.
“They stationed ticket takers at the resort,” Geroux said. “This luncheon was a huge deal. There were 850 people who were at this. What the organizers had done was put up seven foot high posters of me, and this was the first time this had ever been done for me. We really enjoyed that. There were photos of me at every single door.”
But as Geroux moved to walk into the auditorium, she was stopped by the ticket taker.
“She said, ‘Do you have a ticket?’ I said no,” Geroux said. “She said ‘I’m sorry, you can’t go in there without a ticket,’ and I’m laughing because we’re standing under a poster – of me! It wasn’t an old photo, either. This poster looked like me.”
That didn’t matter, she said – the ticket taker refused to allow Geroux to get inside without a ticket.
“My husband and I ran to look for the organizers because I was about to start in eight minutes,” Geroux said. “You can tell the instructors for the woman that morning told her ‘This is a big event and you can’t let anyone in without a ticket.’ “
It also shows, she said, that employees need to be encouraged – not discouraged –- from thinking outside the box.
“We have to think about whether or not people feel safe using their own judgment,” she said.
Geroux said employees should keep in mind that surveys have indicated that the number one reason why workers are attracted to a particular company isn’t compensation, or being in a less pressured work environment, but because it offers the opportunity to develop a career path.
“Are you building the skills to develop a career path?” she asked. “The number two reason people are attracted to a particular workplace is they’re working for competent management teams with bosses who are considerate.”
Geroux urged the small business owners in the room to create a fun and enticing workplace by, among other things, decorating the room imaginatively, playing music — “Doesn’t the energy level go up when you hear that?” she asked – and doing creativity exercises with workers.
“You can’t create in a vaccum and you can’t create in a boring space,” she said. “Adults think better when their hands are busy. Make sure the meetings are productive.”
Even something as simple as thanking employees every once in a while goes a long way, she said.
“So we give them a pat on the back,” she said. “It sounds so silly. We don’t do things just because we want the pat on the back – but doesn’t it feel so nice? Team rewards are an incredible motivator.”
These simple but highly effective methods, she said, can help turn any office into a “Wow” place.
“We can create a Wow place every single day in our workplace,” Geroux said. “Effective leaders don’t demand respect, they command it.”
Flamand said she hopes to use these informational sessions at the association’s monthly meetings in order to help small business owners thrive and grow as the Central Florida economy appears on the rebound. Unlike the hotel industry, the vacation home industry is largely made up of very small businesses with just a handful of employees.
Flamand said she also wanted to reserve time at the meetings to allow members to do something else that can be crucial to their long-term success: network with one another.
“It’s time to hand out your business cards,” she said.
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