Service Management Solutions: Boosting Productivity and Profits

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In this episode of the Boostly Podcast, Dale Smith, CEO of Host&Stay, shares insights into building his property management business. Starting with his first property investment, his company has grown to manage over 1,000 properties across the UK. 

Dale emphasizes the importance of proactive marketing from the start, setting Host&Stay apart from competitors who rely mainly on word-of-mouth. He discusses the challenges of scaling a business that maintains full-service management, including the intricacies of human resources and on-ground services.

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Timestamps (audio)


Quick peek

[00:00:00] Dale: We've always marketed from day one. I speak to so many property managers at the sort of 50 to 100 unit level who say to me, Oh, well, we're not doing any marketing now. It's all word of mouth. You know, I think all of us know word of mouth is certainly one of the most, uh, impactful marketing tools.

[00:00:17] But it's very difficult to get scale, in terms of if you, if you're solely relying on word of mouth.

[00:00:23] Liam: Having a blast, going to get it on the Boosley podcast. Boostly like Bruce Lee, cause it's so hard and the tea is loose leaf. Making up those rhymes, don't write it, just do it loosely. If you want my respect, you better put it directly.

[00:00:35] Um, here are the words in the podcast. That's what comes next.

Welcome back

[00:00:39] Hi, welcome back to the Boostly podcast. This is a podcast that gives hosts the tools, the tactics, the training, and most importantly, the confidence. So you can go out there and get yourselves direct bookends. My name is Liam Carolan. I'm Mark Simpson's co-host.

[00:00:50] And today we're going behind the host with a successful host. Who's grown an amazing. Amazing company up in the North of England. Um, it's somebody who I've seen on stage many times, and he's going to be sharing the story of his business and sharing some tips and tricks with you. This is one that you're going to want to stay and pay attention to.

[00:01:09] So let me introduce, we've got Dale Smith. He's the CEO and founder of Host Stay, and it is an amazing, amazing company, which I'm excited to find out more about. So, uh, Dale, welcome along. Thank you for joining me tonight.

[00:01:21] Dale: No, great to be here, Liam. Looking forward to it. And yeah, thanks for having me on.

[00:01:24] Liam: No worries.

[00:01:25] No worries. So, uh, I know I've given you a bit of a tee up there, but tell me what host and stay is just as the elevator pitch.

What is Host & Stay and its history?

[00:01:33] Dale: Yes, so we are a short-term rental and holiday home management business, as you rightly say, founded and based in the north of England, although we do cover the entire UK now, and just over 1, 000 properties under management, aiming to grow that to 2, 000 this year in 2024, so a big task ahead of us.

[00:01:51] Uh, and our point of dissonance is that we are full management business, so full-service management business, you know, a snapshot is, you know, we employ over just over 400 people, over 225 of those are employed, housekeepers. Uh, so that is really our, um, you know, our, our biggest challenge. Uh, say the point of difference over the competition, but also probably one of the things I'm most proud of as well, in terms of the business and being able to have that full on the ground staff and, and keep that growing really.

[00:02:17] Mm-Hmm. ,

[00:02:18] Liam: before we dive into all of that cool stuff, can you talk me through the history, like you say, I mean, uh, the number of units you're at now is incredible. Take me back, to the early days. What, what is the history? What did you do before this? Why did you get into hospitality?

[00:02:34] Dale: So always had an interest in property.

[00:02:36] So my dad started to invest in, uh, residential buy flat properties back in 2006, just obviously pre-pre-recession. Um, I bought my first apartment at about a similar time, maybe just after, before I went to university. There was always a bit of. You know, property investment is in the blood, if you like. Um, I came back from university in 2010.

[00:02:57] I was looking up to study in the U. S. Then when I came back and started working full time, my dad and I started investing in property together. That bought select property. Um, but then in 2017, or late 2016, we ended up buying a property in our hometown with Saltburn. Um, and we thought, Because of the position it is in, in the town overlooking the sea, a two-minute walk from the beach, we thought, right, let's have a go at Holiday Let's and see if it generates us a better return than what the standard buy collect stuff does.

[00:03:25] And that was kind of our stumble, if you like, more than anything into Holiday Let's invest. Um, that was our first property. We launched that in March 2017. You know, it's kind of always been the host and stay flagship property. Um, but then, I was still living in Scotland. My dad, I think I'd just moved back from Scotland and we wanted a management agency, to look after the property for us.

[00:03:48] Cause we didn't know anything about holiday let. But we just couldn't find an agency that we felt offered value, you know, could generate bookings, handle the maintenance, handle the cleaning, the linen, et cetera. The agencies at the time all wanted to generate bookings for us but didn't want to do the on-the-ground work.

[00:04:03] They could recommend someone, but, it felt like a fragmented solution. And we were looking for a one-stop shop. So we decided to, um, to, to generate bookings and manage it ourselves. You know, that was the easy way. And probably most of us get started now, anyway, on booking. com on Airbnb. Um, and, and the booking started to come in.

[00:04:24] We then, uh, my mom took over and did the housekeeping side of things. So we pieced it together, doing it on our own, but that was the start of the journey for us. So fast forward from March 2017 to the, uh, to December 2018. And we built up a small management portfolio of nine. Holiday homes, a couple of them were our own.

[00:04:43] The others, we'd ad hoc started to manage for other people that, you know, friends of friends. We had a couple of investor clients that we were actively managing property that then wanted to do holiday let's RSA. So we kind of had the makings of a management company then. And that's when we said, right, let's come up with a brand.

[00:05:00] Let's go to market and try and build a holiday let or short-term rental management business. So. From December 2018 to now, you know, early, early new year in 2024, the portfolio has grown from nine to just over a thousand. Um, and we launched the brand in that December, well, probably January, uh, January 2019.

[00:05:20] It was so, so yeah, so it's, it's scaled quickly. Um, you know, we found what we felt was a gap in the market on that full management piece that no one else was really to do it, not the big players in the market anyway. And we kind of run with that. That's always been our USP. And, uh, you know, it comes with its pros and cons because the more We do in terms of full management on the ground service, the more employees we have, the more difficult it then comes in terms of process management, people management, everything else that goes with that.

[00:05:49] But, you know, we, we've stuck by it and we, we feel like that's the right route in terms of what today's market needs.

The challenges faced

[00:05:55] Liam: You've done something different to the rest of the market. What are some of the challenges that have come with that and how have you overcome them?

[00:06:03] Dale: Um, I think the first one is just the scale of having that many people employed, uh, Liam.

[00:06:08] And, as you scale the number of units, then the intricacies that come with the processes of that, you know, When we were 10 properties, you know, I could go out and check every single property daily to make sure it is of the right standard after the clean. You know, as you scale that up, it just doesn't become, you know, it doesn't become feasible.

[00:06:27] It doesn't, it doesn't scale with the business, unfortunately. Um, so those are the bits that then start to become more difficult in terms of, you know, quality control is always done to standard, you know, training of our housekeeping. Uh, staff churn on housekeeping staff because you could have 10 fantastic housekeepers lose three of them and all of a sudden they might be your best three housekeepers.

[00:06:47] So you then trying to replace those train the next batch to come through the people side of it is the most difficult. And, you know, I think that probably goes for most businesses that got any significant headcount and then making sure that you've got the right systems in place and the right process in place and combining those to keep being able to scale the business.

[00:07:09] And to keep margin in it, because, you know, if we said that we were just going to focus purely on quality and making sure everything was perfect every time to do that, the business wouldn't be profitable because you need such significant headcount that it isn't feasible. So, um, you know, there are elements with, you know, the buzzword of AI starting to come through, we're feeding into our business that is certainly helping.

[00:07:33] With that, um, but scaling the people on the ground side of it is the most difficult and, you know, we knew that going into this and that's why we stuck with that because all of the big players in the market, you know, you take your site, your travel chapter, your, your cottages. com, who are the biggest three, uh, you know, equally 15 to 20, 000 units with, uh, each on those, they're not doing the on the ground piece.

[00:07:55] They're doing the high-level driving of booking generation, which is very, very controllable. It's the on-the-ground piece, which, in my view, delivers the most value and the piece that. I would, none of our businesses would exist no matter whether you've got one property, a hundred, a thousand.

[00:08:12] If you can't clean it, the next guest can't come in and therefore we haven't got a business. So that's, uh, the most valuable, but certainly the most difficult to deliver. Um, and that's still our biggest daily challenge is always on the underground services, the housekeeping, the maintenance. Can we get the quality right while still, still actually running the profitable, uh, business?

What does it take?

[00:08:29] Liam: What would you say, what does it take for every property manager listening to this right now? What does it take to go from? You, you know, 10 to 50 units to scale up to that 1000 units. Is there, is there one or two things looking back that you can go, do you know what? I'm so glad I did that action consistently.

[00:08:48] What would that be?

[00:08:49] Dale: I think in terms of we've, we've always marketed from day one. I speak to so many property managers at this sort of 50 to 100 unit level to say to me, Oh, well, we're not doing any marketing now. It's all word of mouth. Yeah. You know, I think all of us know word of mouth is certainly one of the most, uh, impactful marketing tools, but it's very, very difficult to get scale in terms of if you, if you're solely relying on word of mouth, um, cause it's only, uh, you know, it's only, um, a result of what you've already got.

[00:09:23] So, uh, we've always marketed from, from the very first, uh, first day that we started. So I've always been an advocate of investing in that. So I think any property managers that want to scale that are not currently. Investing and marketing is an investment. It isn't a cost to your P& L. It shows there's a cost on the P& L, but it's an investment in your business.

[00:09:41] If they're not doing that already, then they need to be. If they want to bring more properties on and scale that management piece, um, that will be my, you know, the number one that we've always done consistently. And we've always invested in our marketing, uh, ahead of time. Arguably our marketing budget at the moment is Too big for the size of business we are at the moment, but I'm investing that because of the size I want the business to be in two and three years from now, not because of the size I want it to be at the end of this year.

[00:10:08] Um, and then we've always been, I would say into the detail in terms of what we provide potential clients. So again, when we were looking at our main competitors in the management space and what a potential new property owner would get from them in terms of. a forecast of what the property could generate.

[00:10:27] Those forecasts were always very high level. We always tried to go granular and give the potential owner as much information as we could, not just on what the revenue would be, but what the nightly rate would be, what the occupancy would be, how that would vary by season, what the expected running costs would be.

[00:10:44] So we'd almost give, the potential new owner a P and L.

[00:10:48] For

[00:10:48] the property, which to some degree, some owners would look at it and go that that too much detail. So we'd have to talk them through that. But we've always wanted to be transparent and make sure owners know what they're getting into.

[00:11:01] Because I think there are so many costs in a short-term rental that sit below the line that you might not have thought of our owners might not have thought of, you know, we all know the revenues can look fantastic. But. Unfortunately, there are quite a lot of costs that go with short-term rental versus standard property investment.

[00:11:15] So we've always wanted to make sure we convey that and get into the detail of that with potential new owners. And, you know, I'm a big advocate of just, you know, getting right to the bottom line of what is a property going to make from a profit and loss point of view. So those are probably two of the key things that have helped us scale the portfolio.

[00:11:31] Liam: So how can we find out more about the host and stay or come and follow you? What, are the social links that we need to come and find out more about?

[00:11:38] Dale: Yep. So probably the primary social channel for me would be LinkedIn. So you should be able to find me on LinkedIn. If you search Dale Smith or, or host and stay, I think my handle might be Dale underscore PBL is an old handle, but you, uh, definitely the best place to get any content from, from my perspective.

[00:11:54] Okay. Um, you'll find Host& Stay on all the social channels, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Um, and I think we're at Host& Stay UK is our, our handle on there. And obviously, there's the Host& Stay website, which is host and stay. co. uk. So across those, you'll be able to find plenty more information on the business and me as well.

[00:12:14] Liam: Awesome. And of course, those links will be around, however, you're consuming this media. If it's on the podcast or YouTube, uh, there'll be around this content. So thank you so much, Dale. Uh, that, that leaves us with, uh, the last question. First of all, is there anything we missed along the way? And if not, do you have a motto which you can share with us, which has helped you along your journey?

[00:12:35] Dale: We've, we've, we've covered plenty. I'm sure there's some bits we've missed, but we've, uh, we've covered, covered plenty in the time there for sure. And, and probably the motto for me that I've always tried to run the business on from day one, and it's a motto that, you know, I learned from my, uh, my previous CEO.

[00:12:50] So my background from the commercial point of view was actually in the motor industry. Um, and I always remember, my CEO saying that. He would always be rather, rather be two laps ahead of the competition when the wheels come off because we'd have time to put them back on and still be ahead. And that has kind of stuck with me and everything that we've done, not looking for perfection early on, you know, so many people try and plan everything to the Nth degree before getting started, but ultimately there's no better way than coming up with a rough plan, getting stuck in.

[00:13:21] Get it going, refine it as you go along. And it comes back into that same point as, as a business. We're going to keep on evolving. I think that that applies whether you're on day one, year two, or year 10. Um, it's just about getting it done and learning as you go. And if something breaks, don't worry about it, put a solution in place and keep on moving forward.

[00:13:41] Liam: Uh, it's very inspiring and I feel inspired. I mean, I'm a property manager myself, so it's, it's really good. And I hope people, everybody listening to this is taking away some good tips and mindset lessons really what I've got from this about what it takes to grow a bigger business and like you say, look past some of those.

[00:13:58] Kinda glass ceilings and, ultimately just take action and, and go and do it. So thank you so much Dale for this. Um, thank you too for listening to this on the Bruce podcast. We know there are lots of places you can put your attention and we thank you for putting it with Bruce Lee. That's it from us for now.

[00:14:12] We'll see you on the next one. Having a blast. Gonna get it on the Boostly podcast. Boostly, like Bruce Lee 'cause it's so hard on the tees. Loosely. Looking up those rhymes. Don't write it, just do it loosely.