The Wire Interview is a continuing series of interviews with players in the corporate housing industry.
In this edition of The Wire Interview, we spoke with Kimberly Smith, co-founder and CEO of CorporateHousingbyOwner.com. Corporate Housing by Owner (CHBO) is an online marketplace that connects private homeowners with individuals and companies in need of short-term furnished rentals and received national acclaim and credibility after being featured in USA Today, The New York Times, US News & World Report and on The Today Show on NBC and CNBC.
Ms. Smith is also the Immediate Past President of the Corporate Housing Providers Association (CHPA), the primary trade organization for the corporate housing industry.
Can you give a brief description of what your company does and why it is unique in the marketplace?
For the past seven years, Corporate Housing by Owner or CHBO has been the go-to website that enables individual homeowners to list and market their furnished, short-term rentals to those in need of corporate housing. Historically, corporate housing was a business-to-business industry, and individual property owners did not have the ability to connect directly with business travelers. Today, CHBO is the number one place to find and request housing solutions for both individuals and business travelers, and features both private residences and full-service corporate housing companies.
Corporate housing users include traveling business executives, relocated families, visiting professors, etc. Typical stays in a corporate rental is one month or longer. Staying in a corporate rental for long-term stays is typically more affordable than nightly hotel stays and offers more comfort to the traveler. For example, a corporate rental would include a full-sized kitchen, enabling someone to prepare meals at home rather than eating out every night.
Can you describe your revenue model?
CHBO is not complicated with hidden fees and percentages – we just charge an annual marketing fee. Individual property owners and/or property management and corporate housing companies often use CHBO to list and advertise their properties. When they list their property on CHBO, they pay an annual fee. For additional exposure, there are a few listing upgrades, for example, a highlighted listing or extra photos. At CHBO, our goal is simply to connect landlords and tenants as quickly as possible. We do not collect rental fees or management percentages.
What do you think is happening to the furnished rental business? Challenges?
Corporate housing has been around for 50 years but it is just now entering the mainstream lodging perspective. I believe that corporate housing will continue to grow as a lodging solution for the average traveler, and will be embraced as a key element in the Extended Stay lodging arena.
There is also a trend of more regulation and taxation of the vacation rental market, and because of this, I have seen more of these property owners deciding to feature their properties as corporate housing, which has less turnover and complies with city and state laws that might prohibit nightly rentals of private residences.
How cost-conscious are your clients?
We should all be cost-conscious. Because the biggest goal is to find value in our dollar, CHBO offers a number of tools, such as property reviews and the property certification program “CHBO Complete,” that allow the consumer to get what they pay for and to better compare one property to another.
CHBO members have the do-it-yourself mentality! They enjoy managing their own properties and collecting their full rental fees vs. paying a property manager to do the work. I would say that while some are cost-conscious, most are willing to invest in CHBO as a marketing fee, and, as a result, they experience deep ROI.
How much of your business is from a) independent travelers, b) corporations and other companies, c) relocation companies or services, and d) booking agencies like Nomad and Travelers Haven?
CHBO does not interfere with the actual booking of the property; thus, we are not able to statistically record this data. However, if you look at the CHBO Annual Report on our website (a survey of thousands of corporations registered on CHBO who use it to find and fulfill their corporate housing needs), you can learn more about both who is listing and who is renting their properties on CHBO.
Some of the survey results include the following: (1) CHBO properties are typically larger than those found through serviced corporate housing companies. (2) The tenants stay longer. (3) In 2011, 69.7% of survey respondents said they had tenants that year from Business Assignments, 52.9% from Relocation, and 33.0% from Vacation.
What are some of the more successful features of the CHBO website?
- CHBO Complete(TM) is an essential tool that allows property owners and discerning renters to align on expectations as fast as possible. When dealing with a product like corporate housing, it is essential for the consumer and provider to speak the same language and understand each other without wasting hours talking. CHBO Complete accomplishes a common understanding immediately.
- The CHBO Power Owner Program is another feature that gives users and providers a tool to connect and provide housing solutions as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Our members love the CHBO Handbook – it’s 50+ pages of everything you need to know to be a successful landlord.
- Our blog is also a popular spot for landlords and tenants needing information and advice.
- And of course, our members and visitors love our search capability and how easy it is for landlords and tenants to connect from all around the world.
What is one of the keys to the success of your business?
Product knowledge and hands-on customer service. CHBO is the world leader in what it knows, how it supports the corporate housing lodging solution, and how it supports both users and providers, which allows everyone to have a positive corporate housing lodging experience.
How important is social media in promoting your business?
It’s important. We enjoy engaging with fans, members and partners online. Our Facebook page is thriving and our blog enjoys good traffic. We also encourage our members to share their property listings on social media and have sharing icons on each listing. Social media has truly connected the world, and — of course — CHBO is all about making those connections too.
What is the optimal experience you want your clients to have when they use the CHBO website?
We want them to be able to quickly and easily post their property, put their property in front of quality renters and find renters in just a few weeks (or less). We want them to feel confident that their property will be found by qualified tenants, which may not always be the case when marketing a property on sites like Craigslist.
Any future plans or developments for the business?
We are growing internationally. We have added nine new countries and have the ability to add more countries as properties become available. It’s exciting to be able to provide affordable corporate housing options to travelers around the globe.