“Procrastinate and flourish.”
– Paul Volcker
While we admire the former Federal Reserve Chairman who passed away recently, we believe he’d offer this quote with a sense of humor.
We share his belief in trust and long-term planning.
We all seem to need a deep breath in December and yet despite our best intentions, it is with a dizzying spell of activity that a hopefully joyous December draws to a close and with it the year as well. As we celebrate the holidays with our friends and family around dining room tables, flurried kitchens, and traditional wrapping-paper floored football games we pause for a moment both to sear in our lessons from the past year and also to get excited about how we can build on them in 2020.
In this, our end of year wrap up, we’ll do just that. Pausing for a moment to share our market lessons from the year, we’ll also share our thoughts on the future as well as highlight what we think success has looked like in 2019 and how we’ll apply that recognition to the many questions ahead in 2020. We got a lot of things right in 2019 and to be fair we made some mistakes as well. The never-ending challenge for us within our partnership is to get a little bit better every single day–when we make those mistakes, we also make a commitment to learn from them and improve the interaction next time. One thing, however, is never mistaken–we are listening to your feedback and will change our Company based on it.
In our partnership this year, we’ve helped deliver thousands of wonderful family memories as well as hopefully helped sustain your vacation home as an attractive operating asset for many years to come. Our homeowner partners come from many passions, professions, and perspectives and with this remarkable diversity also comes things we share in common–the importance of quality, the importance of people, and the importance of creating an experience that is simply so good our guests will come back to us year after year. Among our blessings this holiday season, we rejoice in knowing our homeowners not simply as data points but as real people who share our belief in trust and credibility among a crowded market.
Together, we also sustained a great Outer Banks community asset. Our shared success this year enabled the Twiddy & Company team to reflect that success in the form of time, talent, and treasure to many of the worthy groups and champions along our beaches who help things that cannot help themselves. By choosing Twiddy & Company, you have also chosen a leadership role in supporting people and places who need some success to come their way. In 2019, Twiddy & Company created two scholarships: the Sharon C. Ryan Memorial Scholarship and, along with the COA Foundation, the Candis R. Richardson Memorial Scholarship.
As always, we’ll introduce a few more folks on the ground here that make these combinations a reality. It’s tough to overlook the value of a great strategy in the hands of these great people. As a family business, we are keenly aware that our core role is simply to act as a great steward of a few key values, as detailed in the Founders’ Principles recently shared on your owner portal, and then get out of the way to let our team of great professionals deliver a service to you that is simply unavailable in any other way. We are so proud of our entire team.
On a personal note, on behalf of all of us at Twiddy & Company and our families, we thank you for your business and your continued confidence in us as we work together toward 2020. As we wish you and your family the best of blessings in the New Year, our covenant to you remains a constant–we listen well and act fast to help you achieve your goals.
Big Picture Priorities, Patterns, and Shapes
Looking back over 2019, it’s been a good year. As you recall, we started with some booking hesitancy that we believe was related to both some financial market shivers in late 2018 as well as a long government shutdown in our core market. We believe those events slowed demand in our prime booking season and as a result, we saw weeks booking at a good rate but we did see some price reductions in order to do it. Said simply, we saw good weeks at only slightly reduced booking dollars. While we never prefer price reductions, we do seek to minimize them by seeing the need as early as possible in the market cycle and adjusting rapidly.
Through a lot of listening to the market and our own in-house revenue creation agility, we managed to wrap up the year in a place of distinction as, once again, the market leader in reservations and booking pace. Put another way, it’s 275 miles from the Duck office to the Potomac–coming down and going back home, our combined guests drove enough miles this summer to go around the world 44 times.
As we look toward 2020, we’re cautiously optimistic primarily as the result of four distinct trends that we believe were moments of truth in 2019.
1) An improved contractual timeline that linked early RMA’s to early lease-launches, guests had the chance to book sooner and with more certainty than ever. Couple that with an enhanced engagement strategy with your guests when they are in your home on vacation and we have a great improvement–price certainty is trust literally on display.
2) Our strong Hurricane Dorian performance included not only highly credible crisis management operations and neighborhood impacts but we also retained simultaneously our focus on bookings meaning that the storm didn’t cost us opportunities elsewhere–in fact, it may have created more.
3) Our ability to recognize market opportunities and capitalize on them quickly is enormously important in the face of a digitally impatient customer base where the speed of engagement counts more than ever. In short, our sustained capability to create a personal connection with your guests in a medium of their choosing at scale has never been so valuable.
4) Our decades-long commitment to a great guest experience measured up well again this year in our public recommendation and in-house survey systems. This guest experience is the result we believe of a unique marriage of both great technology and constant attention to a personal connection with a revenue outcome of promising trends in repeat and return bookings earlier than ever.
We’ll look to start strong, of course, by hitting early January and February with every last piece of pricing analysis, web presentation skill, search engine placement, and guest booking knowledge we have all shared with you via your individual owner portal. We are all aware that 2020, like every year, has its challenges. This year, we’re watching the interaction of a strong economic environment balance with a mix of election-year uncertainty that leaves us feeling that no matter what earlier is better. That said, it’s our job to excel in any environment. In short, our shared success will still be about our ability to communicate to you in a way that helps you make faster and better decisions about your home while still welcoming back your guests in a way that makes them want to come back again as soon as possible.
Overall, economic conditions in our core markets are encouraging; low unemployment with a tight labor market, vibrant consumer confidence indexes, and a widely known destination accessible to flourishing population centers means the conditions are right for good vacation spending. Within that opportunity, our challenge will be to simply be accessible, fast, clear, and accommodating to the wishes of our new and repeat customers as they make spending decisions in a complex online marketplace. We’d love to see an absence of any government shutdown but recognize the possibility and are leaning harder than ever on opportunities in advance of any potential shutdown to book weeks at full price.
In 2020, we’ll continue as well to make the recruitment and retention of top talent at Twiddy & Company a crucial priority. Whether that’s investing in more housing for staff, sending our teams out across the nation to learn from and recruit the absolute best, or evolving a training pipeline that is the best in Eastern North Carolina, great people make great outcomes possible. Our goals in this priority continue to be great service to you that is fast, stable, and utterly consistent. As we’ve worked to make sure that we’re fast in sharing what we know with you, we worry that we’ve traded consistency for speed (the left hand/right hand dilemma) in some cases and we’re working to bring those two ideas back into a fast and consistent balance.
We have plenty of work to do as well on the things we missed in 2019–our owner statement, for example, needs to get modern in a hurry. It’s too hard to understand and could be better. We’re also investing in software systems that help us communicate internally so that we know more collaboratively in terms of what you’re seeing and needing from us so that we don’t bring you complexity and confusion but the exact opposite–everything we do should bring clarity and brevity to you in your preferred channel. We have some work to do there–and we always appreciate your feedback when we get it right and wrong.
We also continue to hear that we’re viewed as a big company locally–that’s always a surprise for us to hear as we have a long-standing underdog streak but size has always been merely an outcome of something else for us–good service, good people, and credibly hitting targets. More people want that kind of thing and we’ve built the Company to deliver the same things we did in 1995, 2005, and 2015.
Company Leadership and Governance
In our efforts to remain entirely focused on our customers, we tend to let our approaches to leadership and governance take a back seat in our communications but nonetheless, our thoughts on the subject are always at work. This year, we’ve introduced several new formal perspectives available to the executive team–both an in-house employee council and our brand new homeowner advisory board are coming online now. You’ll hear much more about the homeowner board in January, but we are fortunate and thankful to have had excellent homeowner support on the idea from the beginning. Speaking of our executive team, we’ve also expanded that group this year as well with new members. Our current leadership and governance team represents a great blend of family and non-family members with a broad skillset and remarkably diverse backgrounds that we think bring real value to our strategic decision-making.
While we’re on the subject, we’re also not positioning ourselves for a sale. We get that question a lot, both from customers and potential buyers, but we have made a commitment to our team for the next 40 years.
Despite our best efforts to be deliberate about opportunities, timing, and risks we inevitably make mistakes and get surprised on occasion. This year, several trends emerged that caused us to pivot from our plan:
1) Text engagement continues to increase rapidly–our ability to engage with your guests via mobile texts makes a real revenue difference. We thought it would take longer to emerge.
2) Earlier bookings in the middle of the summer–we’re seeing more early bookings than we ever have particularly while guests are in your home. This represents a welcome erosion of later booking patterns but we have to be ready for it…we moved quickly to this demand with both people and processes.
3) The labor market is as tight as we can ever remember on the Outer Banks…the availability of mission-critical seasonal staff means that we’re recruiting earlier and paying more than ever. The same holds true for the vendor market as we are sure you see as well. We thought it would take longer for this trend to play out.
4) The importance of communications during a crisis. We continue to be amazed at the number of people who will watch and comment on brief storm videos and Facebook posts…where once we may have given such communications a second thought, they are now a key element of storm operations.
5) Midges–the mosquito-like bugs that became a major headache for big parts of the Outer Banks this summer, particularly the closer your home is to the water. We didn’t plan on such big numbers of them and fixing the enduring problem over the summer was enduringly expensive and time-consuming. While hope isn’t a strategy, we’re hoping nonetheless that bugs like these take a vacation out of state in 2020.
6) It’s tough to get frazzled mobile users to read all of our communications even when doing so will save them money–we’re committed to short and actionable clips with both specificity and scale (yes, this newsletter is an exception) that help inform time-based decisions.
The Owner Services Team
While we’re on the topic of great people, we always like to offer the best holiday wishes from our entire Owner Services team. This experienced group is always looking to evolve, whether that’s through our “zone” service system or our regular engagement initiatives on the road or in our of our local forums, and everyone on the team is a phone call, email, text, or office/home visit away. We’re growing this seasoned group as well with a few select skill sets–more to come on that in January.
Have a great holiday season and thank you for reading. We hope to see you in person either here along our shores or in your own hometown. As we rest and rejoice, we’ll also be getting ready to succeed in the coming year. Here’s to a great 2020!