Episode 10 Transcript: How to Double Your Seasonal Business Year over Year with Parker Smith

Brett Fellows Parker Smith, welcome to The Retiring Entrepreneur Podcast. I appreciate your taking the time today. I’m excited to have you.

Parker Smith Thanks for having me.

Brett Fellows Absolutely. So, I want to talk today, as one of our initial Podcast interviews, about Affordable Large Properties, because I think it’s really a unique business and just have following what you’ve been doing for the last 10 plus years. You’ve had tremendous growth, and you have had tremendous experience. And so, I’m really excited to hear about that process and the experience that you’ve had. I’d love to start with, could you give us maybe a one minute, two minutes of affordable large properties? What do you all do? What does it look like? How many employees do you have? Give us your elevator speech.

Parker Smith Sure. So, step back. Prior to Affordable Large Properties, as I’ve been in the golf package business for about 17 years, and when the real estate market hit the skids really bad in 2008, 2009, I personally purchased a number of beach houses and condos and started putting my golfers in there. And then our niche was affordable, large property. So four, five, six bedroom, eight bedroom beach houses and condos. Started putting golfers in there, and out of that, other owners asked me if I could manage theirs.

Parker Smith And so from there, it doubled in size year over year for a number of years. And we’re currently at about just under 200 properties we manage and have expanded out from just beach houses, large beach houses and condos. We have a number of golf course villas and stuff as well. So it’s been exciting and challenging. We run from Myrtle Beach all the way up into Sunset Beach, North Carolina. So we’re spread out have about 55 full-time employees. And seasonally we’re up and down, as you can imagine this summer. And I’ve added a restaurant to it in the past couple of years, and right when COVID hit, so that was fun. But we’ve recovered, and onwards and upwards.

Brett Fellows That’s great. And how did you get into it? I know just from knowing you, you’re a salesman at heart, but you had a different career coming out? How did it all come about?

Parker Smith Yeah. Good point. At spring of my senior year in college—I was at Furman University in Greenville—out of the blue, a firm, an alum contacted me for a software sales job. I was really trying to figure out, didn’t really know what I was doing. I had the business degree, but not really a clear path or direction.

Parker Smith And things kind of happened for a reason. And right out of college, I took a software sales job and worked my way up and understood, got to understand technology and large companies. And I think that was 1999. And so really, that following summer was when the dot com became the dot bomb. And two-thirds of my company was laid off right before Fourth of July holiday. It was security guards, and you know, escorted off the premises, and here I am a year into a professional career or whatnot. You’re like, alright. Because I had performed well in sales, you know, I was I was fine. But just, I’d rather be in control of my future.

Parker Smith And you know, I had grown up kind of mowing grass and doing all the kid stuff, having your own business. So that first job out of college was really, mostly the first time I ever worked for somebody else. And so, you know, I stayed with the software sales gig for probably seven years and just to the point where I was still doing well in sales and moved my way up and was you know, one of the top salespeople out of a lot of salespeople. But it just wasn’t, the challenge wasn’t there anymore.

Parker Smith And so, my father-in-law had, you know, was in the motel business in Myrtle Beach, had a golf package business. And because I had done well the software sales, I bought him out and he worked for me.

Brett Fellows Okay, so how did that deal come about? Were you sitting around the Thanksgiving table one night?

Parker Smith Well, he talked about it like over the next three to five years, and I was like, how about right now? You know, I think that kind of surprised him. I’m not really the kind of person that says, you know, let me do this in three years from now. More like, I’m kind of ready and strike while the iron is hot.

Parker Smith So, it happened fairly quickly, and kind of what, remember driving all the way up to tell my, the CEO of the company that, hey, I’m leaving and coming back, and I hope this is, you know, knew it was gonna work out. But that was right before the economy kind of tanked. There was a lot, you learned a lot really quickly about cash flow and took out pretty much every credit card you could possibly take out to keep it afloat in tough times and worked our way out of that.

Parker Smith And was really, you know, things happen for a reason. My background in technology and software, and understanding, I don’t know anything about programming or anything, but knowing how to leverage technology to be more efficient. I developed my own, because I’m such a niche business, my own software to be really efficient. So I have a couple of full-time developers and stuff that, we have all our own stuff, because it’s not something you can really buy off the shelf, to manage all aspects of our business. And so that’s really helped, you know, get into, you know, ahead of really everybody else and continue to grow.

Brett Fellows I’m interested in that. But I want to jump back a second, too. So this Podcast is about retiring. So in that stage, your father-in-law obviously wanted to transition to a different phase of his life. And you were, you know, the next generation. Coming from a family business myself, how did that process go? You know, because it can be uncomfortable. Like even, how did you know, how do you value like what it was worth? Did you guys disagree on that?

Parker Smith You know, I pretty much trusted, I mean, hey. Is he gonna steer, your father-in-law steer his son-in-law and in turn, his daughter, wrong? You know, so it was valued at one times just annual revenue. I did have some family friends or whatnot that were kind of a business broker run it through a couple of things. But it’s such a niche. It’s not like, you know, a Dunkin Donuts, where you just, these are the numbers and it’s very, you know, palpable.

Parker Smith So, you know, valued it. And at that point, you know, being in Charleston, our home, and that was back when the fast and easy money. Home went up, you know, refinanced a couple, you know, big number out of the house, here’s a down payment. And then he seller-financed over 13 years.

Parker Smith So that was good, I got some good depreciation, you know, amortization and stuff on the tax return. And he got a once-a-year payment for a big check. And so that’s over now, which is great. You know, I basically, I basically funded a lot of his retirement. And it got me out, you know, working for myself and was able to do a lot more things from just where that started. So if, I knew I had to grow it. I knew I had to do things to make it better, to make the numbers work. And it was hairy, a little bit at first. But, you know, you work through it and figure it out. And a lot of good, good experience.

Brett Fellows And when you started, was it just you or did you have people to help you right off the bat?

Parker Smith Ah, he had a few commissioned salespeople. And really the first thing, not even two months into it, finding out after the fact, two of those salespeople went immediately behind my back and started their own business. And so you’re like, right into a potential legal battle, or what you, what I just paid for, they took the customer base and went on their own. So you know, right out of the rip, you know. There was that challenge and I, you know, I just let it be and didn’t want, I didn’t really have the cash flow or anything to pursue it. But it still ended up okay. So what comes around goes around, right?

Brett Fellows Yeah, well, we don’t have to waste time on them. But are they still around?

Parker Smith Ah, no. No, they yeah, like I said. Yeah. So it’s all good.

Brett Fellows Yeah. So this was golf booking, essentially, people are coming from Chicago, New York, wherever, and they’re coming to Myrtle Beach, and you are booking their golf outings?

Parker Smith Correct. So we’re basically like a golf travel agent. And so, you know, understand, hey, there’s 80 golf courses here. Survey, hey, what do you want? We can package it up with a hotel room and condo, whatever, and just make it really easy. So there’s not a lot of logistics, and we know the course conditions, we know the best prices and whatnot and get everyone the best deal.

Brett Fellows And then that software that you developed over time, what did that help you do? What did you, what did that leverage?

Parker Smith Really, it eliminated all the admin, you know. It just made it really efficient for everyone to pay. Back then was, you know, via a website. Now we have a Myrtle Beach Golf app, where as you book a trip, all your tee times, your itinerary, you can pay on the app, it’s got Google directions to get to the course, get to the lodging, how to check in, GPS on the golf course for yardages. So it’s just, we’re constantly trying to innovate and take it to the next level to use technology to make life easier.

Parker Smith So essentially, what would take time away from a salesperson to take payments, send out, you know, documentation, all this, it’s all automated, so they just focus on selling. And then the technology does the rest. So people can, you know, make payments and adjust things and, and really on the back end as well. Paying, you know, the accounts payable side of things, paying the golf courses, paying lodging. All that is aggregated and automated. So what used to be when I first started 40 to 60 hours a month, we could do in three hours.

Brett Fellows That’s amazing. And knowing about golf in the 90s, I mean, were you calling these golf courses to see what tee times they had available? Or did they give you blocks of time even then? Because that technology wasn’t there, I can’t imagine, when you started.

Parker Smith It was a whole green screen system where you could see all the tee times at different golf courses. But it was kind of, and you had all these different rate sheets from 100 different golf courses, then we added it to our system. So we, instead of piecing through a big book, it’s all you just basically clip the course on the day that tells you the price. And a lot of errors. I mean fat fingering math and one wrong thing and you go from making money to losing money real quick.

Brett Fellows And then it’s only natural, if I’m booking that through you, hey, can you tell me where to stay? And you can even add that as a service to create, schedule the lodging, which is the exact same thing, but with hotels, or where people might stay? And so, I understand correctly? Or how long was it really just the golf? And the simple lodging? How many years was that?

Parker Smith Ah, probably three or, you know, yeah, three years or so. Before I got into, three or four years got to really feel like, still like once in a lifetime. You know, with the real estate, cyclical nature of it, like, even I kind of figure when no one was touching real estate.

Brett Fellows So was this now like, 2007, 2008?

Parker Smith 2008, 2009. When it really, like, you couldn’t get anything. I’d just say, well, even if it doesn’t ever appreciate. If we’re putting golfers in there, I can cover everything. And of course, it did appreciate at a rapid pace and just kind of the, just the ups and downs of the cycle of real estate.

Brett Fellows Right. That’s amazing. And then, so you created that. And now, as you said earlier, you’re up to 200 places where you can facilitate people to also stay and/or rent. Right?

Parker Smith Correct. That’s what we manage directly.

Brett Fellows And what percentage of it is golf related and what percentage of it is non-golf related?

Parker Smith Depending on the time of year, spring and fall are heavy golf, summer’s all family vacations pretty much. So you know, in the spring, it’s probably 70% golf. Summer’s probably, you know, 90% family. But there’s a lot of other things to do. You know, there’s, as I’m sure you know, there’s sports tournaments and beach and all this other stuff that people come here for. So we have really a March through November type season.

Brett Fellows Gotcha. That’s cool. So that’s great. Look back at how you got to where you are now. It’s I mean, tremendous growth. Let’s talk about maybe the future. So if it’s five years from today, and we are looking back over those last five years, what has to have happened with Affordable Large Properties for you to feel happy with its progress?

Parker Smith  That’s a great question. I mean, I’ve had conversations with other businesses and people like, I’m in a fortunate position where I don’t have to do anything different than I’m currently doing now. I would say it’s not really my personality and nature to get up tomorrow and say, I want to do the same thing I did yesterday for the next five years, 10 years, whatever it is. So I think as sort of a disciplined investor. Patience is not usually my best virtue. But when it comes to certain things, I have the benefit of being patient.

Parker Smith So over the past, I mean, with COVID, with, we had hurricanes, we’ve had floods, we’ve had all sorts of things that we can’t control. I’ve really been able to grow market share, whereas, generationally, a lot of my competition is up there in years. So I’m on the younger end of the spectrum, whereas a lot of my competition hasn’t used technology like iPads. So they’ve sort of faltered. I’ve had three or four other independent businesses roll up under me. And so you’re enabling them to use kind of our systems and technology to just essentially, hey, don’t worry about anything else. Just sell. You know, and we handle everything else. So that’s helped us grow.

Parker Smith Certainly, I feel like there’s opportunities with more rooms, but I’m picky and particular. I don’t want to do anything and everything. It has to make sense for us. So I think we will continue to get some more rooms and as the kind of business I mean, I think there’s a huge generational shift here. And maybe really, anywhere. Myrtle Beach has a lot of independent businesspeople and generationally, a lot of people are aging out. And so what’s, you know, when you get to second and third generation of family businesses, the offspring typically don’t have a lot of interest in the family business. You know, so what do people do? What do those business owners do? How do they, what’s their succession plan? What is it?

Parker Smith So there’s a number of businesses that have kind of reached out to me, like, hey, I see you as someone who could help by, you know, partially protect their legacy of what they created and carry it on. Because generationally, they don’t have anybody else within the family, meaning the family has gone off. They’re different professionals and successful people, but not, you know, the business operator. So it’s creating, I think, will create more opportunities.

Brett Fellows Right. And I’m going to use this as an opportunity to take advantage of this because you just talked yourself into a corner. So, you’re still amazingly young, and you have very young children. What do you envision for yourself? How do you exit from this? What does it look like? Do you just shut it down at some point in time? Would you like to sell it at some point in time, internally, or to a third party? Have you thought about those things?

Parker Smith Well, I get a number of, probably one phone call a quarter about somebody asking, would you like, you know, private venture whatever, would you sell? And I was like, you know, and I basically say hey, I’m in my early 40s. The number I would want for me to walk away is so high. Probably not even worth talking to me. At that, I just cut it off. And then they, “appreciate your candor, you know, things change, let us know.”

Parker Smith So you know, I’m trying to get my girls interested. I mean, they need to learn how to work. Everyone needs to learn how to work. And so they’re doing, you know, simple things. Like I have my youngest, nine, stuffing magazines and putting stickers on, you know, stuff we distribute advertising-wise, and I pay them. Whenever they want something, there’s a heightened interest in doing work. And so I’ll bring stuff home and they’ll complete it and I’ll bring it back. And my oldest is, will be going into ninth grade next year. And now that it’s summer she’s doing some computer work. And Saturdays have been a busy day for us a lot because everyone leaves and everyone comes. And so in years past, they’ve come into the office with me and they’ll write out parking passes, and they’ll just see logistics of everything that goes on to run a business.

Parker Smith Now, whether they’re interested or not, who knows? But um, you know, I think it’d be, heck, I would have loved just to have the opportunity to have a family business to participate in, but it’s certainly not for everybody. And I don’t want to, I mean, they have to do what their passion is and what they like. But I certainly want to expose them to what I do. I mean, it’s funny, my youngest is always, how many meetings did you have? Like her barometer of a workday is how many meetings did you have. So what I say, you know, on the rare day I don’t have any, she’ll say, “well what’d you do?” You know. So that’s, that’s like her barometer. If I said, you know, the more meetings you have, I guess the better. She’s excited about that.

Brett Fellows She’s a sales manager at heart.

Parker Smith Yeah, exactly. So it’s, but yeah, I think it’s just, I mean, you know, see where it goes and what happens. So right now, I’m blessed to have really good people that help carry the weight, so to speak. I mean, in its infancy, it was all on my shoulders. And, you know, after, you know, a lot of years of getting that out, that’s not something I mean, that’s, some small businesses run like that for their entire career. How fortunate I was to grow and have good people that you know, do well, I think really do all the hard stuff. And I’m just there to support them. So that’s, without that it’s a much different situation. It’s all, it’s more about the people than me.

Brett Fellows Yeah. That’s great. All right. What I’d love to do now is transition. Maybe we’ve heard about the business and where it’s come from, and where it is now. I’d like to talk about you a little bit. As the business owner, what’s a typical day like for you?

Parker Smith A typical day, I am a creature of habit. So it’s up at 5am. Go exercise, and we’ve been doing CrossFit for 10 or 11 years now. I get to the office before everybody else. I had to renovate our office, I got my own shower and everything. Breakfast and shower by myself, have about an hour to myself before everyone gets here. And then it just goes nuts for a full day and head home and have family time. And I will say I do carve out every Friday afternoon I play golf. I’m in the golf business. And so I work a half day on Friday. And Friday afternoon, and I have a regular game of golf that if I didn’t square that away, it probably would go away and just be work too, so I try to have that nice balance.

Brett Fellows Yeah, I bet. What’s one thing you wish you’d known when you began your career?

Parker Smith What’s one thing I wished—it’s cash flow.

Brett Fellows More about cash flow?

Parker Smith Well, yeah, and to watch it. I mean, I remember distinctly, I remember the rest of my life knee deep into it, and you’ve written all these checks. And the bank calls you, and you don’t have enough to cover it. So that’s a good learning experience.

Brett Fellows Yeah, they don’t teach you that in school.

Parker Smith Yeah, no, well, yeah, and part of the business degree or whatever, I’ll never use this. And I’m glad I have it, you know, because it just made things a heck of a lot easier. You know, some of that accounting and whatnot, just understanding of that really helped. I don’t know how somebody that doesn’t have that background, figures that out after the fact. So it’s super important. It didn’t seem so at the time, but glad to have had that background.

Brett Fellows Really cool. What’s been your biggest professional failure and what did you learn from it?

Parker Smith Biggest professional failure? What did I learn from it? I’ll have to think a little about that. You know, right off the bat doesn’t, you know, maybe spent a lot of money on a website and a developer or something that says it’s gonna cost X and it costs 10 times X and you still don’t have anything that you can use. And at some point, you just got to cut bait. And that didn’t work. Yeah, you know, even advertising and marketing wise, I would say we would try to do something new and different every year with a portion of what we want to spend. And sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn’t. But you got to try new and different things to get better.

Brett Fellows Yeah. So I’m not the only one with the website. Good.

Parker Smith Well, yeah, disappear in the middle of night, you know, don’t pay for something until you have something. You know, just these common, core, some simple things.

Brett Fellows Yeah. What advice would you give someone wanting to pursue a career similar to yours? Or being an entrepreneur, if there’s one thing you could tell them? What would that be?

Parker Smith One thing I could tell them. I mean, I guess it takes a special character, I mean, a confidence in yourself and your abilities. You know, getting out of the comfort zone, you know, it was a leap of faith to leave a good job. I mean, I had family, like, you’re doing what? Why? You’re quitting? I’m not quitting, I’m doing something different. I mean, that old adage, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life applies.

Parker Smith And so, I mean, I love golf. That’s what, it’s a lot of ancillary things to that. But, you know, it doesn’t go over very well with the family when I tell them, I’m working. Like, no, you’re on the golf course. But I’m in the golf business. So that qualifies as work, you know. So, yeah, like a month or so ago, I had to go down to the ocean course at Kiawah and play in a tournament, and that was a workday, you know. So you know, but they just kind of chuckle and then sometimes, they’re glad to have the space too, as well.

Brett Fellows Yeah. And sorry to waste time on this. How was it? How difficult was it? It looks brutally difficult.

Parker Smith It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun. Yeah, it’s not something you’d want to do every day, but it was a hold your hat day. A blast. I’d certainly recommend it to everybody. It’s certainly worth it. There’s the wow factor of stepping out there and all you see is water and sand. It’s great for South Carolina.

Brett Fellows And what did you hit into number 17?

Parker Smith You know, we played from a different tee. And so we only had 152 yards in which was, so it was a nine iron versus the pros playing it from 211, 220 into the wind, which is…

Brett Fellows Yeah, that’s a little bit different.

Parker Smith Yeah, slightly. Yeah. Right.

Brett Fellows That’s funny. Who are three people who’ve been most influential to you?

Parker Smith You know, from a business perspective? You know, I would say, you know, going back to the father-in-law, you know, it could be an awesome thing or an awful thing. And it was a lot of conversation at first, do you do it? Like, what if it goes toxic? How would that spoil the family? But I would, I would say it’s been, you know, my father-in-law was in business for himself. And there’s not really many people that are totally in business for themselves. And it’s hard to have conversations with people that, you know, there’s nothing against it, but that have worked for another company, big company, small company. So I would say, you know, for him for sure, on a lot of things. You know, but I feel like I’ve passed, you know, as people get up in years or whatever. Like, I’ve got more experience where that’s, you know, certainly diminished, but the first few years or so for sure.

Parker Smith And even actually, my former boss with the company I worked for, I mean, we still keep in touch. He, you know, after I left there, it was a publicly traded company, and they were acquired. And so he’s kind of been, you know, supporting entrepreneurs and incubators up in Greenville. So, we keep in touch, and you know, just a lot of life experiences and he’s got into other businesses and he has a business incubator where he helps other entrepreneurs. And so not like super frequent, but like, you know, to go to somebody that has that experience. Those kinds of people are not a dime a dozen.  

Brett Fellows Yeah, I bet that’s a great resource.

Parker Smith Yeah, for sure. I don’t know. Third doesn’t really come to mind right off the bat. So, we’ll leave it at that.

Brett Fellows Yeah. So, Parker, this Podcast is a lot about successful business owners, and the word success can mean different things to different people. So, what does success look like to you?

Parker Smith Um, you know, I guess, I mean, a lot of people like, would refer to it from a monetary standpoint. I don’t really, I mean, that kind of goes along with it, but that’s not why I do it. You know, certainly everyone wants to be comfortable and be able to give their kids and, you know, really, you know, it’s kind of extended family here at work with people you work with, to have stability for them. And, you know, we’ve got all walks of life, you know, from, you know, accounting to our maintenance team to housekeeping to food and beverage, you know, just to have a stable place for them.

Parker Smith So, to be able to support them and for them to, you know, even riding through all this COVID thing, to keep the vast majority of people going, you know. And hopefully that, you know, helps for the future. Helps us, it helps them. But otherwise, success, you know, is happiness and balance and certain things that go along with it. So, certainly, hopefully, as we get more up there in years, be able to do some things that we’re not currently doing and, you know, from the day to day, but I’m not anywhere near that.

Brett Fellows Yeah, love it. Well, Parker, thank you very much for being part of The Retiring Entrepreneur Podcast. I think you’ve got a really unique story and you’re very diligent with what you do, and I wish you nothing but the best success with the future of Affordable Large Properties.

Parker Smith Thanks so much, and thanks for having me.

Brett Fellows Yeah, have a great day.

Parker Smith All right.

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