Once upon a time, mom-and-pop shops dominated the Outer Banks vacation rental market. Most are long gone, but a handful learned to evolve and change as the competitive landscape demanded new skills and extra levels of service. Twiddy & Company is riding a new wave by doubling down on people, process, and software.
For Twiddy & Company of the Outer Banks, North Carolina, faulty coffee makers have always been the secret to success. Or rather, the secret is to be able to replace such units in 20 minutes or less.
One minute more, and Twiddy may be putting its relationship with one of its 970 vacation rental clients at risk, according to Clark Twiddy, who together with his brother Ross runs the family-owned business.
Having grown to 105 full-time employees, Twiddy is several stages of growth beyond the small rental outfit that their father started back in 1978.
“Back then, the rental management business was a huge collection of small fractions — really just mom-and-pop outfits that managed between 50 to 100 row homes,” explains Ross.
Over the years, Twiddy’s competitors have come in all shapes and sizes. The firm has weathered a number of forays by high-growth, multiregional players, including one by ResortQuest — a large vacation rental company owned by Wyndham Worldwide — which stormed the Outer Banks rental market nearly a decade ago, only to retreat from the area a few years later. More recently, Twiddy’s Maximus rental rival has been Homeaway — a venture-backed firm that currently has listings for 325,000 rental properties across the country.
Despite the forays of high-growth competitors, Twiddy has continued to satisfy its appetite for growth by expanding at no more than 3 percent a year and keeping its office space confined to four different locations — from which replacement coffeemakers can be dispatched swiftly to surrounding neighboring properties.
Still, the mantra that steady growth trumps fast growth could serve Twiddy only so far, and as the rental management company grew past 500 properties, it experienced something of an identity crisis.
Recalls Clark: “We began to bump up against the criticism that we were getting too big and we were losing the personal touch. It was sort of like we had come to a fork in the road where we could see only two separate paths, and it came down to one or the other.”
As the properties under Twiddy management grew, so too did the number of transactions with the different vendors involved in maintaining and repairing them. The greater the number of transactions, the more time Twiddy’s customer support people spent tracking down information for customers related to each repair and service.
“Our people were swamped in transactions, and they would be spending 15 minutes tracking down certain items,” says Ross, who adds that 15 minutes was time Twiddy could no longer afford if it was going to maintain the customer responsiveness for which it was known.
The rental company began investing in database and analysis tools that could more swiftly identify specific transactions, allowing Twiddy’s customer support to access data within seconds. In addition, the software flagged every estimate of more than $500, permitting Twiddy to secure advance homeowner approval and eliminate billing surprises.
Using database software that the firm purchased from SAS of Cary, North Carolina, Twiddy began canvassing its pool of transactions for additional insights and points of comparison.
“If and when your property needs a plumber, we can now tell you who’s the quickest and who’s the most expensive. We can tell you which properties have had completed all of the correct inspections and maintenance over the course of the year,” explains Clark, who notes along the way that the firm’s new software helped to bring forth the revelation that 2 percent of its work orders were responsible for 50 percent of its total dollars in work order receipts.
“It suddenly became clear that there were these two distinct marketplaces within the same data set, so we went and hired someone who could be dedicated to really providing value to the 2 percent, whereas the other 98 percent were really routine maintenance,” adds Clark, who says that the firm now views the 2 percent as an opportunity to sell higher-value services, an area it has dubbed “field services.”
“We now see the number of homes in the program as an outcome of our processes and our focus on people, and that’s the new bottom line for us, not the number of homes,” emphasizes Clark.
Meanwhile, it’s the process and software that are now helping Twiddy to identify where the next opportunity may lie.
“We’ve really begun to identify distinct demand differences from week to week, and this allows us to react when we say, ‘Okay, we’ve got real demand for five-bedroom properties, with oceanfront and pool, that allow pets, in the Duck area, the week of July 26,” explains Ross, who suggests that mining data is as essential to the success of the business these days as properly brewed coffee.