Kate Shaw of Retreat: “Passion for customer service”

Passion for customer service. Hosts who have a deep and profound concern for a guest’s experience do far greater than those who don’t. It’s the little things that count, and hosts with customer service know-how find those little touches. Perhaps it’s finding a local restaurant a guest may have overlooked, making sure there is a […]

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Passion for customer service. Hosts who have a deep and profound concern for a guest’s experience do far greater than those who don’t. It’s the little things that count, and hosts with customer service know-how find those little touches. Perhaps it’s finding a local restaurant a guest may have overlooked, making sure there is a chilled bottle of wine waiting, or thinking ahead for cozy outdoor blankets, there are a million ways to find moments of delight for your guests. Hosts who are just in it for the money have a much rougher time (and much lower reviews) than those who are there to help out a fellow Airbnb community member.


Many people dream of becoming an Airbnb host but don’t know where to start. In this series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host” we are interviewing successful Airbnb hosts who share lessons from their experience about how to run a very successful Airbnb property. As part of this series I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Shaw Co-Founder of RETREAT.

Kate Shaw built an incredible digital marketing career, rising to the rank of Director of Marketing in 2018, when she decided she hated it. Inspired by the passing of her best friend, Kate quit the corporate life she hated and began operating Airbnbs, now running seven properties via her Airbnb management company, Riley Properties. Alongside fellow entrepreneur and best friend, Betsy Moyer, Kate launched Retreat Design and Consulting, offering a one-stop-shop service to current and prospective short-term rental property hosts in the Joshua Tree area. Retreat provides all services ranging from real estate consultation to contracting for renovations and shopping for furniture. Kate holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology/ Communications from the University of California Davis.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

Without knowing it, my entire life history was leading me to this. My father is a construction worker, I had 11 years of experience in branding and marketing, and my best friend sparked a passion for interior design in me. In 2018 one of my closest friends passed away at a very young age from Stage IV breast cancer. Realizing I had my priorities in life all wrong, I realized I needed to change my life in a way that allowed me to spend more time with loved ones as well as positively impact the world around me.

What led you to first start becoming an Airbnb host?

Pure fate! In 2016 I moved to a new city that had cheaper rent than I was used to. So, I decided to get a 2 bedroom apartment two blocks off the beach. A colleague at my new job suggested I put my spare bedroom on Airbnb and host occasional travelers. Little did I know, my ratty Ikea pull-out couch bed would spark such interest in the Airbnb community! I was booked fully within hours of launching. About two years later, I decided to go full time with this crazy concept and haven’t looked back.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this?

This whole experience has been a wonder of perfect timing. About a year after I decided to quit my 9–5 job, my best friend (and now co-founder) was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. No longer having a daily obligation to go to an office, I was able to step in and take care of her one-year-old daughter each morning while she attended treatment. Had I not followed this path, I would never have been able to be a part of that time with my best friend and her family.

What are some of the common mistakes you have seen people make when they first start hosting with Airbnb?

When people first start an Airbnb, I think they underestimate the time and money needed to truly make their business thrive. There are countless hosting tips out there that make it sound like you just spend a week buying stuff on Amazon and VOILA! you have an instantly successful Airbnb. Perhaps there are some markets where “anything will work” but the industry has evolved so much where this more often than not just doesn’t cut it. I heard a quote recently that being a simple host is “simple, but not easy”. It seems really simple, but if building a successful Airbnb business was easy, everyone would be doing it.

What are some of the things that can be done to avoid these errors?

Overestimate both the time and money needed to build your business! Evaluate the top-performing properties in your area and prepare to put in the work to be on their level. Put in the extra touch, whether it be well-thought-out design, unique amenities, or above and beyond guest service.

Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share “5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host”? Please share a story or example for each.

1) Passion for customer service.

Hosts who have a deep and profound concern for a guest’s experience do far greater than those who don’t. It’s the little things that count, and hosts with customer service know-how find those little touches. Perhaps it’s finding a local restaurant a guest may have overlooked, making sure there is a chilled bottle of wine waiting, or thinking ahead for cozy outdoor blankets, there are a million ways to find moments of delight for your guests. Hosts who are just in it for the money have a much rougher time (and much lower reviews) than those who are there to help out a fellow Airbnb community member.

2) Basic handyman skills.

A house is a living creature. These living beings need constant little touches taken care of. Everything from tightening up a loose piece of furniture, to hanging new curtains, to fixing a slightly leaking faucet is on the table as an Airbnb host. Sure, having a handyman on speed dial is clutch, but being able to tackle the basics yourself will save a ton of time, money, and worry. If you are able to tighten up some screws, there is no need to stress about getting your handyman over. With turnovers most often being just a few hours, every minute not wasted can be valuable.

3) A talent for interior design.

When Airbnb first started, travelers were literally just looking for an affordable place to crash instead of a hotel. The industry has changed and grown up so much since then! Guests are no longer looking for the basics, they are looking for THE experience. Guests want to be whisked away to an aspirational home that makes them swoon. As markets become more and more saturated, the homes that haven’t been given a proper effort for interior design will be the first houses to flounder. Guests notice all the little details of design and reward hosts with better reviews. As the industry continues to grow at a rapid speed, homes with glowing reviews will see the biggest and most sustainable return.

4) Knowledge of digital marketing/ branding.

An Airbnb is a product and your potential guests are the target audience. A successful Airbnb host will have a knack for doing research on the available options on the market and creating a value proposition in their listing. Airbnb as a platform is a search engine (much like Google). To reach the top of the search results and get in front of as many potential customers as possible, you need to know how to create an optimized listing that plays to Airbnb’s algorithm. Don’t skimp on spending time creating and constantly tweaking your listing in order to have it be as optimized as possible. A successful host needs to be versed in where to put their energy both as they are creating a product as well as keeping it constantly optimized.

5) Thick skin.

I hate to break it to you, but you cannot please everyone. You will have a guest who is mad that your mattresses are too soft the day after another guest complains they are too firm. You will have a guest who dislikes your free welcome gifts, or who admits they knew when booking your home that it didn’t have an amenity but then are irritated it doesn’t have that amenity anyway. Do your best to make your home as welcoming and comfortable as possible, but then emotionally remove attachment when guests have unreasonable complaints. Use reasonable complaints as feedback to improve your property, but learn to recognize when people are complaining without cause. If I had a nickel for every time I had to swallow my pride and make an unreasonable guest happy without getting mad about it, I’d be quite wealthy. Reach for a phenomenal experience, but don’t take every single thing a guest mentions as a sign of failure.

Can you share with our readers how you’ve used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I truly believe this new industry can be a positive influence in the community. I personally fight for all people working in any way for my business to have living wages. This also extends to being proactive in getting them work even during off-seasons. I am proactive about guests being respectful to our local communities as well as bringing a positive impact into them. I encourage guests to buy from small local businesses and help them get connected to independent tour operators, etc. I seek out other entrepreneurs or local businesses to learn how they most could use support from my guests. I find opportunities to get these small locally owned entrepreneurs seen by guests who would be highly interested in these businesses.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Ah shucks, I’m blushing. If I could start any movement in my industry, it would be the integration of “us and them”. So often, locals, hosts, investors, and guests all see themselves as “us” and everyone else as “them”. This does little to improve our local communities, our businesses, or our guests’ experiences. If I could wave a magic wand, I would have each of these groups take a portion of their efforts and try to improve the situation of the others. As a guest, how can we contribute to the improvement of the local community? As a local community, how can we be more welcoming to guests, allowing them an easier path to being a great temporary community member?

How can our readers further follow you on social media?

Please follow on Instagram @retreatairbnb and @joshuatreeairbnb

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

You might also like...

Community//

Beth Fortune of Wildheart Design: “Generosity”

by Fotis Georgiadis
Community//

Na’ím Anís Paymán of Zeevou: “Develop a sense of service”

by Fotis Georgiadis
Community//

Todd Baldwin: “Automate everything”

by Fotis Georgiadis
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.