Ever wondered how a laundry facility transformed a vacation rental business into a booming success? Brian Olson, president of Northwest Vacation Rental Professional association, spills the beans on the unexpected strategy that took his business to new heights. And what’s this about a cookie program that led to 30 new homes? 

Find out how these unique tactics are redefining direct booking success and the juicy details on the upcoming conference that’s causing a stir in the industry in this episode.

It’s really about control. There are customers there. I correct my family who say, ‘oh, we’re going to stay in our Airbnb.’ No, you’re not. You’re going to stay in a vacation rental. Who you happen to book through everything. It’s like you fly a plane that Delta flies. You know, it’s not a Delta, Airbnb has become the Kleenex of our generation. – Brian Olson

In this episode, you will be able to:

My special guest is Brian Olson

Brian Olson, a partner at Beachcomber Vacation Homes in Oregon, and the current president of the Northwest Vacation Rental Professional Association, boasts over 17 years of experience in the vacation rental industry. With a background rooted in hospitality and a comprehensive understanding of the evolution of vacation rentals, Brian offers valuable insights into direct booking strategies, community involvement, and business growth. His substantial growth from managing a single property to overseeing a portfolio of 100 homes showcases his practical knowledge and success in the field, positioning him as an essential resource for vacation rental business owners and managers looking to enhance their direct booking strategies and achieve business success.

Join us for North West Vacation Rental Professionals Annual Conference on April 29 and 30 in Boise, Idaho, USA for a fun event filled with opportunities for vacation rental professionals, rent-by-owners, hospitality staff and affiliate businesses. 

Save your seat and don’t forget to use code SPRING2024 to avail a huge discount for this amazing event.

For more information, check their website: https://www.nwvrp.org/attend-the-2024-conference

Brian’s website: www.beachcombervacationhomes.com

The key moments in this episode are:

00:00:00 – Introduction and Background in Hospitality

00:03:16 – Evolution of the Vacation Rental Industry

00:07:49 – Transition to Direct Bookings

00:08:24 – Community Engagement and Business Influence

00:12:59 – NWVRP Conference and Future Plans

00:14:01 – Importance of Networking and Education at Conferences

00:15:27 – Learning from Industry Insights and Best Practices

00:17:44 – Building Relationships through Unique Initiatives

00:21:08 – Direct Booking Success and Customer Loyalty

00:22:53 – Invitation to Conference and Special Discount 

FREE GUIDE: 10 Ways to Drive Guests to your Website instead of Airbnb: https://directbookingsuccess.com/10-ways-to-drive-guests-to-your-website-instead-of-airbnb/

Show notes are available at: https://directbookingsuccess.com/podcast/

Follow Jenn on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/directbookingsuccess

Join Jenn’s free Facebook group – the Marketing Hub: https://www.facebook.com/groups/strmarketinghub


00:00:00 - Jenn Boyles

Hello and welcome to another episode of the Direct Booking Success Podcast. I'm your host, Jenn Boyles. And today I have Brian Olson with me. Now, not only is Brian a partner with Beachcomber Vacation Homes in Oregon, but he is also the current president of the North West Vacation Rental Professional association. Everyone knows what we're talking about. Welcome, Brian.

00:00:25 - Brian Olson

Thank you, Jenn. I'm glad to be here.

00:00:27 - Jenn Boyles

I'm so happy to have you here. I know you've got a lot on your plate right now with the upcoming conference and everything going on, of course, running your own business. But let's dive right in. And can we start by sharing how you got started in hospitality?

00:00:45 - Brian Olson

Well, I've grown up in hospitality. My parents had retail, so that's still hospitality as far as I'm concerned because you want to make those customers feel welcome. Did a little schooling in San Francisco for a year on a hospitality program while I was in the navy. And then about 17 years ago, I got invited into the short term rental space I knew about. I remember as a child, my parents, my mother going through the Oregonian, which is a state newspaper, and finding a house inside a river that was a three bedroom, two bath. And she'd send a check to a lady and she'd send keys back to her. I remember that's a long time ago. I'd age myself, but that does a little bit. And then 17 years ago, I had an opportunity to work in the short term rental business with a company in Cannabeach. And then in 2014, my wife, myself and our business partner, Sally, formed Beachcomber Vacation Homes. And we started with one property and one employee and have grown from there. We currently have 100 properties and over 30 employees. So we've grown a little bit.

00:01:52 - Jenn Boyles

Amazing. Amazing. And you did share with me that you've even built your own laundry facility now.

00:01:58 - Brian Olson

Yes. Two years ago we. And that's what helped in our growth. We couldn't grow anymore because of the way the laundry was done. And we built a 2000 square foot commercial laundry facility with 265 pound extractors, 3100 pound dryers, room for more, and it's buzzing seven days a week, so.

00:02:17 - Jenn Boyles

Wow. Wow. Well, you know. You're serious when you get into the laundry business.

00:02:21 - Brian Olson

Yes. Yeah. Not sure I ever wanted to, but glad I did.

00:02:25 - Jenn Boyles

So now I would consider you sort of an old guard, the old g because you have been around. I know the pandemic sort of blew up this whole industry, didn't it? And a lot of people are coming in and getting into short term rentals. But vacation rentals, of course, have been around forever here in North America, but also in England. Holiday lets, yes, you know, a very old industry. So you've seen the landscape evolve drastically. What is sort of the biggest change you've witnessed since your entry into the industry? I'm not going to say how many years ago, but you know, and how has it sort of shaped your company today?

00:03:05 - Brian Olson

What's interesting is I came into the industry just as online bookings were started. So I would say that was the biggest change that now people can book online. And then the technology has grown in such a way that it's an easier thing to get into and be national and worldwide. You don't have to be. We made a choice to be in Cannon beach, Oregon. We could expand because you have that technology now. But I think the technology in the industry has really helped grow and become more to the forefront in a more mainstream type of accommodation.

00:03:44 - Jenn Boyles

It's also caused problems in the industry, hasn't it?

00:03:47 - Brian Olson

It has. There are the events, you know, we have the OTAs, which we like to talk about. I will say early on we were very dependent on Airbnb. It was just because we got started. You have to do so much SEO, so much website stuff to get yourself marked. That is the hard part. So you do start out kind of dependent on those big guys which are not always community friendly. Is that the easiest way to put it? And when you're trying to. And so it is a tough spot to get started. But, yeah, it's not always the best.

00:04:21 - Jenn Boyles

And how did that shift come? Because I know that you do have a direct booking part of your business now. I think you said you're about 45.

00:04:30 - Brian Olson

Yeah, we're 45, 46% direct book. The rest of it is split between Airbnb and VRBO. We didn't bring the VRBO until about a year and a half ago. One is because we didn't want to be so dependent on Airbnb. And what we have found is that we educate our guests as they come through the otas and redo that new reservation as direct booking.

We also participate in direct book day, Direct Booking Day. You and I talked about this. It sneaks up on you. It's like that first Wednesday in February and all of a sudden it's here. You know, you're just getting through with all Christmas and all the holiday stuff and all of a sudden it's there. We have managed to do very well in that we participate. Last year, four years, this year was our best year. We sent an email out the Monday before as a tease. Okay. Book Direct Days, Wednesday. If you book on Wednesday, you're going to get this percentage of a discount. We've seen growth in it. This year was our largest. We made 20 reservations because of our Direct Booking Campaign on that Wednesday. To me, that's a huge success. It paid for the next five years worth of direct booking emails kind of thing, because we're all looking at the ROI, trying to figure out what doesn't work. You know, it took me, I work with a company that does our emails. We sat down, we figured it out, got the teaser out, got the day off, and it was very successful.

00:05:55 - Jenn Boyles

So what sparked this transition in your business from starting by relying on Airbnb and then going into more of a diverse landscape?

00:06:07 - Brian Olson

Control. It's really about control. There are customers there. I correct my family that says, oh, we're going to go stay in our Airbnb. No, you're not. You're going to stay in a vacation rental. Who you happen to book through everything. It's like you fly a plane that Delta flies. You know, it's not a delta, unfortunately. Fortunately, whichever way you want to look at it, Airbnb has become the Kleenex of our generation. There's lots of people who do tissue paper. So we saw it as a way to. We wanted to take more control back. Merchant of record direct, we could take care of those guests while they were in house, made things like transferring reservations easier, all of that. So we just, we had to make that and we wanted that connection with our guests. I have a guest that stays, has been in the same house for 28 years.

00:06:57 - Jenn Boyles

Wow. They come back every year.

00:06:59 - Brian Olson

Every year. One year they come back in the summer. They come back every summer in July, and they come back every other year. July and Christmas.

00:07:08 - Jenn Boyles


00:07:09 - Brian Olson

And I wanted those relationships with our new Airbnb customer, I guess. So that's why we really made that effort. So the other thing that we do is we offer a rebooking to our guests. So if a guest is leaving us and they want to rebook that house for next year, we give them a discount of 10%, which is then plus the discount they get from not paying their bob fees. It's pretty substantial. And we find that working really well.

00:07:35 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, it's a great incentive to get people to come back, no matter how they've booked. But to rebook, rebook direct, and I would think now 100 properties, that is a fair size portfolio. And I can see that you guys are very busy managing all these amazing places. I had a sneak at your sneak look at your website, and it's beautiful. The Oregon coast. I knew it was beautiful because I've been there as a kid, so I'll have to come back. But the houses look beautiful and the cabins and the cottages and everything that you've got. So I'm going to make an assumption that you are part of that local community because all of you. You've got 100 properties, right? In one area.

00:08:20 - Brian Olson


00:08:21 - Jenn Boyles

So community seems to be a big part of that. So how are you connected within the local community to keep everyone happy? And how has this influenced the way you've done business there?

00:08:35 - Brian Olson

I wish I could keep everybody happy, but anyway, that wasn't always work. But I'm a past president of the can of h chamber. I spent six years on the chamber board. My wife sang in the chorus, the local chorus, for quite a few years. We make sure our employees do things. They're involved. They volunteer. We have a big sandcastle contest here every June. I judge the masters who actually win money. My team will come and help set up. They'll do concessions. So we get involved. We do. We give a check or give money and help the local food pantry or the library or whatever we can do to kind of keep us at that forefront and say, okay, here you are. Our vehicles are all branded. I have an employee that used to work for a local mechanic and fix flat tires and do things he never fails to stop. If somebody's got a problem he'll, like, he'll stop in our van and say, hey, is there something I can do to help? Because that's his service for a mechanic. So we're very involved in the community, and I grew up here, so I know the contractors because I went to school with most of them.

00:09:41 - Jenn Boyles

Yes. And not only just being involved in your local community, but you're involved in the vacation rental industry community. You are the current president of the NWVRP. So you've been doing that for a couple of years now, haven't you?

00:09:59 - Brian Olson

Well, I've been president for two years. I am giving up my presidency, an April conference, which I'm very excited about. The next gentleman that's taking it over, Matt Tisdale, has a company that actually is in Oregon and Idaho. He's going to do a great job as president. I will tell you, jet never go not go to a conference. We had a conference in San Alamo where I was elected to the board. I wasn't at that conference.

00:10:25 - Jenn Boyles


00:10:27 - Brian Olson

And I got a phone call and said, oh, by the way, we elected you to the board as the Oregon representative. I'm like, okay. Just through progression, had become the president, which it's been a, it's been, we had a president, John Pickard, who was from California, from the cruise area. He took us through COVID because he was president for two years. And then I've kind of taken us through this growth and making some changes, and, and it's been fun. The association is thriving. We get a lot of people who love our association. It's a lot of leaders that show up. So there's a lot of decision makers. There's a lot of great networking. I'm taking, there's five of our team that'll be a voice this year, so it's a good one to do.

00:11:10 - Jenn Boyles

What else can you tell us about the association? So it's the Northwest. So that covers from where?

00:11:18 - Brian Olson

In the south, Alaska to northern California, Hawaii, as far out as Idaho. But there are some rumors going around that we are going to be making some changes, and we are, there will be a name change coming in Boise. And from what I can say is we're going to get a little bit bigger. We're going to cover a little bit more area. We've had British Columbia, which has been great. We're going to take a little bit more, offer a little bit more to Canada, Mexico, the US. So we're very excited about that. And everybody we've talked to, I think.

00:11:54 - Jenn Boyles

It's going to be amazing. And I can't wait for the conference. It's coming up on the 29th and 30 April in Boise, Idaho. And I am speaking about direct bookings there, which I'm really excited about, but I'm excited to meet everyone in person because this is my backyard, the Pacific Northwest. So this is it. And to hear, and I've been hearing rumors about the changes, so I'm really excited to see them come into fruition. I'm also hearing about a possibility of the association launching a marketplace. Can you confirm or deny that rumor?

00:12:32 - Brian Olson

Well, let's just say this. Imagine the possibilities of an association that's run by property managers, for property managers, and what a group of people like that can do. And those possibilities are endless. So if you can think it and you think it might, it just might be there.

00:12:50 - Jenn Boyles

Amazing. I'm not going to press you on further details.

00:12:53 - Brian Olson

So, yeah, that Monday of the conference, if you're there, you're going to find out right away what's going on.

00:12:59 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, no, I can't wait. So what else can we do? This is an annual conference that the association's been putting on for how many years?

00:13:08 - Brian Olson

Oh, man, I'm going to lose count. Because it started in Sleeping Lady Resort in Leavenworth, Washington, with just probably 40 of us, kind of very small, ten vendors. And it's grown, I would say it's been going on at least ten years, if not a little bit longer. Great people in Washington. Michelle Aquavera, who we used to be in the industry, had a company in Seattle, Dan Eby, who had a company in Leavenworth. They're the ones that kind of got us started. And then all of a sudden, us from Oregon started showing up in California, and that's when they decided to make it the NWBR and not the Washington association. So you can kind of see a theme as we grow. We're excited. Things that you can expect is we have a housekeeping certification that we offer. Dirk Johnson, who's been in this industry longer than I have and is kind of a housekeeping guru. He helped me design my laundry facility. He does a certification. I know that Justin Ford from Breezeway will be doing an on site, in a house safety inspection. So you'll be able to go to a vacation rental, go through it. He'll walk you through the whole inspection.

00:14:14 - Jenn Boyles


00:14:14 - Brian Olson

So there's some parts and pieces with us because we're smaller than we can do. I'm excited because we have new, new, fresh speakers coming. With you, we have Bart coming, David Angotti's coming. So we've got real high quality content. And that's really important to us to make it worth that, to both be a member and to make the investment, because it is an investment to come to a conference.

00:14:39 - Jenn Boyles

It is. And it's not just, it's not just a financial, it's a time commitment as well. And an energy commitment. My goodness.

00:14:48 - Brian Olson

Absolutely. I know I have two of them this month. I'm heading to Austin at the end of this week for my PMS conference, and then two weeks later, I have Boise. So it's definitely a lot, and we're excited about it.

00:15:02 - Jenn Boyles

And what do you think of the attendees? Maybe someone who maybe doesn't want to get too involved yet in the association. But what do attendees do you think get from attending a conference like this?

00:15:15 - Brian Olson

Well, number one, I've always believed that networking is the top thing we get at any conference. And if you're not, you're missing out on that, because that is where you're going to get additional tools to help build your business. This isn't something. You don't have to reinvent the wheel like we talked about. This industry's been around 100 years. There's things. I'll go back, digress a little bit to Phoenix, which was my very first VRMA conference. And we learned about this thing called Mister Refrigerator. And it was a little flyer that went on the refrigerator. He said, hey, by the way, I'm Mister refrigerator. Your refrigerator was clean today, so it was ready for you. It's going to take a little while to cool down. Be patient. That saved us $10,000 in service calls one year, right? Because you weren't sending people out and you picked up those little ones. You go to a conference and you can find one or two good nuggets. It's been a successful conference.

On top of that from networking is education. We have great people from the industry that have a lot of knowledge. Your knowledge on bookdirect. We've got people that are coming. And I'm doing a session on organic homeowner acquisition. There's a safety one. There's lots of different things going on, so there's lots to learn, too. That would be a second.

And it's a good time. Boise is fun. If they've never been to Boise, the food scene there is unbelievable. Everything's within walking distance of the convention center, so. And the airport's only a ten minute ride, so it's super simple. So Boise is good. We are looking at expanding and going further east next year. We're in the process of that. We don't have a location. Hopefully by the end of the month we will, but that's what we're looking at.

00:16:56 - Jenn Boyles

So, yeah, I have to admit that Bart Sobeys, who will be speaking as well, AI, is coming all the way from Australia. He sent me a text and he said, so, like, what is there to do in Boise? And I wrote him back and said, I have no idea. I think we'll be eating lots of potatoes. That's all I know about Boise, Idaho.

00:17:18 - Brian Olson

Well, here's the funny thing. Taylor, who helps manage our association, will tell you you can't find potato skins in any restaurant. Boise.

00:17:25 - Jenn Boyles


00:17:26 - Brian Olson

She tried, but there is amazing, amazing food there. There are some great restaurants selling them. My business partner was a vegetarian, we took her to bacon, of course. Don't you take all vegetarians to bacon? It's a breakfast restaurant. She got exactly what she wanted. But there's a lot of fun places to go.

00:17:43 - Jenn Boyles

Well, that sounds great. Now, speaking of food, I've heard you speak about this. I think it must have been another podcast that I heard you speak about and I wanted to bring it today because it is such a neat thing that you started, and it's called the Twelve Days of Cookies program. Can you tell us a bit about it?

00:18:03 - Brian Olson

So in our first year, we weren't growing as fast as I'm a growth guy. So we had ten houses the first year, which wasn't enough. I'm like, we need to grow more. So I talked to my mother and I said, what can we do? And she says, well, I like to bake. And I said, and everybody loves your cookies. So we started it on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, hence the twelve days of cookies and every real estate office, because they don't do short term rentals in our community. I would deliver a dozen and a half home baked cookies every other day till we got to twelve. Now I can attribute between 28 and 30 homes to that.

The funniest story was we had to make a change from Tuesday to Wednesday. And no, we thought, okay, no big deal. I had four phone calls from all four real estate offices going, are you doing the cookies this year? And she doesn't do just, yeah, she doesn't go to the grocery store to pick them up. She goes maple cream, thumbprints, raspberry bars, you know, she does all kinds of fun things. So, it's been really successful. It's something that doesn't cost a lot but has a huge return. Most of the real estate offices know me as the cookie guy. We have a signature cookie, which is ginger molasses. And so that's, and that just keeps.

00:19:15 - Jenn Boyles

You top of mind for when.

00:19:17 - Brian Olson


00:19:18 - Jenn Boyles

There's somebody who has bought a house or is buying a house and wants to rent it out as a short term rental.

00:19:23 - Brian Olson

Well, and not only that, but real estate offices in so many communities do short term rentals. But if we get somebody that travels from the east coast, they're going to walk into the real estate office and go, hey, do you have a short term rental? Well, no, we don't do them, but go see these short vacation homes. They'll take good care. So it works both ways. So it's really good.

00:19:42 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, that's great. So the guests, you're picking up the guests as well as the owners and. Wonderful, wonderful. We're sitting at about 45%, 46% book direct. The rest is being brought in by Airbnb and Vrbo. Great stuff. The book direct initiative that you do, the book direct day that you do every year is bringing in amazing reservations, which is great because you've got 100 homes to fill, don't you?

00:20:11 - Brian Olson


00:20:12 - Jenn Boyles

You've got 100 homes to fill. So bringing in those 20 or so reservations on one day a year, which is fabulous. What else is on your plate? Coming up to build that direct booking side of the business, we're always working.

00:20:28 - Brian Olson

At SEO and try to do more of that, get involved. We've done more communication homes for those guests. To book directly. We use Alexa touches now. They'll allow people to rebook while they're there. We offer a 10% discount, like I said earlier, for those guests that have booked through one of the otas. And we send emails out. So we collect emails from our guests and then we send them out trying to get them to book back direct with us. And so we spend a lot of time trying to say, okay, what, what do we need to do? What segment are we looking for now and where do we go?

00:21:04 - Jenn Boyles

Wonderful. Well, I have absolutely loved having you on today. I think, you know, you are one of the old guards in vacation rentals in the industry and I really want to know what does direct booking success mean to you?

00:21:22 - Brian Olson

So to me it is not only how you can capture from your own website, but can you convert those? Everybody has already spent all the money for you to get them to you. It's an inexpensive way to say how do I get those guests to book direct with us? And getting those, I would say that we probably get an 80% to 90% rebar book. But they're not going back through the channels. They're coming back to us. You are always going to have one.

I have one who books the same house three times a year. He does it through Airbnb. Were like, you could save this. He's like, nope, it's too easy. So you don't win them all. But if you can win the majority of them and you get them in and they remember your name and they don't go, I'm staying in Airbnb. I see more vacation homes. There's your success that you've, you've converted that person from an OTA booking to a direct book and hopefully what you can do then we work really hard. If you called Regen and said, hey, I've stayed with you, where should I stay in Hilton Head? Who do I, I don't go over with an Airbnb. I find you somebody to go to. And so I think that's a big success in that.

00:22:37 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah. Wonderful, wonderful. Well, thank you, Brian, so much. And the conference is coming up the 29th and 30 April 2024, Boise, Idaho, which there will be no potatoes, apparently, so forget that.

00:22:52 - Brian Olson

There'll be some. We're not as many as you think.

00:22:56 - Jenn Boyles

I know people that are outside of North America will go, why are you talking about potatoes? Because Idaho is known for potatoes, but great. And you've got a special discount that you want to offer.

00:23:08 - Brian Olson

Yes. So for any of your listeners, people that want to come, I would like to offer this discount code SPRING2024. That code will allow them to register as a member. And the early bird pricing, which will save them $100 off of regular membership pricing, but non member pricing, a couple even higher than that. So it'll save quite a bit to come. I would recommend it. And if you come and you're disappointed, I'd be surprised.

00:23:36 - Jenn Boyles

No, I don't think anyone's going to be disappointed because you and I are going to be there. So I think that's enough for the price of admission, I think.

00:23:44 - Brian Olson

Absolutely. I actually can't wait because I followed you for a while and I was so excited when you moved back over, and I'm so glad we got to connect.

00:23:52 - Jenn Boyles

Oh, thanks so much, Brian. I'm really excited, too, because I feel like it's an organization that I can get involved in, that it's in my area, you know, it's a local thing, and I know there are changes coming afoot, and that even gets me more excited about the future of the Northwest Vacation Rental Professional Organization or Association, I guess I should say. But we'll put those, I'll put those links in the show notes, and I'll put links to Beachcomber Vacation Homes as well so people can go check out your amazing website with those gorgeous videos of the beach and the local area. It's a lovely, lovely place. And the discount code is SPRING2024. If you'd like to come and join us at this year's conference.

00:24:38 - Brian Olson

Would love to see everybody.

00:24:40 - Jenn Boyles

Thanks, Brian.

00:24:40 - Brian Olson

Thanks, Jenn.

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