Michael Eckerman is a third generation Arizonian who has a passion for creating the best experiences when people travel to his home state. Michael has been in real estate and business financing for over thirty years. He began by purchasing and flipping homes before eventually moving into the vacation rental arena.
The popularity of vacation rentals has allowed Mike Eckerman to expand into a previously untapped area of real estate. His vision is to create an experience for his clients they would not be able to get anywhere else. The true success of a vacation rental is to take someone away from their everyday life and give them an adventure they would never find at home.
Michael Eckerman specializes in high end homes and has recently been looking into small hotels and even luxury vehicle rentals to give an all-around experience to his clients. It is this white glove treatment that has several clients returning yearly to his properties, as well as drawing new customers.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I have been in real estate for about thirty years. I started out by flipping properties. I found some great properties in lower income areas that just needed to be fixed up, so I did that for a little while. Personally, over my career, I have had over 1000 residential properties that I have been involved with, either buying or selling. Over the last few years, the concept of vacation rentals has kind of exploded onto the real estate scene. People are looking more for an experience completely unlike their normal routine. Vacation rentals offer that, with the option of luxury homes. A $2 million mansion that could be short-term rented for a month may bring in $8000 per month. That same house, we can rent out for $1000 per night as a vacation rental. It saves the client money because that cost can be broken up between everyone, but they also get a more relaxed atmosphere and a great experience.
How do you make money?
The company makes money through the operation of income-producing real estate. I also do consultations for businesses who want to get into this field. I get paid for that service also.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
We were profitable right away. Once we started the vacation rentals, there is such a large market for this right now, we were earning from the get-go. The key is to listen to what the client wants, what experiences they are looking for, and really aim to make that happen.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
We did have challenges when we were starting out. When you are in the hospitality business, you have to be prepared for things getting broken or other home issues. We had to get good handymen that were responsive to what needed to be done. We also offer basically a 24 hour concierge service; we will book restaurant reservations and other things that our clients look for. It was a lot of learning in the beginning, but I think that has helped us be more in tune with what the client is looking for and providing it to them.
How did you get your first customer?
We got our first customer through a posting on AirBnB. We put our property online and were contacted for a rental. We are on several sites now; we get a lot of our business through those.
What is one marketing strategy, besides referrals, that you are using that works really well to generate new business?
We develop relationships with others in the hospitality business, like restaurants and car rentals. We have also reached out to local music establishments that have concerts and other entertainment options in the areas where we have properties. These relationships help us grow because they’ll refer clients to us when they’re talking to them. Building relationships is an excellent resource for marketing because you never know when a conversation will happen where your business can be promoted. It’s worked really well for us and we do the same for those relationships, so it is beneficial for everyone.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
One of the harder things with vacation rentals is finding the right areas where you can offer the services you want without disturbing the neighborhood that the property is in. We had some ultra-luxury properties that would bring in larger crowds and found that upset some of the neighbors. There were a lot of cars and sometimes around 25 people staying there at a time. We learned it was an issue and we decided to scale back in those areas. The last thing we want is for the people who live there to be concerned about traffic or noise. Scaling back has definitely helped and that is also why we have started looking into the idea of small hotels that are not right in the middle of a neighborhood for those larger groups.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I have always persevered through challenges and I always look for nuggets of wisdom from others who have been through similar experiences. I am not afraid to change things up if necessary. For example, that same house I mentioned, we converted that one to a long-term rental. We are selling some other properties. We are now looking more for smaller rentals but can still hold a lot of people. We have changed the model a bit, looking for the hotels or other properties that aren’t right in the middle of a neighborhood. We want to be able to offer the same amenities that we always have, but also to not disturb anyone who lives there.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Seeing the operation work has been really satisfying. Purchasing and renovating through furnishing and renting them, that has been so much fun. It’s a lot of work, but I really enjoy it. I love giving clients what they are looking for and really creating the vacation they’ve dreamt about. We have many clients who have stayed with us several times. I think they appreciate that we are always looking for new ways to improve, we ask for feedback and, whenever we can, we find a way to put those ideas into place.
What does the future hold for your business and what are you most excited about?
We are right now looking for other areas to operate in. We are looking at different states that maybe don’t have many options in this field to branch into. We are in Arizona only right now, but really want to get some properties in other places where the surroundings are beautiful, and the same amenities are available. I’m excited at the prospect of growing into these new areas. Another thing we have been recently looking into is providing luxury car rentals along with the property. I’ve been a racing fan all my life, I love vehicles and I think a lot of people would love the opportunity to drive around in a Lamborghini or Maserati if they could. The reason most people choose the vacation rental is for the experience of living in a way you don’t normally. Imagine not only a luxury home, but a luxury vehicle as well.
What business books have inspired you?
I always go back and reread the Tony Robbins series. I enjoy reading them because it helps you look at issues from different angles. I also like Richard Branson and reading about his success.
What is a recent purchase you have made that has helped with your business?
One of the recent purchases we have made for our properties is the Roku sticks. It allows our guests to come right in and get online or watch television without having to channel hop or go digging. We’ve gotten some really good feedback on that addition.