Reputation helps cottage rental agency succeed in the face of the sharing economy

By Angelica Ingram

Sept. 20 2016

Bill Dewey still has the first cottage property he ever rented out included in his list of rentals.

The founder of WRD Cottage Rental Agency Dewey started his business more than 20 years ago with five cottages.

Today his inventory includes 175 properties.

The recipe for his agency’s success has much to do with his reputation and full-service approach making competitor such as Airbnb a non-issue for the local entrepreneur.

“It’s the old story once you establish a golden reputation it just happens” said Dewey. “People constantly phone us a lot of people recommend us.”

Recent reports are showing the rise of the sharing economy with websites such as Airbnb and VRBO increasing in popularity even in cottage country.

According to a Toronto Star article published this past June a recent 2016 recreation property report from Remax shows that “cottage buyers who may not plan to live in their retreat until retirement are finding web-based rentals a big enhancement to managing their expenses and properties in the short term.”

Furthermore the article states that more than half of the agents and brokers surveyed for the report have seen an increase in buyers who are planning on renting out their cottage full or part time.

Dewey started WRD in the 1990s because at the time there was no other rental agency in the area he says. His business runs year round as properties are available for every season.

The majority of the rentals become available when the owners approach Dewey about listing them on his website.

“We have something for everybody so our cottages go from $850 a week up to over $6000” he said. “What we work the hardest at is putting the right people in the right cottages.”

What sets his agency apart from the more “do it yourself” websites is the rigorous application process he has developed and the bad press that other websites garner.

“They have 10000 cottages in the world” says Dewey of Airbnb. “They don’t even know where Haliburton is.”

Dewey says the big difference between his company and one like Airbnb is all you need to qualify for a rental for the latter is an active credit card.

“We have a five-page booking application form. We’re pretty serious” he said. “If you want to do business with us this is the way it is.”

Another difference is the age demographic that he deals with as WRD refuses to rent to teenagers and is “careful” with the 20- to 30-year-old age bracket.

“If you look at the typical profile of our customers they are 40 to 45 years of age have a few kids … our objective is for the owner to come back after a rental and for the neighbours to say ‘gee those people were great.’”

Locally speaking Dewey has seen a rise in the popularity of rental websites but it doesn’t faze him.

“Competition is what makes the world go round” he said. “They’re so huge they can’t possibly do what we do.”

One of the things he does is personally visit every property that is listed with WRD recognizing the important investment he is being entrusted with.

“We’re dealing with the second largest investment in an owner’s life” he said. “If you were to ask another agency who was the most important person in your business they may not say the owner but owners are everything to us. If you don’t have cottages you don’t have anything.”

With a background in photography Dewey takes about 95 per cent of the photos that go on his website showcasing the properties.

He says he invests about $1000 into putting each listing online.

With a staff of six full-time employees he refers to his business as a “full service agency” handling the rental from beginning to end. All after-hour calls go to his house.

Sixty per cent of his business is repeat business he says. This summer has marked a particularly busy one for WRD.

“We do our business understanding how complex this business is … every one of our rentals goes through a checklist … that’s why so many people come to us to rent out their property. We’re known as a tough agency.”

Dewey who is 75 is soon going to be handing the business over to his son as he gets ready to retire.

The very first property Dewey took on was a cottage on Horseshoe Lake. It is still available to rent on his website.

The longstanding relationship is a testament to the relationships Dewey builds with his owners.

“It’s owned by a little old lady she’s got to be in her 90s now” he said. “It’s cheap but she won’t let me raise the price she says ‘no this is for the people.’”