"I always knew how to provide great hospitality, but I didn't come into this as a sophisticated business person or as an investor. That's changed with MyVR." - Carole Heiman-Kezios, Greek Vacation Rentals & Magic Factory Lofts
Carole Heiman-Kezios and her husband, Basil, didn’t set out to start a Greek hospitality business — they already owned a translation business back home in Chicago. They purchased a property in Athens after Carole had a lackluster rental experience there. Fifteen years later, Greek Vacation Rentals manages 10 properties in their two hometowns - Athens and Chicago - capitalizing on the growing demand for short-term rentals in urban markets.
To Carole, hospitality means providing more than just a place to sleep. By listening to guests and following her own instincts, she’s built her short-term rental business — as well as a related travel agency — by delivering experiences in the adopted country she loves.
But she was limiting her ability to grow: for years, Greek Vacation Rentals lived solely on her computer. Nobody else could access information, nothing was integrated, and everything had to be done manually. Something had to change.
Finding the right partner in MyVR
Carole spent a year researching software that could support her business, “Then I wasted a year working with a vendor that never even got my system live,” she says. “With MyVR, I took my first booking in the first month and was fully operational within 60 days.”
During her search, Carole found a lot of other companies out there — including one based in Europe that was a very close contender. But everything clicked when she learned about MyVR, first through Matt Landau’s Inner Circle and then at a trade show where she met MyVR’s co-founder, Markus Nordvik.
“A lot of startups have a good story, but I wasn’t convinced that they were in it for the long-term and that was my number one concern,” she says. “I asked Markus, ‘Who are you building the business for?’ How he answered that question convinced me that MyVR was the right fit.”
Grow beyond the listing sites
“I’m not a sophisticated business person, but I’ve always paid close attention to my numbers,” Carole explains. “I know what my costs are for the year, so I try to cover those costs with bookings by a certain date. The first year I did this, it took until August to make sure my bills were paid; the next year I’d done it by the middle of June. My best year so far, I hit that mark by the beginning of April.”
MyVR and its data and reporting has helped her measure success more analytically. Which is important, as Carole has big plans for the future of her business; she’s also learned to manage her business in a way that’s easier to scale.
Marketing and bookings used to be difficult and time consuming: “I had to deal with VRBO directly, FlipKey directly and so on. I used a desktop system to manage my properties, but nobody else could access it. I had a lot of email templates, but I had to send everything on my own.” With assistants in Athens and Chicago, the logistics were far from ideal for a growing business.
With MyVR, everything is on one cloud-based platform, including:
- A master booking calendar for each unit and single calendar view of all units
- Direct integrations with all marketing channels
- Information about every property all in one place
- Email templates and autoresponders to engage with every guest before, during and after their stay
“Having a place where my team — Valerie in Chicago or Nadia in Athens — can get all the information they need about a booking has been really important,” Carole says. “It’s not just all in Carole’s head, or in Carole’s smartphone. It’s in a place everyone can access.”
This means Carole can disconnect if she needs to: She took a six-month break to care for her mother, and enjoyed a one-month journey through Asia. It also gives her the bandwidth to grow her business.
The confidence to focus on something else
“My focus right now? Direct bookings through my website through word-of-mouth, referrals, and repeat customers,” Carole says. “When I started using MyVR, I set a goal to reach 50 percent. In April 2017, direct business accounted for only 15 percent of bookings. By April 2018, it was already 31 percent.”
Two things have allowed Carole to save about 15-20 hours a week and shift her focus to building her brand and further developing her “experiences” business:
- MyVR’s booking and payment processing
- MyVR’s automation capabilities, such as templates, triggers, and scheduled emails
Knowing booking and payment processing is looked after makes life easier. “The problem for me was literally having to sit and enter credit card numbers — or they give me a credit card number, but I transposed two numbers so the card doesn’t work.
Carole was wary of automation at first, worried people would miss the personal touch. “From the earliest days, we’ve focused on building a level of trust and that personal connection. And the response rate tells me that the auto responses I’ve put in place haven’t made me seem impersonal.”
In fact, they’ve given her business an unexpected boost. “I’m often going back and forth between time zones, and the listing sites started measuring how fast you respond,” she explained. “With automation, people get an immediate response. My score went way up!”