Friends and Partners
Resort Vacation Properties on St. George Island is a friendly affair, literally. The company is run by five women who learned to balance work and friendship.
Friends and Partners There’s room for both, if the rules are spelled out ahead of time By Jason Dehart
St. George Island is known as a paradise for those seeking to escape the rat race for some sun, fun and long walks on the beach. Getting away from it all is easy here, but even in paradise, the old saying applies: Friendship is friendship, but business is business.
It holds true for the five owners of Resort Vacation Properties, a vacation rental firm owned by Diana Prickett, Beth Brinkley, Dana Ingalls, Beth Terry and Barbara Mathis. For going on seven years now, this special team has made beach vacation dreams come true for their numerous clients.
The team may have started out at competing firms, but in the years since forming their own company they’ve developed a special chemistry that has been an asset to their joint business venture. Today, the tight-knit group is very much like a family.
Ingalls, the company’s accounting and human resources department manager, said they all seemed to hit it off well when they first came to work together back around 2001.
“We just clicked, it seemed,” she said.
Prickett, Terry and Mathis all worked at Collins Vacation Rentals. Prickett was property manager, Terry managed the housekeeping department and Mathis the maintenance division. Then one day Helen Spohrer of Prudential Resort Realty of St. George Island — a competitor in the St. George Island rental biz — approached Prickett with a job offer. She needed a new management team and asked her to “jump ship” and take the lead on it. Prickett added one proviso to the deal, however.
“I said the only way I’d move from one to the other is to let me buy the company at some point,” Prickett recalled. “She said yes, and Beth and Barbara came over with me.”
Brinkley and Ingalls were already working for Prudential; Brinkley in Internet marketing and Ingalls as property manager. And that’s where the team was formed.
“We were all brought in to restructure the vacation rental part of the business,” Prickett said. “At that time, we became friends aside from business partners.”
Prickett was hired as the property manager, and Brinkley was tasked with working with the property owners. Terry and Ingalls worked as managers of the front desk and reservation staff, and Mathis managed housekeeping and maintenance.
The new team worked smoothly together for four years, Ingalls said.
And then, true to the conditions of the agreement, Prickett was given the option of buying the property management division, which they renamed Resort Vacation Properties of St. George Island, Inc.
“Owning my own vacation rental company was my dream,” Prickett said. “I always worked and gave my all as if it were mine — with the dream of one day, it would be.”
Still, the friends remained together.
A working friendship
Trust has made the difference in this partnership, Ingalls said. Sure, friends can be business partners, but they’d better be good at what they do. Otherwise, things can get awkward, to say the least.
“You can trust somebody as a friend (but in) the business world, you really have to know what you’re doing,” she said. “We all did, and we were fortunate that we were close friends beforehand. You can be great friends, but if you don’t know what you’re doing you won’t be great friends when it’s over.”
Each member of the team works full time for the company, and each one has specific responsibilities for various departments and tasks. They have, however, been known to rotate through other departments to stay sharp and to help out whenever and wherever necessary.
“We can all pitch in and support each other,” said Terry, who added that there’s no telling day to day what they’ll be doing or what they’ll be faced with. But that’s all a part of the fun. None of them are ever alone, and help is close at hand.
“There’s no hesitation to pick up the phone when you need help,” Ingalls said. “One of the biggest benefits of the five of us working together is we’re never alone. It’s more like a family than a business.”
A recipe for success
Prickett said it’s no accident that the company has done well. It all depends on a clearly written plan of action to guide them through what may come.
“The first thing we did when we set this business up was we had very clear direction over things like how to buy property,” she said. “What if someone wants to get out of the business, or if someone has a conflict? We know how to handle it. If there are things we don’t agree on, we vote on it.”
The key here is to make sure the agreements and “emergency” directives are not only written down, but are updated on a regular basis. Also, you have to make adjustments when called for.
“You have to make sure it meets the current circumstances,” Prickett said. “If not, it becomes an issue. We tried to cover all of the angles to avoid conflict and/or resolve conflict.”
Having a firm commitment to your business goals is also paramount. This is a quality the team has plenty of.
“We all have a similar work ethic and also have the same goals in business and life, and we have good communication skills,” Terry said.
“We all have the same goals in mind, and we work as a team to achieve them,” she said. “We are able to accomplish just about anything.”
The mission of paradise
The mission of Resort Vacation Properties is to provide “unexpected, undiscovered and unforgettable moments,” Prickett said. “Our (goal) is to operate profitably while upholding our commitments to our guests, homeowner team members and the community.
“And we accomplish that. We’re trying to expand. We donate to the community and we’re involved. We take care of our guests, our owners and our employees. We employ the second largest number of people in Franklin County.”
The company has 50 full-time employees reinforced by an additional 20 part-timers during the busy summer months. They also have 100 independent contractors in the housekeeping department and another 50 in the maintenance department. There are currently about 360 property owners in the rental program. These are homeowners who allow the use of their home for rentals. Candy Varnes, director of marketing, said that 68 percent of their business is repeat guests.
“Our business plan has always been to manage the highest quality homes with the most amenities,” she said. “We serve the entire island. We have beachfront homes, homes overlooking Apalachicola Bay and everywhere in between.”
The company has a very active Facebook page with 5,000 fans. There are videos of the properties online, and they send out email newsletters.
A bit of advice
Prickett has definite ideas about the advice she would give to friends looking to go into business together.
“Well, it has to be very clear and defined as to what you expect of each other, and when conflict arises you have to talk about it and address it,” she said. “It has to be upfront and clear what is expected. We meet once a year, and each of us talk about where our lives are going and what we want out of the business and make adjustment if needed. The only pitfall is not doing that ahead of time, and thinking you can deal with (problems) then.”