While the house on MTV’s Jersey Shore comes fully stocked with beach chairs and bed linens, most New Jersey seaside rentals require vacationers to bring their own. But after years of dragging towels, pots and pans, and other supplies to rented vacation homes, Erin Visalli had enough.
A New Jersey native, Visalli attended a small business development program at The Wharton School of Business in 2009. In the summer of 2010, she launched Relax Concierge, which offers hotel-like amenities to vacation home renters.
Though the company, which served about 75 families in three southern New Jersey towns last year, wasn’t immediately profitable, Visalli said she expects upcoming expansions will bring it into the black. Here are some excerpts from our recent interview:
Q: You’re a lifelong New Jersey resident and you spent summers down the shore. How did your business idea evolve from that experience?
A: I’ve been building the concept for years. As a kid, I remember all the preparation that was required for our Jersey Shore vacations, while staying at a hotel seemed much less stressful. [Years later, for work] I traveled significantly around the country, staying at many different hotels. I enjoyed all the offerings at the hotels. I also enjoyed staying at interesting luxury and boutique hotels. The business came about based on a need I saw between staying at the shore from a vacation rental standpoint versus what it was like staying at a hotel. My goal is to bridge the gap between a vacation rental and a hotel stay.
Q: Describe the process when customers use Relax Concierge.
A: We think of our customers in several categories. We have vacationers, home owners, and realty offices. If a customer is contacting us directly, they’ll call us or place an order online. On the day of arrival, typically a Saturday, we deliver the items directly to the vacation rental. Vacationers are coming down with their cars full of luggage and family members. We bring [the rental items] right to the property and leave them in an appropriate location, usually next to the front door. All items are usually ready for them before they even arrive. We provide them with a text message or a phone call to let them know the items are there. That’s one less thing they have to think about as they’re driving down. The vacationers enjoy the items for the full duration of their stay. If they have linens, they don’t need to wash them. On the day of check out, they leave the items in the bins we’ve provided.
Q: Besides linens, what other items do you provide?
A: We also have beach chairs, beach umbrellas, beach carts. We have bath robes. There’s something to be said about putting on a bath robe at a nice hotel. You definitely feel like you’ve gone away. We think bathrobes are a nice complement to our hotel concept. We offer a high-end line of toiletries. We offer entertainment options. If it’s raining at the beach, the kids might want something to do. We provide Wii rentals. We have Rock Band. We have PlayStation. We have a full range of beach games, including horseshoes and kites.
Q: Other than convenience, why would vacationers chose Relax Concierge over bringing their own supplies?
A: Looking at it from a homeowner’s standpoint, a concierge service helps differentiate your property from others. A property with a complimentary linen or towel service becomes more attractive than a similar property that’s not offering that. This is something that could enhance your listing. This demonstrates a better understanding of vacationer needs and could lead to potentially repeat renters. The realty office may want to work with us to make their rental properties more attractive.
Q: What did you learn from your first summer in operation?
A: It’s difficult to navigate around, especially on a Saturday. Timing is important to make sure your deliveries are dropped off and picked up at the right time. [Also] making sure vacationers understand the process. This is a fairly new concept for many, so it’s important to walk them through it. [We want to] make sure they’re not washing the linens and towels. We want them to relax.
Q: What are you adding for this summer?
A: We’re going to work on building our [geographic areas]. We’ll have three regions: the north, [Long Beach Island], and the south shores. We’re adding additional items to our inventory. We’re also building out a concept of the online shop. We’ll be providing guidebooks.
Q: Do you have any advice for people who are starting their first business?
A: It’s important to know when you’re ready to make that change. It’s a life change. You’re running the show for yourself as a business owner.