Prioritize — I have had many developers come to me “ready to start marketing” before they even have their permits or funding. Understand your project’s needs and put together a solid strategic plan with start/end dates for each matter in order to avoid overspending.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kappner Clark, Chief Marketing Officer, RLH Properties.
Fluent in both English and Spanish, Kappner graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in International Relations. She has extensive experience in marketing, particularly in tourism developments and real estate. She started her career at MIRA Companies where she first worked as a marketing coordinator and was later promoted to marketing manager. Subsequently, she was invited to work at Atlas Real Estate Group as head of marketing and recently served as Director of Marketing at RSC Development, where she did a stupendous job designing distinct marketing campaigns for the destination of Mandarina and the One&Only Mandarina Private Homes, amidst her other responsibilities of branding, marketing and public relations.
Thank you for joining us Kappner. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the real estate industry?
It actually started with my love for Spanish. In college, I studied abroad in Spain and knew I wanted to do something in international business where I could use my Spanish. The woman who I had nannied for in college introduced me to a friend of hers who was building a wellness-focused real estate resort in Mexico. I fell in love with the concept, and that internship ended up becoming my first job post-graduation. As I learned more about the industry, I love that we have the opportunity particularly in resort development to play a part in people’s most cherished memories…the vacations they take with their families. I feel incredibly grateful I somewhat fell into real estate at such a young age.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
It has always amazed me how small the real estate resort development and hospitality world feels. It is rare that I meet someone in our industry where we do not at least have one connection in common. I think it is a testament to how rewarding the work is and why so many people stay in real estate for so long. I would say the lesson I have learned is that success is based on relationships. You can be the smartest person in the world but we all need a helping hand, and if you do not take the time to create strong relationships and connections with people, it will limit your potential for success.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now?
Yes! One hour north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we are currently developing a new ultra-luxury resort called Mandarina. It will feature a One&Only hotel, Rosewood hotel, branded residences for each hotel, and a world class polo and equestrian club. One&Only Mandarina and the first One&Only Mandarina Private Homes are set to open in November this year, with Rosewood Mandarina opening in 2023. Our sister resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico is called Mayakoba. We have four hotels there — Andaz Mayakoba, Fairmont Mayakoba, Banyan Tree Mayakoba, and Rosewood Mayakoba. Due to COVID-19 and local government restrictions, we have to temporarily close our doors, so we have taken this time to work on our marketing “come back campaign” called #MeetMeInMayakoba, which has been a ton of fun and has had great success so far via our Instagram.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are the largest publicly listed luxury hotel group in Mexico. With a market cap of almost $1billion USD for our six operating hotels and two under development, we really stand out in terms of the size of our market cap versus the size of our operation. Besides our size though, RLH Properties is famous for the way we operate our hotels. In 2019, we had a record year improving our EBITDA by 44%. The fact that we can offer a return like that to our investors while also offering to our hotel guests and homeowners the incredible 6- star service our brands provide, I think it is a pretty amazing win/win situation which is hard to achieve.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I have been incredibly fortunate to have many great mentors along the way. One particularly special mentor I have is a woman named Sandra Kulli who I met fresh out of college on my first day of work ever, which for both of us happened to be our first time visiting the development site of the project we were working on in Baja California Sur. Sandra was a marketing consultant on the project who taught me so much more than just marketing. She taught me the art of storytelling, how important it is to really listen, how to craft messaging and campaigns that speak to people’s hearts, and how important it is to be true to yourself always and particularly when standing up to a board room full of men. Sandra was the one who really encouraged me to take the plunge to move to Mexico for my first job, so without her I would definitely not be where I am, both literally and figuratively, today.
The real estate industry, like the veterinarian, nursing and public relations fields, is a women dominated industry. Yet despite this, less than 20 percent of senior positions in real estate companies are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what do you think is the cause of this imbalance?
It is interesting you mention this statistic because I feel like my experience in real estate, particularly in development, has been the opposite and that it is a more male dominated industry. I am proud that at RLH Properties where I work now, four of the ten members of the Directors Committee are female. I would attribute any imbalance in the real estate field to be more so a result of societal influence (see below answers to next questions).
What 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
- It all starts with awareness. For individuals, companies, and society. We all need to have an honest look in the mirror and evaluate how we do (or do not) contribute to gender imbalance. I think social media and media coverage in recent years has really helped to bring more awareness to this issue.
- Women need to support women. We can be each other’s toughest critics or biggest cheerleaders. The more we stand together and support each other, the more balance I believe we will achieve.
- We need to pay attention to what gender roles we teach our children. Education is everything.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the real estate industry?
- We get to play a role in influencing where some of the people’s best memories take place…whether that is their primary home, vacation home, or their favorite hotels.
- Our branded residences for sale are a solid investment so I love that our clients can enjoy their resort homes both from an emotional perspective and also a monetary perspective.
- Real estate is a strong industry with a long history. I like the stability in knowing that it will never go away and love the challenge of how to continuously improve it.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
One of my concerns is sustainability and overbuilding. I am really proud that RLH Properties really puts an emphasis on low-density projects. Low density does not mean low return, on the contrary…we feel low density adds a ton of value for our clients. For instance, Mandarina is being built on 640 acres and will only include two hotels totaling about 230 rooms and branded residences for each which will total about 130 homes. The low density of our projects allows our clients privacy, intimacy, and even more relevant to today’s world — social distancing. The same applies to Mayakoba, where in addition to having an incredibly low density within our 620 acres there, we have also invested significantly into environmental preservation. We actually won in December 2019 the highest level award ever given by PROFEPA to any hotel for our achievements in Sustainable and Responsible Tourism Development.
Another big concern I have is how developers work with the local towns and governments in the communities where their projects are. Education is key and I am very proud of the investment of the time, energy, and resources that RLH has put into improving the towns around its resorts both in terms of increasing access to potable water like in the town outside of Mandarina or our support of local bilingual school K’iin Beh near Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Get to know your team. Understand what motivates them, and just as importantly, what demotivates them. Ask them how they like to receive feedback, what communication styles they prefer, what they are most passionate about both in and outside of the office. Know your people and let them know that they matter. You will earn their respect that way, and respect I believe is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship.
You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the real estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give an example for each?
- Prioritize. I have had many developers come to me “ready to start marketing” before they even have their permits or funding. Understand your project’s needs and put together a solid strategic plan with start/end dates for each matter in order to avoid overspending. Ex. Hire a marketing consultant to advise you in your master planning phase so that you can be sure to create a product that is relevant to today’s buyers. Depending on how long permits take in your area, you might be able to hold off on creating your in house marketing team or hiring a marketing firm until you get closer. In general, you should make your first marketing hire 8–12 months before you want to start selling.
- Empathy is key. Understanding your clients and their wants and needs is what will define everything from your investment plan to your marketing plan.
- Connections are everything. Network and get to know as many people as you can. It will not only help you learn more about the industry and the various jobs available, but it will also enrich your working environment.
- Educate yourself. Push yourself to learn a little about every piece of the industry, from acquisitions, construction, and asset management to investor relations, marketing, and sales. The more you have an understanding of how the big picture works, the more you will grow and be well-positioned to assume a leadership role or even to start your own company.
- Know when to recharge. There is a big risk and big reward in the real estate development industry. Time is money, and every minute your new development project is not built and open, you are losing the potential for gain, which is why the hours worked in real estate development can be pretty extreme. Know yourself though and know when/how you need to recharge so that you will be able to see the full project through until opening and not burn out before. Encourage your team to know themselves and take time to recharge too.
Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
I think it all starts with respect. When people feel seen, heard, and understood, they react differently and are usually kinder to others. I think the world could use a little more empathy and kindness.
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights!