What do you do when you’re tired of the 9-5 daily grind and want to strike out on your own? For gal pals April Brown and Sarah Sklash, it was obvious – buy an aging motel in the country and renovate it. If it sounds like a business plan that could never work, these two Millennials would prove you wrong.
“We were looking for a creative outlet and thought about doing something entrepreneurial for five years, but the timing was never right,” Brown told Our House Magazine. Welcome to the June Motel.
Brown and Sklash, who worked in public and relations and the government of Ontario in Toronto respectively, had frequently visited Prince Edward County. A day’s drive from Toronto or Ottawa, the pair started noticing the area was quickly becoming a food and wine destination. They’d been looking for a creative outlet for years but the timing was never right.
But at the start of 2016, the friends decided it would be the year they make some changes and venture out on their own. They brainstormed a bunch of ideas until an old 16-room motel called the Sportsman Motel came up for sale.
“We should buy that motel, it’s one of those lightbulb moments,” Brown recalled.
However, the two 33 year-olds had no interest in running the same motel. They had much bigger plans.
Having spent time south of the border in places like Florida and Palm Springs, they fell in love with the retro-looking motels they came across in their travels. This would be their inspiration.
“Really our idea was we wanted to reinvent the motel experience. We travelled to so many places that had done this so well,” Brown said.
The pair went all-in on the concept.
After running the 50-year-old motel as the Sportsman for a season, they spent the winter getting their hands dirty on a total remodel. As Sklash explained, they started with a tropical palm wallpaper design they liked, and the rest of the renovation took off from there.
The women designed the guest rooms themselves, but worked with interior designer Keri MacLellan of Four Walls Interior on the lobby. After months of sweat equity, the motel was completely remade and had a new name to fit the retro vibe. The June Motel.
Sklash noted the idea was to design the motel for “photo moments,” from the pink doors greeting guests as they drive up to the neon signs in the lobby.
“We wanted the whole design to be a place that people would want to share with social media,” she said, adding 90 per cent of guests discovered the motel through Instagram.
And that bit of strategy paid off. As soon the June Motel opened its doors, guests were sharing their experiences with the world. The motel got a ton of buzz and attention from major publications like Vogue and the Toronto Star.
The first year as the June Motel was a smashing success. And as Brown and Sklash get ready for their second full season, the motel is already booked full for weekends.
With one success under their belts, the entrepreneurs now have their sights on expanding their brand. They’re looking for property and new opportunities. “There’s such and appetite for unique accommodations within that millennial market, we figure why stop at one?”
Motel inspired? Before taking the leap, be sure to talk to a professional
April Brown and Sarah Sklash struck gold when they decided to buy an old motel and convert it into the June Motel in Ontario.
But the pair didn’t jump into the idea without coming up with a solid business plan. Besides doing their market research, they had to consider financing.
Brown and Sklash explained along with a bit of their own capital, they decided to do a vendor takeback mortgage, in which the seller finances the remaining amount owed on the property. They turned to local economic development agencies to help with the costs of the renovation. While the pair note buying a motel in the country costs less than an average home in Toronto, they recommend doing the research and coming up with a strong business plan.
That’s where Dominion Lending Centres Commercial can help out. David Beckingham, the president of DLC Commercial Capital Inc., noted commercial mortgages aren’t easy and can be a long process. He pointed out commercial brokers can help the buyer through the process, including the appraisal, environmental issues, accounting and presenting a deal to the lender they understand.
He suggested in a situation like the June Motel, DLC Commercial would offer new financing at more favourable terms that would repay the vendor takeback mortgage and provide new money to repay the equity the new owners have already put in.
“You need a commercial guy to look at it in a business way that can isolate and stabilize the issues,” he said, adding it’s important to have a professional who understands the market place and the nuances of the lenders.
Courtesy of Jeremy Deutsch – Lead Writer, Dominion Lending Centres