As Chief Marketing Officer and co-founder of Bay Tree Solutions, Doug Milbrath enjoys the success of the evolving timeshare resale industry. This entrepreneur implemented his visionary strategies and has built a solid foundation for his business. He has paid close attention to the way buyers were finding and purchasing timeshares in the resale market and implemented a strategy of SEO marketing long before most timeshare businesses began using SEO marketing as a standard. The result of that revolutionary insight made Bay Tree Solutions capable of creating an innovative, competitive force to be reckoned with in the timeshare marketing industry.
Bay Tree Solutions opened its doors in 2006 in the sunshine state of Florida. As the company went through its growing pains, there was a recognition that the talent Doug was hoping to hire was lacking in the market. The partners concluded that Florida was not the ideal environment to nurture the company to achieve the powerful growth that was envisioned. By 2008 he and his business partner, who is also Doug’s wife, decided to move the company and their family to Atlanta, Georgia.
Doug found human resources in Atlanta to be abundant. He was able to draw from a pool of talent that would assist in bringing his ideas to life. He hired exceptional coders that were able to give the company’s site exactly what Doug had envisioned. He hired experienced, reliable, and talented staff.
As Bay Tree Solutions continues to thrive, Doug and his family can enjoy weekends boating on Lake Lanier. They own a small cruiser and take pleasure in spending warm nights on their boat. Doug and his wife have three young children ages five, three and seven months old.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I used to work for a competitive timeshare business. I learned a lot from them, but the most important thing that I learned was that I knew I could improve on the operations of the business. Their focus was to spend advertising money to promote the company as the place to come to buy or sell a timeshare. In other words, they were promoting the business rather than promoting the resort that was for sale. We targeted the search terms that related to the resort that people were interested in purchasing. We found SEO marketing long before SEO marketing was a thing. We optimized around the resort name, which is what buyers would look for first. We used that approach very early on. It was a great success.
How do you make money?
We are paid by the individual advertiser, which is the seller. Our approach is to charge one fee until the timeshare is sold. So, our service will automatically renew until it is sold. The longer a property remains on board where we are servicing it, the less we make. Our incentive is to see the property sell quickly.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
At the time we started out, there was not a lot of venture capital out there for timeshare companies. We were probably profitable in our first three months.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted that Bay Tree Solutions would work? If so, how did you handle that?
At one time about three or four months into the start of the business. We were still in Florida and we only had three or four employees and a very small office. My partner turned around to me and asked me if I thought I could get my old job back. I just thought to myself, most people leave the room right before the miracle happens and don’t get to see the water turn to wine. Not long after that, we started growing. I always knew it would be a success, I just didn’t know the time frame.
How did you get your first customer?
I remember the name of the resort. It was Coconut Mallory Resort. We were relying on pay-per-click results. I believe that was how we got our first customer. We have come a long way since then. Now potential clients seek us out.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
We changed our market strategy in 2014 when we decided not to continue to advertise legacy properties alongside properties that were still in active sales. Our research revealed that properties shown on tours by developers were active on the market and sold far more quickly. We have no control or access to be able to take people on tours of private resorts. We decided to focus on higher value properties that were in demand and selling quickly. We no longer list legacy resorts. We simply decided to limit which properties we take on. We started a pilot direct mail program; sending an invitation to owners at the resorts that we wanted to work with and letting them know that if they wanted to sell their properties, we would work with them. We found that simply advertising that we sell timeshares on the internet nets more people who are selling legacy resorts anyway.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
It is always a tough decision where to spend our resources with regard to advertising clients’ properties. We are the stewards of our clients’ funds so we have to very careful. It is something that I agonize over. We monitor our results very closely.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I think that we perceive this as a long-term endeavor and are in it for the long haul. It has pushed us to have very ethical standards, not only for ourselves but for all of our employees. We are very conscientious about any decisions that we make with regard to our standards or reputation. Perhaps that has made for slower growth, but it has been a steady growth.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
We had an individual client from Williamsburg. Three months into the sale, he misunderstood our terms and blasted us where it was front and center on Google. We spoke and clarified the terms and he agreed to remove the scathing review. He stayed with us and we sold his property. It made me happy that he had given us a second chance and gotten his issue resolved.
What business books have inspired you?
Tony Robbins’ “Unlimited Power” and “Primal Branding” by Patrick Hanlon.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
A nice business suit. I took on the habit of wearing suits to work years ago. It helps with my mental growth. I dress for success.
What do you perceive the biggest challenge is in growing potential resale market?
There has been a ton of information accumulated over the internet since the inception of the timeshare industry. Some of the information is true, a lot of it is not true. A lot of reviews are not placed by timeshare owners. The industry has evolved over the years from the little mom and pop organizations to six or seven large organizations with branded products such as Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton. Most owners are happy with their ownership. If you do a search on the internet, it doesn’t appear as though people are happy. The content that they may be reading is from an older and much different mindset.
Our biggest challenge is the resale buyer who has been convinced of a resort that they want. They are going to go to the internet and research what they are looking to buy. We know that they are going to see us. If they are looking at one of our client’s properties, they will see that the prices are better and our finance rates are much lower. The problem with it is that too many of them continue to search and many of them end up finding negative, outdated critical information. It may have applied in 1995, but is no longer valid information. Then they become discouraged from buying a timeshare. I am hoping that someday the information will age out because it is not reflective of the industry today. Airing grievances on the internet accomplishes nothing. Were it not for the negative information on the internet about timeshare ownership, we would have no properties for resale.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
Traditionally, developers used to be skeptical of those of us in the resale market. There has been a paradigm shift in the industry. The average age of a timeshare buyer used to be 58. Now it is 39. There are very different buying habits. I think developers are realizing that without a robust resale market, it may be difficult for them to sell those shares. I am most excited about potential partnerships where we work together with developers going forward. Many times, people will buy in at a low level on the resale market to see if it is for them and eventually upgrade. The only way to upgrade through the developer.