WINTHROP, Wash. – Part of the fun of running a nightly-rental booking service is conjuring memorable monikers for vacation cottages.
“A good name is worth a lot,” according to Kyrie Jardin, co-owner of Methow Reservations with his wife, Kathleen.
“I didn’t come up with ‘Blue Moon,’ but that’s a great one. The house is even blue.”
“My sister and brother-in-law just bought a local home,” Kathleen said, “and they changed the name from ‘Badger House’ to ‘Casa Bogart.’”
Not all inspirations make the cut.
“There was a duplex known simply as ‘2A’ and ‘2B,’” recalled Kyrie (pronounced KIR-e-a).
“We suggested ‘2B or Not 2B,’ but the owner didn’t like that.”
But most clients are eager to follow the Jardins’ advice on décor, housekeeping and rental rates, as it enhances the likelihood their property in north-central Washington’s Methow Valley – gateway to the North Cascades Scenic Byway – will appeal to vacationers from the West Side, Canada and the Spokane area.
During a recent interview, the couple discussed wildfires, mice and keeping up with the competition.
S-R: Where did you grow up?
Kathleen: I was born in Spokane, moved to Alaska, grew up mostly in Oregon, and eventually settled on Whidbey Island before relocating here.
Kyrie: Her dad worked for IBM, repairing computers when they were the size of rooms. People used to joke that IBM stood for “I’ve been moved.”
S-R: How about you, Kyrie?
Kyrie: I grew up in Yakima.
S-R: What were your first jobs?
Kathleen: My first best job was working for a title company attorney in Condon, Oregon. He taught me about the importance of location, which applies very much to Methow Reservations.
Kyrie: My first job was delivering furniture in Yakima. I was 16 and had just got my driver’s license.
S-R: Did that job teach you anything?
Kyrie: It taught me to put the automatic transmission in park before you leave the vehicle. (laugh) We were delivering a chair to the store’s owner, and once inside the house, we looked out the window and saw the truck rolling down the driveway. Other than that, I learned how to move heavy stuff.
S-R: Where did you attend college?
Kathleen: I went to Oregon State and majored in business, but took a lot of art.
Kyrie: I went to chiropractic school and naturopathic school.
S-R: What career paths brought you to Winthrop?
Kathleen: I started creating wearable art when I was 24 and later operated a gallery on Whidbey Island. For 16 years, I also produced the Best of the Northwest Art Show in Seattle, which is very much like Methow Reservations. Both jobs involve promoting small businesses.
Kyrie: I was a soccer referee, then a chiropractor.
S-R: What lessons did you learn refereeing?
Kyrie: That it’s really fun to be god. (laugh) And it taught me that if you make a wrong call, admit your mistake and keep moving ahead, moving ahead.
S-R: Where were you a chiropractor?
Kyrie: In Bellevue, Yakima and Spokane over a period of 15 years. After that, I lived in Chile, then moved back and was a building contractor in Seattle.
S-R: How did you end up owning the booking business?
Kathleen: While I was still living on Whidbey Island, I came over here and bought a building in the center of town because it was a good price and a great location. Then I got a job directing the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival, which I did for seven years while still working on the coast, going back and forth. Eventually, I bought a house here, met Kyrie, and we decided to live here full time.
Kyrie: And we needed jobs, so we bought a business.
S-R: Why vacation rentals?
Kathleen: I love décor, I love real estate, and I was used to promoting things. I missed out on buying Central Reservations the first time because a couple – both software engineers – swooped in and bought it the day before I was going to. But they made incredible improvements I never would have imagined.
Kyrie: They transitioned the business from paper and pencil to a cutting-edge internet platform.
Kathleen: After three years, they asked us if we wanted to buy it.
Kyrie: They were not people people. They were computer people.
S-R: Were you computer people?
Kyrie: No. I’m still not.
Kathleen: The sellers spent three months whipping us into shape.
S-R: Did you envision how Vrbo and Airbnb would take off?
Kathleen: Nobody did. Airbnb in particular took it to the next level. Things grew out of control in places like the San Juans, and now communities are trying to figure out how to regulate it. Here, we’ve had zoning rules in place for years, and Okanogan County has cracked down on (illegal) nightly rentals.
S-R: How has Winthrop changed since you moved here 14 years ago?
Kathleen: I think it’s gotten better. Development is very controlled, keeping everything magical. That’s why so many people like to visit.
S-R: How has your business evolved?
Kathleen: When we bought it in 2010, we expected to take weekends and holidays off. Instead, we answer emails 18 hours a day, seven days a week.
Kyrie: We used to be big fish in a little pond – very organized and ahead of the curve. With the growth of Airbnb and Vrbo, we’ve had to learn to play well with others. We see the big boys are our partners.
Kathleen: Our marketing has changed, too. There was a time when the goal was to look super professional online. That’s no longer the case. We try to be casual and quirky.
S-R: Has the number of cabins you represent changed?
Kyrie: We have more now.
S-R: Does the overall economy affect Methow rentals?
Kathleen: No. This isn’t that big a place. And people who travel here to ski and recreate come regardless.
S-R: How about wildfires?
Kathleen: Fires and smoke the past few summers have had a significant impact. August used to be one of our busiest months. Right now, we’re still only half booked from what we used to be.
Kyrie: Also, people don’t plan ahead as much as they used to – particularly younger people.
S-R: How would you characterize your clients?
Kyrie: It depends on the month. Summers are mostly families with children – and motorcycle riders, who are older. In September when school starts back up, we tend to get retired or semiretired visitors with money. In October we get hunters, and in winter we get a more athletic crowd.
S-R: Do you ever worry the business might fail?
Kyrie: Every day. (laugh)
Kathleen: But I want to prove that small businesses still matter, and that it’s better to book with local people rather than one of 2,000 scattered across the country.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Kathleen: It’s never boring, and every day has a high point.
Kyrie: We deal with people who are excited about coming here, whether it’s a family vacation or a wedding. That’s fun.
S-R: Can you take vacations yourselves?
Kyrie: If we plan really well.
Kathleen: And I can answer emails anywhere – even on an airplane.
S-R: What do you like least?
Kathleen: I don’t like people going online and posting nasty comments if they don’t get their way. One couple had a blowout on the rental car and asked us to pay for a new tire.
S-R: Did you?
Kathleen: Yes. It wasn’t worth making them angry.
Kyrie: My least favorite part is the continual nature of the job. It’s like walking in front of a slow-moving semi – you’re fine as long as you keep moving.
S-R: What advice would you offer someone adding their vacation cottage to your listings?
Kathleen: Furnish it nicer than your own home.
S-R: How about tips for cabin renters?
Kathleen: Ask for recommendations.
Kyrie: And be realistic. City people and young clients expect a Bellevue apartment in a field of grass. They’re not prepared to shovel snow or deal with mice.
S-R: What challenges lie ahead?
Kyrie: Keeping up with the big boys.
Kathleen: We recently redid our website and changed our name from Central Reservations to Methow Reservations to sound more local.
Kyrie: We’ll spend more than $20,000 upgrading our software this year. You have to invest to keep your tools sharp.
S-R: Looking back, what’s been the biggest surprise?
Kathleen: (laugh) The previous owners said we’d be busy three or four days a week. That sounded great! But we have a farm, and we haven’t had time to garden since we bought this. I haven’t even planted flowers.
Writer Michael Guilfoil can be contacted at email@example.com.
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