One of the big selling points of a second home in the Alps in the excellent rental potential available. Around 16 weeks in the winter and up to 10 in the summer. And as time goes on there are more and more opportunities available inter-season too. The rental side of the business is so crucial that many estate agents have their own rental arm. However beware, running businesses isn’t getting any easier and having a clear focus generally means you can do a better job. Here at Alpine Property we decided from our inception that we would focus on selling properties. We would then partner with specialist rental companies in each village. This article is about one of those partners.
We have worked with Tom and Ali Ward-Lee from Alps Accommodation in Samoens for over 10 years now. They started out by doing all aspects of the rental business. Marketing the properties, dealing with the bookings, cleaning and maintenance, seeing the guests in and dealing with any issues as they arise. This is the usual setup, it is however quite limiting. A business will quickly reach capacity and the owners find they don’t know which way to look! Tom and Ali felt these pressures and decided to concentrate on certain aspects of the job instead. They focused on the systems, marketing and sales. So finding the customers and dealing with their bookings. They have partnered with other local business to deal with the other facets of the job.
I interviewed Tom to get some insights into his business.
Tom and Ali had a dream to run their own business, they had already spent 3 skis seasons working in the Alps and decided they could combine the two. They searched for a suitable base. Somewhere that offered a friendly family atmosphere, was affordable and offered some growth potential. They settled on Samoens. The Grand Massif Express had just been installed which had precipitated a building boom. It was an ideal location. They sold up in the UK and started out running a catered chalet. They soon realised that this would not be enough to sustain them and started managing other people’s rental properties. After several years they grew the business to 50 properties!
The change of focus
The first change was to start to focus on their core market, mostly families and professionals who tend to want to rent at the premier end of what is available. As time has passed this focus on quality has increased and Alps Accommodation have to reject more properties than they take on! They now have 85 properties on their books and have to keep upping their game to deal with the demand for luxury. No one can sit back and expect rental returns to roll in from year to year without putting in effort to maintain the standards. The main competitors who are leading the way with 5* apartments to rent are MGM and Club Med. Both have invested huge amounts in the area over the last few years. Alps Accommodation ensure the guests receive a high level of service from their property management companies. Everything is included in the price such as welcome hampers and luxury toiletries, in-resort support, in-resort discounts, many unique to Alps Accommodation such as maximum discounts on lift passes.
The ups and downs
Starting your own business is hard enough. You inevitably have to wear a number of hats. It can be like having 4 jobs at once! Add to that a French administration system that they have not grown up with and the whole process can be quite overwhelming. Tom says it is the factors outside of his control that are the most difficult to deal with; such as building works right next door to a chalet, or a problem with a leak which means the property can no longer be rented. Families that run businesses in holiday areas have the added problem that they can only take a break themselves outside of the main holiday periods. This is when Seb, their 7 yr old is at school so finding time away from it all is a challenge.
All of our businesses are effected by so many variables, many of them out of our control, the weather, the market (the economy, exchange rate), legal issues (Brexit). Tom is currently focused on slow, organic growth, staying ahead of his competitors offer. However, watch this space, Alps Accommodation is a very scalable name! The next move might be out of Samoens and into the rest of the alps!