Sound business acumen and many years of experience in the financial sector were obvious, and abundant, when I sat down to speak with Janene Lund and Dale Ambler, co-owners of the Kingscliff Accommodation Group comprising four management rights, caretaking agreements, three independent rent-roll businesses and a team of 30 staff.
The enterprising duo effectively manage Sunrise Cove, Paradiso Resort, Marine Boutique, Pacific Royale, Corporate Boardies and two independent rent roles; and I get the distinct impression they’re not done yet.
This well-oiled machine has however, taken years to build and fine-tune, and Janene recalls that their foray into property management happened quite by accident.
“I was looking for a bigger apartment to live in and found one in Kingscliff that I loved,” says Janene, “the only thing is that there was something called management rights attached to it. I had no idea what that was so I ‘googled’ it. One thing led to another, and after running the financials by an aunt and uncle who lived in Victoria and involved in the industry, we decided to buy.”
That was Sunrise Cove, a complex of 28 spacious, two- and three-bedroom apartments with water frontage on the tranquil Cudgen Creek and private access to the waterfront boardwalk.
“At the time of purchase, Sunrise Cove was fairly run-down,” says Janene. “The average occupancy was 36 percent so, with Dale still working in the bank, I set about learning and implementing everything I could to turn things around.”
The hard work paid off but the market was turning and there were more owner occupiers moving back into their properties, so Janene and Dale decided to spread the risk and diversify, and it wasn’t too long before an opportunity came up to purchase the management rights for Paradiso Resort – also in Kingscliff.
With sweeping views of the ocean, nestled amongst the high-quality eateries, Paradiso Resort boasts 50 well-appointed units (40 of which are in the letting pool) and is the premier holiday destination for families and couples in this relatively unknown coastal paradise.
“Paradiso Resort offered a whole new set of challenges,” says Janene, “and obviously the work and management role more than doubled. But by then we knew that the secret was to develop sound relationships with owners and the body corporate, and to implement systems that ensure the properties are being run efficiently.
“We learnt early on that housekeeping is critical; if an apartment is clean then guests will forgive minor mishaps if they occur.
“We’ve actually taken it to a different level,” laughs Janene, “and have a head cleaner, cleaning teams and a dedicated ‘fluffer’ (yes, this was a first for me too) who inspects every apartment prior to guests’ arrival to do a holistic overview and ensure that nothing has been overlooked.
“With Paradiso we worked hard to get the committee to invest in the grounds, and even conducted a comprehensive refurbishment of the property entry and reception area as a gift to owners, and to demonstrate our commitment to the scheme.”
Janene and Dale have a blended family with six children between them and all kids have worked in the business, and a couple still do.
Not resting on their laurels however, the couple then went on to purchase the management rights for Marine Boutique, a beach-front complex positioned centrally on the vibrant Marine Parade dining strip and offering six one-, two- or three-bedroom units with a retail precinct at ground level.
Janene and Dales’ pride in Kingscliff is obvious. For 12 years they have monitored and participated in the development and investment undertaken by the Tweed Shire Council so when the management rights and caretaking portfolio for Pacific Royale became available, they took on another 15 units.
Their experience and reputation as savvy property managers and caretakers has also invited organic growth with private property lets being added to the portfolio until they developed Corporate Boardies – a platform that specialises in luxurious and modern holiday accommodation including high end, stand-alone houses, penthouses and beach-front mansions.
The addition of two rent rolls recently have gone on to provide a new level of growth for the group but Janene is emphatic that each business is managed with the same stringent attention to detail. Each scheme has its own branding, and each building its idiosyncrasies, but they have all been amalgamated under one umbrella body to streamline operations and maximise outcomes.
It seems like a daunting task, but now that Dale has left the corporate world and joined the business, they have clearly defined areas of responsibility that works well. Dale is quick to say that Janene is the face of the business.
“Janene deals with the owners and the strata, and I manage operations and staff – staff, obviously being a key area for the successful management of all the businesses.
“We are black and white about our service expectations,” says Dale. “But we invest heavily in the development and training of our staff and therefore get a higher buy in. We also offer incentives based on guest reviews and bookings.”
Incorporating strategies from their corporate backgrounds, Janene and Dale have weekly meetings to review booking forecasts and income projections. Together, with a dedicated staff member who reviews pricing, they are able to respond quickly to the market and if a room looks like it’s falling short it is quickly identified (literally green/red) and they focus on ensuring that they direct bookings into that unit.
“The owners must win,” says Dale, “they are the reason we have a business at all. When we take on a property, it’s all about net return – net growth; we try and surpass owner returns month-on-month, and year-on-year.”
And while theirs is not the standard management rights operation that I usually cover, I ask what advice they would share with other managers.
“It really doesn’t matter how big or small the operation is,” says Dale, “You can’t do everything yourself; you can’t grow a business while you’re in the trenches – you need to forward plan, think for all and there’s no room for complacence.
“As my mother always said, “your jacket should never fit” – there should always be room to be better, to self-educate, to evolve and to improve, and when there are things that seem out of your control, try to look at it from a different perspective. At one stage we all thought it would be the death of the industry. We decided to embrace it – every one of our apartments is listed and it’s working for us and our owners.
“Be open to ideas and suggestions, change what you need to change – and steal with glee. If someone is doing something really well, then copy it, there is no point in recreating the wheel.”
So what is their secret I ask?
“It’s simple,” says Janene. “We never lose sight of who is number one – our owners. We answer the phone when they call and call them when they email. We speak to them regularly. We look after them when they stay – we will spring clean prior to arrival and leave a hamper or bottle of champagne in the fridge for them with some cheese and crackers together with a hand-written note. We may even grab a coffee or lunch together with them if they have the time; it doesn’t cost a lot but our owners feel like we have made an effort and have a genuine interest in them.
“Our business is built around their asset, and they need to know that we appreciate them and their trust. For some owners the asset we manage for them is their biggest investment outside of their family home.”