New Approach to Property Management

Elan's Norman Bibeau Moves the Company to the Future

By Kip Tabb

There is a recurring pattern to the business cycle —sort of a revolving door of ideas that always seems to come back to the same basics—know what your customers want and deliver it to them.

Norman Bibeau, who took over the reins of Elan Vacations this past winter, is either a visionary or reactionary, depending on where the current thinking is on the business cycle. His business philosophy is straightforward and simple. "Customer service is the most important element in a business' success," he says.

A simple philosophy, however, does not mean simple in execution, and it is in bringing that philosophy to life that Bibeau's vision takes shape.

Bibeau has been a partner with Elan since May of 2003, but it was not until this past year that he bought out the founding majority shareholder and became the principal owner.

What Bibeau has noticed most since joining this industry is that property management, as a whole, varies very little from company to company. The management company rents a home and the homeowners pay a set fee—regardless of how much time and effort an individual homeowner may put into maintaining and marketing their property. "It's evolved to the point that there is no creativity in the thought process behind the business. There's no out of the box thinking," he says.

Bibeau, however, brings a unique perspective to the table. "I own a business that relies on the homeowner and guest alike," he says. "I'm not looking at this from just a business owner's standpoint, nor catering to the guest's needs only, but viewing the business equally from the owners' perspective."

Elan Vacations uses a different approach to property management. "A passive homeowner is someone who comes to me and says you handle this, and they'll have one fee schedule," Bibeau explains. "An active homeowner is someone who is hands on; they advertise their house, actively solicit their past guests to return, and consistently maintains their home. This homeowner will have a different fee schedule."

It is also an approach that emphasizes what works and redesigning, or eliminating, what doesn't. I fit is a service or tangible item that Bibeau feels his customers want—whether the customer is a home-owner or a vacationing family—it stays. If it doesn't work, it goes. "Example—we were the first company to offer weekly newspaper delivery. As a company we felt it was unique and had value. It was, but it didn't inspire customer loyalty. Price is the biggest motivator right now, and we've chosen to downsize or eliminate some of our complementary programs in order to keep our rental prices affordable for every-one."

There is still a welcoming package for renters, but the emphasis is on practical use to the customer. "Rather than a gift basket, we give our guests stuff they can use," he says. "Paper products, trash bags, etc. in a reusable shopping bag is today's application. It could change tomorrow based on what our customers want."

Promoting the industry is not just about the rental homes, says Bibeau. It is the community in general that is the draw of the Outer Banks. "I like the fact that when I walk into a store I'm bound to run into someone I know," he says. "We should be promoting that; the friendly, small town feeling. It's the local retailers that make my business possible. Each business supports and encourages the other and that is what makes the Outer Banks a truly unique experience."

As Elan moves forward, new ideas are coming to the fore. Al-though the company has not been involved in real estate sales in the past, Bibeau is in the process of forming a sales division. However, it will have the Elan stamp of difference. "Our sales people will not be commission driven," he says.

Although agents will receive a commission on sales, they will also be paid a regular salary. "They should not be trying to force a deal to put food on the table," Bibeau says. "We're creating long term relationships with buyers and sellers and are still looking three to four years out before things start to turn."

It is that type of vision, that sense of looking forward yet holding true to bedrock principals that seems to be at the core of Elan's success. "We are nothing more than a customer service business," Bibeau says. "As a company, that is upper-most in our minds. At the end of the day, we are a very hands on company."