227. Converting A Summer Camp Into Overnight Stays And Event Venue

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Sarah Karakaian: [00:00:05] You are listening to the Thanks for Visiting Podcast. We believe hosting with heart is at the core of every short-term rental. With Annette’s background in business operation–

Annette Grant: [00:00:14] And Sarah’s extensive hospitality management and interior design experience, we have welcomed thousands of guests from over 30 countries, earning us over $1,000,000 and garnering us thousands of five-star reviews.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:00:28] We love sharing creative ways for your listing to stand out, serve your guests, and be profitable. Each episode, we will have knowledgeable guests who bring value to the short-term rental industry–

Annette Grant: [00:00:39] Or we will share our stories of our own experiences so you can implement actual improvements to your rentals. Whether you’re experienced, new, or nervous to start your own short-term rental, we promise you’ll feel right at home. Before we dive into the content, let’s hear a word from our sponsor.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:01:01] Hello. Welcome back for another great week. My name is Sarah Karakaian.

Annette Grant: [00:01:04] I am Annette Grant and together we are– 

Both Annette & Sarah: [00:01:06] Thanks For Visiting.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:01:07] We’re going to kick off this episode like we do every week, and that’s highlighting one of you, our amazing listeners who is using our hashtag #STRShareSunday. We will share you on Sunday on our Instagram channel. But of course here in the podcast, as you’re listening to now, we share this on YouTube, to our entire email list. So please use our hashtag. We want to support you and shout you out. Annette, who are we sharing this week?

Annette Grant: [00:01:29] Today we are sharing at @glenairecottages. Again, that’s Glenaire Cottages. So it’s G-L-E-N-A-I-R-E. And they are coming to us from the land down under. And so–

Sarah Karakaian: [00:01:43] This boujee.

Annette Grant: [00:01:45] I am going to say so many things about this one, but I’m going to keep it brief. Number one, you can stay at their place and see koalas. I think I could probably just, mic drop, stop now because it’s the first STR share that I’ve been scrolling through. And if I was sitting on the deck, I might be able to see koala. So that’s five stars right there. 

But there’s a couple of things I took note of that I really want everybody to check out. Number one, they have one Instagram handle, but they highlight all five of their cottages, all the different experiences that you can have in their one property. And I think they do a really nice job of that. They highlight right away. Book, direct, and save, and dog friendly. So they get it out there immediately.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:02:21] Their phone number.

Annette Grant: [00:02:22] Yeah. The next thing is they’ve done a really great job, especially for people wanting to put in some hot tub or outdoor spa experience. They’ve built them more into the ground, so they feel more native to the environment. And a part of the experience is having to climb in and they’ve built decks around them. 

Please check it out. You’ll have to– I’m not doing it justice the way that I’m describing it. But the area all around their property is amazing. So they’ve tried to make the hot tubs in the spas sink into the actual property. And so I thought that was really well done. And also for safety purposes, it’s probably a lot easier to get in and out of them when you’re just dipping down instead of having to climb in.

And they have a sauna with, you know the saunas that have the cut out so you can see the amazing view. They’re just really thinking about their guest and how they can enjoy their amazing property. So please, give them some love. Go check them out for inspiration. I love that they have these five cottages. They are crushing it. 

And if you’re ever in Australia, look them up. So I’m just super pumped about their property and these koalas. And there’s a ton of wildlife, and they show it all on their Instagram. So thanks for using the hashtag. All right, Sarah, let’s get into the episode.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:03:34] Like we said before we hit the record, our guest today went from submitting an AMA question to which we answered here on the podcast, to she joined and is a part of our online membership and she is crushing it. And now she’s on the show because she’s got an incredible story and we want to share it with all of you. 

Helen Christopher is a super host and event venue owner from upstate New York. She’s the owner of Brookledge, a former girls’ summer camp, which is so cool. And she’ll share with you where she’s living right now, which is also so cool. And she can now also add author to her list. We’ll let her dive into the details there in just a moment. But, Helen, welcome to our show.

Helen Christopher: [00:04:15] Thank you, Sarah and Annette. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:04:18] Of course. All right. What the heck? Where did you find this– start at the beginning because you are remixing your entire life with this camp. So give us the background on the story of you purchasing or even looking for this property. Or did it find you?

Helen Christopher: [00:04:34] It found me. I was actually a teacher for 17 years prior to owning Brookledge. And I had attended a wedding here about seven years ago, a friend of ours got married and it wasn’t an event venue at that time. It was just two women had bought it when it was a summer camp. And they just would let local friends and people get married there. And when we were at the site, we just thought it was the prettiest place. 

It still had all the original summer camp buildings, the pavilions, the camps, the cabins, all that was there. And I turned to my husband and I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to live here?” Little did we know seven years fast forward, the property was for sale.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:05:14] Well, wait, did your husband think it would be cool to live there?

Helen Christopher: [00:05:16] He did.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:05:17] Did he just do like, “Ah, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Helen Christopher: [00:05:20] No, he loved it, but his idea was that he would have a place to ride a four-wheeler and do all of those outdoor things because the property is 60 acres. So there’s a lot of space. And he also liked it because we were only 15 minutes from Saratoga. So Saratoga Springs is a bigger touristy city here in Upstate New York. So he loved that we were completely in the woods, but 15 minutes from everything. 

We didn’t think it was going to be for sale, but we saw that it was for sale seven years later and it was actually under contract. A company had it under contract. They were going to turn it into an RV park, so the plans were to demolish all the buildings and make an RV park. After a year, for whatever reason, it fell through and we had contacted the original owners and said, “If it falls through, let us know.” And sure enough, they did. 

And two weeks later, we had to move in to what was the nurse’s office because we had to change schools for my son. And he’s a middle schooler. And I wanted him to start– because this was August, I wanted him to start middle school at his new school. So that meant we had to live on site.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:06:28] So were you crushed when you saw that that was in contract? Take us through this year. Because to me, I’d be like, “Someone else stole it from us. What are we going to do now?” Or did you pine after it all year, checking up? Or was it like, “Okay, it’s not meant to be. Well, let them know we’re interested, but we’re just going to let this dream life or whatever.”

Helen Christopher: [00:06:45] Yeah. I was totally bummed. But my mom always tells me things happen for a reason. So she said, “If it’s meant to be, it will happen.” The ladies that owned it, they actually were customers of my husband. He owns an auto repair shop. So every month he called them.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:07:01] Okay. 

Helen Christopher: [00:07:01] It’s like, “Hey, just checking.”

Sarah Karakaian: [00:07:01] So there was some follow up going on here.

Helen Christopher: [00:07:03] Oh, yeah. Every month. And the people in the community were not thrilled that it was going to be an RV park. They just didn’t want the extra traffic. It’s a very quiet town and they weren’t thrilled about it. So we kept looking at the minutes for the town, the planning board. And we kept watching and we were seeing that it wasn’t going so well. People weren’t loving it. But eventually it did go through. The town did approve it. 

But something with the state stopped it. I don’t know the full story. I think it had something to do with the water, sewer, septic tanks, things for the campers. But whatever reason, the company, they were from New Jersey, changed their mind and they called us that same day, the owners. And it just worked out and it happened really quickly. 

This was when, let’s see, we are in 2023. I have to like think of the years now. So it was 2021, and it was just when the houses were really getting expensive. So we put our house on the market and right away it sold. And then we had to move into the nurse’s office.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:08:03] That was fast. But it’s not like you hadn’t already dreamed about it, thought about it. I know my husband and I, when we get an idea, we map it out all in our head before we make the first call. So not that reality versus dreaming is exactly the same, but it sounds like while it happened quickly, you knew what you had to do to get it going.

Helen Christopher: [00:08:20] Yes. And I am a little– I’m a spontaneous person. So it’s not unlike me to do something like this, but it is completely out of my husband’s realm. He doesn’t like change. He likes to stay in the same place. So for him, this was a big deal and nobody thought we would ever move out of our other house and nobody knew we even looked at this. It was just like, “Hey, guys, we just moved to the nurse’s office, and we’re selling all of our things.” So it was that fast and people thought we were crazy. They really did.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:08:49] What was the square footage difference from your old home to the nurse’s office?

Helen Christopher: [00:08:52] So it was 3,100 square feet. My other house was a– yeah, it was a five- bedroom colonial. And yeah, I end up having to get rid of about 80% of our things.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:09:02] So tell the listeners–

Annette Grant: [00:09:04] That’s incredible. 

Sarah Karakaian: [00:09:05] Yeah. Tell the listeners– I mean, we’re recording. I mean, Helen is still in the nurse’s office. She’s done some rehab. Tell us about moving in and what that space looked like and then turning over the camp.

Helen Christopher: [00:09:14] Yes. So when we moved in, it was 400 square feet and it was just a room. So there was nothing in there except it was insulated, which is the only building we could move into because the property was a summer camp. So all the other buildings were not insulated. It’s the only one that had a heat source and it was really the only one we could live in. That was it. 

So that’s how we moved into there. Because there’s bigger buildings on the property, but they wouldn’t have survived the winter. And when we moved in, we knew that we needed water, we needed two bedrooms, we needed the basic life skills. And I have to be honest, when you spend time having to bring your dishes down to the bath house to wash everything, you really appreciate a sink with a faucet.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:10:00] Let alone a dishwasher. You were like, “I’ll just take a sink with a faucet.”

Helen Christopher: [00:10:03] I still don’t have a dishwasher, but that’s what my son wanted for Christmas. So that was the family gift this year. We bought a dishwasher.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:10:11] Your son wanted it. I love that.

Helen Christopher: [00:10:12] Yeah. He’s over washing the dishes in the sink. But yeah, so that was the big change. And then we had a camper next to the bath house so that my son would have a place to sleep because we were renovating while we were living in the bath house. We just had a blowup mattress that we put in the middle and we had a microwave and a fridge we plugged in. And I look back on it now and it seems absolutely crazy because I was still teaching at the time. But it worked out.

It worked out and it was fun. And people always laughed at me and said I should have a YouTube channel or something to document it, but we were too busy–

Sarah Karakaian: [00:10:48] Doing it. 

Helen Christopher: [00:10:48] To even consider taking pictures, let alone creating a channel.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:10:52] Well, what was the vision before you moved in for– did you have a vision for short-term rentals for letting other people visit? Or was it wedding venue? Obviously, you are ready once you signed the paperwork to move in and get going. So talk us through getting it prepared for guests and your vision.

Helen Christopher: [00:11:08] That’s a great question. I knew I wanted to do something with the cabins. I wasn’t sure what to do. I had actually stayed at Airbnbs before or short-term rentals, Vrbo, those types of things. And I knew I was thinking that it would be a great place for people to get away. And then I found you guys and I was listening to your podcast and I was like, “That’s what I can do. I can create one listing for one cabin, one listing for another cabin. I could do another listing for both cabins together.” 

So I did a lot of those types of things. And the moment that we put the cabins on OTA, they went right away and every weekend they were filled. I didn’t think about weddings or events per se. But what happened was gusts– a new trend that’s happening in the wedding world is they love the idea of having instead of a wedding day, a wedding weekend. And having a pavilion and the pond and the cabins, people wanted to have weddings here. And so that’s how that part started. So it began really just as short-term rentals.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:12:15] How many cabins are there?

Helen Christopher: [00:12:18] Yes. So we have the log cabin Crook Brook. That’s an ’80s style cabin with queen bunk beds. We have the cottage, which used to be one of the girls’ bath– they call it bath house, where they would– the dressing room. They would change their bathing suits instead of going into the bath house. They would change their bathing suits, go into the pond. 

I didn’t like where that one was located, so we moved that where I found some boulders on the property. And so now that cabin sits on top of boulders and overlooks the stream. That one sleeps two people. We have two glamping tents that we’ve added. They’re called Snoopy and Woodstock, and they’re named after the buses the girls used to take to come to camp. You either rode the Snoopy bus or the Woodstock bus. 

And we are currently updating the lodge. That should be done hopefully in a couple of months. And we built an indoor treehouse in that one. So when you walk in, you walk under the tree house. That one’s going to be pretty awesome. It has the original fireplace, which is 80 years old and is built out of the rocks from the property. So that’s pretty cool.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:13:19] Okay, I think we’re going to have a road trip, maybe not road trip, but plane, but we’ll get there. 

Helen Christopher: [00:13:25] So we can sleep at least 20 people on site.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:13:28] Okay. I have questions for you. And they include, are you renovating yourselves or did you hire a general contractor?

Helen Christopher: [00:13:35] It’s a mix. So yeah, we do stuff ourselves. My parents have been a total blessing. They’ve come down to assist. We’ve had friends help, but we do have one gentleman that helps us with things. Because my husband still works. So there’s things I cannot do, but I do as much as I can.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:13:54] For the listeners. When you decided this is going to be a full on family overhaul, we’re moving here, it’s going to be the family business, how did you decide you were going to be the one to leave your career and was that a hard decision to make? What conversations did you have? If a listener right now is like, “I want to go all in too, we’re just not sure what first step to take,” what would you advise?

Helen Christopher: [00:14:17] Well, the first year of living here at Brookledge I still was teaching. We spent nights and weekends working on everything to make it so that, a, we could live here. And then the other option was to get the cabins ready. There was a point in time when I wasn’t able to give 100% to both, and I knew it wasn’t fair to my students. And honestly, I made less than my husband. I mean, the teaching salary is not really the same as what my husband makes.

So we decided that I would take that on. My husband has no desire to run the short-term rental piece, and he’s not great with technology. That’s not his thing. So he knew that he would keep working and he would help on the weekends and then I would manage everything else. So it made sense financially. And also it was more of my wanting to do it than my husband.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:15:13] So you both agreed as a family unit to live here. And did he know that the cottages would be a way– would be your– when you guys were planning this all out, did he know that this would be your bread and butter, I suppose, at some point?

Helen Christopher: [00:15:27] Yeah. Yes.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:15:29] That was always the plan.

Helen Christopher: [00:15:31] Yes. We knew we would be doing something with the property and it has now evolved more to events. But the cabins, I mean, we have people staying. It’s funny that our guests, they just messaged me last night, they’re like, “We love it so much. Can we add another day?”

Sarah Karakaian: [00:15:45] Heck, yeah, you can. Hopefully.

Helen Christopher: [00:15:47] And they did. They did. But the weekends have been nice. And during the winter we don’t really do events because the outdoor space is pavilions. So during the wintertime we’re solely just the short-term rentals. But starting the summertime once it’s warm, we do have eight weddings booked already.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:16:04] Oh, wow. So you have heat in all of the buildings now.

Helen Christopher: [00:16:07] Except for the glamping tents, but yes. Yeah. We had to do propane heat because that was the safest. I didn’t want to do wood and electricity was too expensive to do those types of units. So we did propane heaters.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:16:20] And in the summertime, when it’s the weddings, is it all or nothing? You have to rent the whole summer camp, or?

Helen Christopher: [00:16:27] So going forward it will be all or nothing. We have allowed just to help us with recouping some of the money we’ve made and we haven’t established us 100% in the wedding world yet. So this is a great way for us to try and see what things we need to fix still and what we need to adjust. But I did look into hiring a wedding coordinator to help because it’s just me. So it’s a different ball game. 

But having the type of setup that we have, the short-term rentals, is pretty big. And even people who have short-term rentals but don’t have this type of space, like a pavilion that we do, we actually are partnering up with local other short-term rentals to help us with bridal suites if they don’t want to get married on the same spot or, I mean, getting ready at the same spot. We can have the groom stay next door. We found one that’s two minutes down the road. 

Also, some of the family members don’t necessarily want to stay on the property. They don’t want that camping feel. And the couples just want to have their bridal party. They don’t want anybody besides their bridal party. So we’ve partnered with other short-term rentals that are local. And it’s been nice because they refer us and we refer them and we all work together.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:17:44] Love that. Can you share with us and our listeners some of the financials behind all of this? Are you going to the bank, sitting on all your cash like, “Holy smokes, we’re making a lot of money.” Or has it been a slow roll? If you can talk numbers, let’s talk about it if you’re open to share.

Helen Christopher: [00:17:56] Our goal was to not have to take a loan. So we used the sale of our house. Now, remember, we sold the house– when we bought the house many, many moons ago, it was a house to be completely renovated. So when we sold it, it was when the market was crazy. So that really helped us with buying the property. And we’ve been using as much of our savings towards that. I think eventually if we decide to build a venue here where it would be year round, at that point we would need to go to the bank. 

But we were able to turn the cabins that we have. The cabins are small, so they were easy for us to do ourselves, turn over, and not have to put as much money into them. It’s not a big house. I think the one cabin is 15 by 10. They’re small. So that made it easy to quickly fix them and then start earning a profit on that.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:18:49] Did you have any idea what you were getting into?

Helen Christopher: [00:18:52] I did not.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:18:53] And do you like your new career?

Helen Christopher: [00:18:57] Yes and no. So the thing that I love, I love the guests. You hear all these like scary stories of these terrible guests. The guests that we’ve had have been amazing. They still are in contact with me. They’ve been wonderful. So that piece I’ve loved. The part that is hard for me is the teacher part me. And that is that we are major planners down to the minute. 

And in the short-term rental world, nothing goes as planned and that is hard if you are a planner. So for example, we went away for Christmas. We thought, “Okay, let’s take two days and we’re going to go see the family.” When we came back, the power had shut off and so the heater in one of the bath houses didn’t come back on. So when we came back, all the pipes had frozen and our guests were arriving the next day. So things like that. 

If you have a hard time with the unexpected, that is a challenge and I’m much better at that. And now I just know, “Okay, this is what’s going to happen. It’s not going to go as planned.” I attempt to plan my every day, but that part is hard. If you’re a type-A who likes to plan your day, that is hard. I can see you guys laughing. It’s hard. It’s really hard.

Annette Grant: [00:20:07] It’s really hard.

Helen Christopher: [00:20:08] Yes.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:20:09] We’re just laughing because it’s you’re speaking in all of the truth. Right out.

Annette Grant: [00:20:14] And as a fellow type-A person over the years, I don’t know if you’ve already discovered this for yourself too, how it is just like, “I have to get excited about being able to solve the challenge, to solve the problem.” Because as a type-A person, I also like to figure things out. I will be the one to figure this thing out. And so as a property manager or a short-term rental host, you just have to go into, “Okay, I got to figure this out and I got to figure it out so we can get back on schedule.” And it’s falling in love with that that will either make or break, I think, you being able to embrace your new career.

Helen Christopher: [00:20:46] Yes. And the thing is, I do love change. So this job does allow for things not to be boring. So that’s the other piece that I’ve embraced. But I mean, I guess as a teacher, you plan like five-minute increments. So there was a big change in that. And not having my summers and weekends.

Annette Grant: [00:21:08] Your summers are gone [Inaudible] wedding. Yeah.

Helen Christopher: [00:21:14] Yeah. So now my time off will be winters. That will be my slower time. And maybe I’ll be able to take a vacation someday again in the wintertime once the renovations are done. That’s one of the things I’m hoping to be able to do again.

Annette Grant: [00:21:27] You will. And I think right now, the fun thing too is to forecast your future a little bit, not only 2023, but 2024. You said you are already looking for a wedding coordinator. What’s that going to do for you? But I do want to let listeners know that you can sometimes think, oh, I want to be a host, and then we tell you it’s part time, but all the time. 

So we have to figure out how to give ourselves breaks because you don’t want to get so burned out that you’re not there for your family or your guests or even yourself primarily. So do you have plans to get in the– maybe if not 2023 2024, how are you going to put on your teacher hat and plan your way to a more– 

Sarah Karakaian: [00:22:07] Sustainable. We can say sustainable–

Annette Grant: [00:22:09] Lifestyle.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:22:10] Yeah. Do you have a team?

Helen Christopher: [00:22:11] So yes, I do have a person that helps with the cleaning. And because we’re pretty small right now, in the wintertime, we don’t need a full staff. I think when the wedding season starts, it’s going to be different. And I know right now we’re still renovating. So that is taking up a lot of my time where I think in the future when that slows down, that will be much easier on us. 

That’s what’s making things so challenging, is that even if we’re not dealing with guests, we’re– like today I met with electricians. So there’s always something going on in the renovation part. Once that’s done, I know that things will be easier. And I need– our weekends, our busy time for us. So I need to pick like a day or two during the week that is my new weekend, like a Monday or Tuesday, so that I can do those hair appointments and grocery shop or just to sit down and read a book. I need to put those times in, and my week has to look different than what it used to.

Annette Grant: [00:23:10] So tell us, these numbers, I know a lot of times hosts especially getting started, I feel like they underprice their experience and you get into weddings and potentially underprice events because they don’t have the experience in it. So have you been learning on the go and increasing your pricing? Because you have a very, very special experience I feel like other places around you. 
So have you been increasing your nightly rates and have you been– as each wedding comes and you get that experience, are you charging more? I just feel like– Sarah and I talk to hosts every day that they’re under earning on their experience that they’re giving. So have you– how do you do with the pricing?

Helen Christopher: [00:23:48] It was bad. Looking back on what I was charging, it wasn’t enough. So same thing with the weddings. I was thinking of my wedding and how expensive it was, and that was like 17 years ago. So it’s not the same. It’s a different world now. So I have sought out mentors to help. And because– it was so low, ladies. I was charging like between three and $5,000 for the weekend, which to me I thought was a lot. So I’m supposed to be between 15 and 25. I wasn’t even close.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:24:22] That’s like three to four times than what you thought.

Annette Grant: [00:24:25] In one weekend times that which you told us– you did just give us visibility that there’s eight weddings. I can do that math pretty quick in my head of how much money you would have potentially been leaving on the table.

Helen Christopher: [00:24:35] Yes. And the thing too that you don’t think about is the expenses. So whenever you have an event on your property, you have to get extra insurance. So that’s an expense that you don’t think about. You need extra people to assist. How are they going to do the food? There are a lot of pieces. 

And the cleaning, everybody leaves at the same time. So now you have to have all these extra people to come clean where I might have a guest leave on Sunday, a guest leave on Monday. It’s staggered. So there’s a lot of things you have to think about and it’s not all profit. There’s a lot to the wedding piece.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:25:11] And I know as you’re in our membership, how much Annette and I talk about valuing your time. I hope you are. Profit is not what you take home, listeners. Profit is what you take home after you pay yourself and the time you put into your business. So I’m really hoping that you are rewarding yourself too, because you’re building something, like Annette said, really special and unique and it’s not repeatable. It’s only available at your place.

Helen Christopher: [00:25:35] Yeah. And right now we’re still fairly low in our pricing because the other part too is I don’t have enough pictures to showcase to couples. So we’re still very new. We only allowed a handful of events last year, so we’re still pretty priced on the lower end. And once all of our renovations are completed, we will be able to increase that. But right now we’re still pretty low. 

And it’s funny, once people started mentioning about having weddings at short-term rentals, there are YouTube channels, there’s all these things. This is a new trend. So if people have a space, I mean, you can easily allow, and you don’t have to– I am assisting with the couples, but you don’t have to. A lot of these couples are wanting to do it themselves, do it on their own, so you just provide the space and walk away. 

But I would recommend that if you are having that, you have the couple get the insurance for the day or the weekend just because you’re going to have a lot more people there that you’re going to have drinking going on. There’s just different things that can happen. So I would recommend that. And insurance is not a lot. We’re talking a few hundred dollars for the whole weekend. And that would be the couple’s responsibility. It’s not on the owner.

Annette Grant: [00:26:50] I think also for the host to make a decision, is this something I want to do at all moving forward? Because a lot of times just doing it once isn’t worth what the revenue is going to be. Like for you, this is going to be a part of your business plan and you can say, “Hey, I do 10 a year, and that’s it.” You can make it exclusive like, “Oh, we only host five a year.” 

And you have when– because listeners, we were in our group this week and our membership, there’s a lot of people. Influencers want to stay or photographers want to come or weddings. It’s like, if that isn’t going to be part of your short-term rental business moving forward, it’s like you want to decide that ahead of time and you can say yes or no to that because it is a lot of additional work and it gets you out of your groove. So you’ve made the decision. 

So listeners, there are a lot of things to take into account. And if someone really wants to have their wedding at your beautiful property, trust me, they will ask you and they will ask you and they will ask you again. And then that’s where you give them a price that would make it worth it for you to allow a one-off event there. 

And that is something that if you’re having any sort of commercial photo shoot, if someone’s having an event, you should always have that insurance. And I’m glad that you brought that up because that is sometimes something that– 

Sarah Karakaian: [00:27:55] People overlook it. And especially if they book it on an Airbnb, people are like, “Oh, well, yeah. Sure, bring your chef. Bring your private chef to the house.” And it’s like, well, that private chef, you need to be added insured on their insurance policy or the photographer you’re inviting. 

So Helen, if I may ask you, you had this unique experience of hosting short-term stays and events. What do you think as you were allowing these weddings to happen, these events to happen, what do you think are the, top of your head, the biggest differentiator between the two sectors?

Helen Christopher: [00:28:25] Well, you have a lot more people coming on your property, so there’s more wear and tear as far as they’re going to be parking on your grass. You’re going to find more cleanup. You’re going to find cups and things like that scattered around. But then there are also things you have to take into consideration. Do you have the right setup for a couple to get ready there? 
So things like extra outlets. Because they’re going to have extension cords everywhere and those types of things. But the good thing is, and I’m like a hopeless romantic, I love that I got to be a part of their day and they are looking forward to coming back year after year and it’s going to be their special place. And I loved being a part of that and being with the bride and getting her ready before she went. 

There’s just something really special about that that I wasn’t expecting. I mean, I cried it every ceremony last year, but it’s really, really great to be part of it and to see what people– they look at my space and they come up with these amazing things. I loved that. That part was really great. But it is tougher on the property, which I think is why you have to charge more because they’re parking in your grass. 

My husband, he’s a big grass guy. He loves his lawn. So having all the cars like that, so you just have to let it go and know that there are going to be multiple cars parking, the vendors dealing with all of that type of thing. But if you’re allowing a DIY, you just rent the space and you walk away so you don’t have to be a part of it. 

And if you’re close to a venue, tell them that you’re available for lodging. It’s a great way. Some people don’t want to stay in a hotel if they’re bringing dogs or if they have children and they can bring their own babysitter. There are people who are looking for their short-term rentals close by. So if you’re near a venue or an event space, give them your information.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:30:09] Actually, that’s a great hosting hot tip. Annette, don’t forget that one, because we champion all the time, Helen, the direct booking and not relying on just the OTs to get you your leads. And they might be just down the road from you. A Helen who’s looking for someone to partner up with when she’s got her weddings to offer up and explaining what it has to offer so that you can match the people with the right short-term rentals. So that’s a great tip.

Helen Christopher: [00:30:33] And I did go– I reached out to short-term rentals. Some of them probably thought I was a scam, but I reached out to them and said, “Can I come take a look at your venue or your space to make sure it’s right fit for our venue?” Some of them were not. They just didn’t fit the bill. But then others were perfect. 

They had the big space. They were pet friendly. That was something that was important because I know people who are traveling that want to bring their pet that maybe wouldn’t work in a hotel. And the other piece too, is our weddings here are in the summer. 

Saratoga Springs is a humongous tourist destination this summer because of the horse racing season. So the costs of hotels are really expensive. So many of the guests were looking for more reasonably priced options, like a house where a bunch of them could go in together and pay for it. 

So that was the other piece that was helpful. And the nice thing is our neighbors, they love it. We’re giving them free advertising because we’re putting their links directly on our website. So they appreciate that when they have guests that reach out.

Annette Grant: [00:31:37] And you offer– and in these cabins, and just the experience I give, is there Wi-Fi? What are guests anticipating when they show up to the camp?

Helen Christopher: [00:31:44] There is no Wi-Fi. And I was actually just listening to one of your recent podcasts talking to somebody about cabins off-grid. So the cottage is completely off-grid. It is so off-grid that you just have a little Jackery. I don’t know if you know what a Jackery is.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:31:58] We don’t even know what a Jackery is.

Annette Grant: [00:31:59] Can you tell us? We have no idea.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:32:00] Sounds like someone late night at a bar that you want to just tell them to go home. That’s what I think a Jackery is.

Helen Christopher: [00:32:05] It’s a portable generator that’s about the size of a cooler. Remember the old ones that had the little handle and you would push the buttons and push the whole thing down, about that size. And you can charge it on a wall unit. So what I do is when we don’t have guests, I bring it back to the nurse’s office, my house, and I charge it back up. 

It takes a few hours and it’s back up to 100%. We leave it in there. And so they have access to it to plug in their phone, a lamp. And my cleaning team uses it to plug in the vacuum cleaner. But that’s the only source of power there. Everything else is battery operated. The lighting is candles on the ceiling through different sconces.

And there’s no running water there. It’s just a canister that’s over a vintage sink and a bath, an outhouse. So that one’s completely off-grid. And the people who book that one, they just want to get away and be left alone. And the water completely surrounds it. So when you fall sleep at night, because there’s no other noise, you hear the water.

Both Annette & Sarah: [00:33:07] That’s nice.

Helen Christopher: [00:33:08] They love that one. The log cabin, that one’s different. That one has power, has water. That one’s the ’80s cabin. So it’s got VHS tapes and VCR and all vintage pieces. So that one is facing the pond and overlooks the fountain. So that one’s pretty popular. And then you’ve got the two glamping tents, which are pretty standard, your normal furniture, that type of thing.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:33:31] Awesome. And the glamping tents, was that– once you opened like, wait, is there another source of revenue? We’ve got all this land, it’s inexpensive way to get more guests on the property?

Helen Christopher: [00:33:41] Yes. So we started building that space last fall, end of summer. So we wanted to put platforms so that the bottom of the tents would remain off the ground. And it would also ensure that the tents would last longer. We also knew that we wanted to be able to put a bed and things like that, so we needed a stable level surface. We still have a couple of things we’re going to be adding to the glamping tent area. We need to add power. 

There’s so many things you have to think about. You can’t just put a tent up in a field and glamping. So we want to be able to put a fan in there for guests so they have some type of air circulation. But the furniture piece, we had to– we needed linens and things like that and we live in the woods, so we have critters here. So you have to think about how you’re going to keep your tent critter free. 

So things like linens, you can’t just leave all the linens out and that type of a thing. And you can’t leave mouse traps because you don’t want your guests to see it. So every time the guest leaves, you have to take all of your linens, pillows, everything out, except the bed. It’s not as easy as just putting a tent up.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:34:46] Okay. Can we ask how much the tents were to purchase, though?

Helen Christopher: [00:34:50] Yes. So two tents is– depending on the size that you get, so mine is enough to fit a queen bed, a little table, chairs. Two of them was $6,000, for the two of them. It’s a white canvas tent with a front porch. So that way you can put chairs underneath. It’s not buying a tent from [Inaudible].

Sarah Karakaian: [00:35:11] Sure. And at the height of your busy season in the summer, what would you charge per night for one of the tents?

Helen Christopher: [00:35:15] It’s funny, the glamping tents get just as much as the cabins. Yeah, they do. Because it’s an experience that you wouldn’t necessarily get a hotel. It’s different. So we are able to get over 200 a night for those.

Annette Grant: [00:35:29] What?

Sarah Karakaian: [00:35:29] Do the math. Everybody, do the math. Do the math. You don’t even need to get your calculators out.

Annette Grant: [00:35:34] That’s amazing.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:35:36] Are we going to be adding more glamping tents potentially?

Helen Christopher: [00:35:39] No.

Annette Grant: [00:35:40] Why? Tell us why.

Helen Christopher: [00:35:43] Because then you would need special licensing because there’s a certain amount of dwellings you’re allowed to have in a property before you fall into campground, motel, hotel-type things. So you have to make sure within your state that you’re not over certain amount because then you need to provide certain things. 

So we are not on city water, we’re on well water. So that would change the water setup and things we would have to do if we’re over a certain amount. So if we added extra tents, then it would be an issue.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:36:12] Okay, I was getting a little greedy. Let’s just keep it two. Let’s ease down.

Helen Christopher: [00:36:17] There’s things that you could do though. So this is 60 acres. If you really wanted to add more, you could sub-divide the property. It’s just based off of one property.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:36:27] Now you’re thinking. Your son could start his own little glamping business over there.

Helen Christopher: [00:36:32] So you can move all the glamping tents to one side and then maybe use those platforms for something else.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:36:38] See, you’re already thinking.

Annette Grant: [00:36:40] Thinking ahead. All right.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:36:41] Is there anything we didn’t touch on that you think our listeners should know about what you’ve learned over these past few years?

Helen Christopher: [00:36:51] Yes. I’d say the biggest thing is finding your team, having your support people, and getting your structure in place. So when you start teaching in a classroom, you have to think about your space and how it’s going to function and you have to have your systems in place. How kids are going to get a pencil and how they’re going to get out of their seats and where they’re going to go to read a book. 

And it’s funny, I took a lot of those skills with me in this phase because you have to look at your property and think, how are people going to travel the property? How are they going to get food? What are they going to do if they have a situation like an emergency? So it’s the same kind of idea. You have to look at your systems and your setup to make sure things flow and that you can be proactive before things would happen. 

So that was a big part of looking at the property. And then once we had a guess, we realized, oh, we need to add extra lighting in the walkways, we need an extra parking spot, we need extra chairs that guests can have when they are doing a campfire. So there’s little things like adding an umbrella when it rains so that every cabin now has an umbrella because they have to walk outside to use the outhouse or they have to go to their car to get their things. 

So there was that piece that I didn’t originally think about and having a team. You guys say all the time, the cleaners are the most amazing. So I have one cleaner. Her name is Christine. She’s–

Sarah Karakaian: [00:38:20] Shout out, Christine.

Helen Christopher: [00:38:22] Oh, my God. She’s amazing.

Annette Grant: [00:38:23] You have to have her listen to this.

Helen Christopher: [00:38:24] Yes. And she knows that. I tell her all the time how she’s like my most favorite person in the whole world. And the nice thing of knowing that you have somebody that can just come and turn it over and you know it’s going to be done right, you know that she’s just as invested in the place and the guest experience as you are, it’s huge. It’s huge. 

To her, it’s not just making a bed. She will call and tell me, “Helen, do I leave extra? Or how many dogs are coming? Should I leave two dog bones or just one?” So she’s invested in it just as much as I am. And she knows I adore her. She knows that I think she’s super special.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:39:02] Christine, you’re one of the good ones.

Annette Grant: [00:39:06] Thanks for all you do. And you’re not wrong. I was just talking about my head cleaner and just–

Sarah Karakaian: [00:39:10] Literally right before we jumped on.

Annette Grant: [00:39:12] And it does. And my heart goes out to the people who haven’t found their Christine yet because you feel like it’s not possible. But that’s how you– once you find that person, it just opens up. And there are people out there who want to support the people who are running the show. They want to be the person to be depended on. But we do have to show them how much we appreciate them, give them the tools they need, and the encouragement, and all that good stuff. So how did you find Christine?

Helen Christopher: [00:39:39] Christine was one of my friends prior to this. So she was looking for something that she could do during the school day while her kids were in school. And it’s perfect because guests check out at 11:00 and the next one checks in at 3:00, and those are school hours. So she loved that she could come here. And she thoroughly enjoys nature. 

She comes here and she says there’s just such a calming, peaceful aspect of the property. So she loves it here just as much. And she actually stays here sometimes as a guest. She’ll rent the cabin and come with her mom or a girlfriend. She loves it here just as much as I do. So yeah, I’m really lucky. Really lucky to have her. Love you, Christine.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:40:18] Where can our listeners book your amazing camp? Where can they find you?

Helen Christopher: [00:40:24] Yes. So we do have the cabin is on Airbnb, Vrbo. We have those. We are looking to do a direct booking site, but I had to work on the wedding stuff first. So we are doing that, which kind of in a way is direct booking because when the couple’s rent it, they rent the whole thing. That’s one facility fee. We have that. 

We are in brookledgeny.com, is our website. We’re actually just working on revamping our website because it’s not wedding friendly, it’s more of the cabins. And then we do get some social media requests. So we do have that too going on.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:40:58] And we’ll make sure that we link to all of this in show notes.

Helen Christopher: [00:41:02] Yes. So I’m working on the social media piece. That was never something I did prior. And it’s a lot of work.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:41:08] Welcome to business ownership. 

Annette Grant: [00:41:11] It’s always going to be something.

Helen Christopher: [00:41:12] Yes. So that’s been something new. I don’t hate it, though. It’s forcing my creative. But it’s just it’s changing all the time. You think you’ve gotten it and then all sudden Instagram changes there.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:41:24] I feel like every listener is shaking their head like, yeah, I feel your pain.

Annette Grant: [00:41:28] But that’s the thing as a business owner. That should be the thing that you love. I mean the constant change, the creativity needed to take yourself to the next level or hey, you got to take two steps back in order to make three steps forward. That is inevitable. So you’re doing all the right things. And we cannot wait to see the evolution of your summer camp. Yeah.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:41:46] Yeah, it’s so good.

Helen Christopher: [00:41:47] Thanks. Yeah. And I’m also part of a book called Hospitable Hosts that we wrote. It’s really a great book. It showcases different short-term rentals throughout the world, and we’re a part of it, and it’s going to be launching this spring and it talks about all the crazy things that happened with our short-term rental. 

But it also highlights our favorite guests, Maxine and Lynn. They were my favorite guests and I won’t ruin the surprise, but it was the most memorable. I mean, we spent the whole weekend with them in tears, joyful tears and emotional tears. So they were by far my favorite guests. And I know they’ll be listening to this as well.

Annette Grant: [00:42:23] Awesome. All right, we’ll be on the look out.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:42:25] Amazing. Well, with that, I am Sarah Karakaian.

Annette Grant: [00:42:27] I am Annette Grant, and together we are– 

Both Annette & Sarah: [00:42:29] Thanks For Visiting.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:42:30] We’ll talk to you next time. Thanks for listening to the Thanks for Visiting Podcast. Head on over to the show notes for additional information about today’s episode. And please, hit that subscribe button and leave us a review. Awesome reviews help us bring you awesome content. Thanks for tuning in and we look forward to hanging out with you next week.