Have a Why. From my experience with other successful hosts, I have noticed that we all have a deeper “Why” that drives us to host. For us, our property is not only a way to connect with the travelers that come to our city but a long-term investment for our children. It has also given me invaluable insight as a hospitality designer into what a modern guest is looking for. I have direct access to the end-user and use this insight when working with my clients. If you have a more concrete reason for hosting, you are more likely to stick with it through the difficult times.
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 Nicole Herman.
Nicole is the founder and principal designer of The Social Design Studio, a full-service boutique hospitality interior design firm based in Phoenix, Arizona. The firm’s primary objective is to partner with clients to create inviting interiors that provide experiences their guests rave about. In addition to her design studio, she is the owner and host of The Brass Cactus, an Airbnb Plus property in Scottsdale.
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”?
Thank you so much for having me! I was born in a small town in Minnesota, raised in a slightly larger town in Montana, and moved to Arizona for college. Once I experienced my first 75-degree winter, I fell utterly in love with the state put down my roots.
I attended a small private design school and received my Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design. After graduating, I worked for a local hospitality design firm for eight years. It was there that I was first introduced to how great design can contribute to a guest’s incredible experience. Although we were a small team, we worked with some well-known hotel, restaurant, and spa brands both locally and nationally.
From there, I moved around a few times, eventually working my way up to being the interior design director for a sizeable multi-disciplinary firm. I led teams that included interiors, food service, architecture, and graphic design. I loved working with our team and our client’s creative teams to develop cohesive branding and design projects.
In 2018, I decided to take a sabbatical from design to focus on my family and two small children. After about a year and a half, I missed my creative outlet and decided to launch Social Design Studio focusing on smaller boutique hospitality projects.
What led you to first start becoming an Airbnb host?
During my sabbatical, one of our favorite family activities was taking short road trips. Our kids were small enough to not want to get two hotel rooms but big enough that one hotel room felt too cramped. I had heard about Airbnb as an alternate and decided to try it out. From the very first stay, I fell in love with it. As a guest, we were so much more comfortable. We loved the coziness of staying in a home and also feeling a bit like locals wherever we went. It was because of this magical firsthand experience that I decided I, too, wanted to create my own and help make those memories for others.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this?
By far, the most exciting stories we have involve guests. Our most interesting guest booked at midnight the day of her arrival and stayed for two days. During her stay, she broke into our owner’s closet and rearranged our cleaning supplies but didn’t take anything. Before she left, she cleaned the entire place from top to bottom so much that it had an overwhelming chemical smell. On her way out she took our Snoop Dogg cookbook. It was just odd, and we were not quite sure what she did during her time.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Our Airbnb is in an older neighborhood in Scottsdale. Although my husband and I have lived here for many years, we have never had a place that uses gas to heat. We had just started to host our first couple of guests when we noticed the heat wasn’t working. We could not understand it. We tried everything we could and even called a repairman to look at our heating system. The repairman couldn’t make it out before our next guest was due to check-in. They were staying for a week during the coldest time in December. We messaged the guest, who (understandably) decided to cancel and select another property. We finally called the gas company to see if someone could come out to check it out. It was then that they told us we did not have an account and had yet to turn on the gas. Lightbulb! Ohhhhhhh, you need to have the gas turned ON by the gas company! We felt like complete idiots! The lesson: check all of your major appliances to make sure they are in proper working order before you start hosting.
What are some of the common mistakes you have seen people make when they first start hosting with Airbnb?
The biggest mistake I see hosts make when first starting is under-furnishing the rental. Most people spend years accumulating furniture, appliances, art, and accessories for their personal homes. When someone furnishes an entire rental from scratch, they often underestimate what it will take in budget and quantity. The house then looks sparse or thrown together in its listing and will not stand out to potential guests. As Airbnb grows in popularity, more guests want to book unique or outstanding listings.
The second biggest mistake I see is hosts underestimating the time commitment it will take when first launching. As a designer who has helped others launch their rentals, I have had more than a few clients come to me wanting to launch their rental within a few weeks. I would say the minimum time frame from the time you close to the time you start hosting is 6–8 weeks. If you are creating a carefully curated property, this will take much more time.
What are some of the things that can be done to avoid these errors?
A host who takes their time and thoughtfully thinks through their rental can help avoid either of these pitfalls. Be honest with yourself. Don’t set unrealistic timeframes. You are just setting yourself up for failure. And when furnishing the space, ask yourself if this is somewhere you or your family would be happy to be a guest. Go a step further and ask your most discerning friend to critique your space before you list. Have them spend the night and make notes about what you may be missing. Putting in that extra love and attention to detail will pay off in the end.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Airbnb experience? In your opinion, what makes you different from the rest?
The main thing that sets us apart is our design. When scrolling through Airbnb, the bold wallpaper and colors get the guest to click on our listing. Next are our hospitality and dedication to making sure each of our guests feels incredibly welcome. We want them to feel their stay at our home has enhanced their vacation and has not just been a place to put their head at night. We want your time with us to be an experience. This is our priority from the first interaction once a guest books. We have partnered with a local concierge company that provides services such as stocking the fridge before arrival or setting up your travel itinerary. Lastly, we have our own website, which hosts our digital guest book. This allows us to provide recommendations to our favorite local places to eat, shop, and play. My goal was to highlight the fantastic companies we have here in Arizona and have our guest’s feel like they know the local secret spots.
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.
- Have a Why. From my experience with other successful hosts, I have noticed that we all have a deeper “Why” that drives us to host. For us, our property is not only a way to connect with the travelers that come to our city but a long-term investment for our children. It has also given me invaluable insight as a hospitality designer into what a modern guest is looking for. I have direct access to the end-user and use this insight when working with my clients. If you have a more concrete reason for hosting, you are more likely to stick with it through the difficult times.
- Have a Plan. The most highly successful hosts have a strategy from the beginning. Your plan may include the desired location, how you will fund your rental, the overall style or theme, who your target demographic is, and how you will manage the property. You don’t need to have every last detail figured out before you jump in, but you should be realistic about what it will take. You will learn a lot and change course along the way but having a roadmap to launching will be invaluable.
- Have a Great Designer. I couldn’t help but include this one. No, you do not have to hire a designer. However, if you do not have a natural design eye, you may want to consider it. A designer will help you create a space that is cohesive and stands out from the competition. Their experience can also help you avoid making costly mistakes from the beginning.
- Have a Growth Mindset. Hosting will get hard at times. For many first-time hosts, they may be coming from backgrounds other than real estate or hospitality. I know many hosts who have a day job and hosting is their side hustle. You will be learning an entirely new skill set, and you will fail at times. Learn from it and do better next time.
- Have a Great Team. Your two most important contractors will be a turnover specialist and a co-host or management company. Take your time and interview a few before you select one. We went through a few cleaners before finding an incredible woman who is thorough, highly reliable, and meticulous. Your rental’s cleanliness is essential. Tuning over an Airbnb is a much different beast than a regular house cleaning. When you find a great cleaner, hold on to them! And, if you decide not to manage yourself, find someone who will share the same level of passion you do when hosting. They will become the primary contact your guest interacts with, and you want them to represent you well.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
The “perfect vacation experience” is anytime I get a mix of relaxing, exploring, and eating. Just being in a new location is exciting to me. I am naturally inquisitive, and I love learning about different cultures and cuisines. Our family loves to travel. Going on adventures and trying new things is our favorite way to bond and connect with our kids.
Can you share with our readers how you’ve used your success to bring goodness to the world?
On a personal level, I am doing my best to raise two compassionate, kind, thoughtful, and open-minded children. I believe one of the most significant impacts I will have on this earth will be how I raise them and set them up to help others and contribute to society.
Outside of our home, I have used my creative background to help design a youth teen center for a local domestic violence shelter. I have taught art classes to children at the center as well. The issue is very dear to my heart.
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. 🙂
Wow, I have never been asked a question like that. I believe what the world needs right now is more humanity and compassion for each other. This past year has been so incredibly divisive. What if each person committed to one day without judgment? See the good in someone before seeing what is “wrong” with them. When you hear something you disagree with, ask yourself why it is an issue that triggers you. Have a conversation and be fully committed and present. Listen to what other people are truly saying without thinking about what you will say in return. What would one day of genuine connection look like?
How can our readers further follow you on social media?
Follow along with Social Design Studio on Instagram @socialdesignstudio.co
Follow along with The Brass Cactus on Instagram @thebrasscactusaz
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!