An interview with Tim Andrews, Founder of chalet rental specialist OVO Network.
- Can you give tell us a little about your background?
I fell in love with skiing at the age of 10, and always wanted to live in the mountains. Finally, I got the chance to make the move in 1999, when I moved to the small ski resort of Manigod in the Haute Savoie – which is part of the famous La Clusaz ski area, home of freestyle skier Candide Thovex.
But the road to making that move to France wasn’t obvious. I studied photography and film at university, but music was my real love so I formed a band and created my first ‘start-up’ business – a small, independent recording studio called Square Centre Studios.
I ran the studio for 15 years and set up a range of offshoots, including four independent record labels, a music publishing company and an artist management company. The success of these businesses let me build a three studio recording complex and offices for a growing team.
But as I continued in the music industry, I found myself having to work increasingly with the major record labels. The budgets were great, but I struggled to work with ideas that were often very different to my own so I decided to leave the music industry and make a new start.
That new start came in the form of a new life in the French Alps with my family – my son was only four when we made the move, and my daughter was born in Annecy. I loved the freedom, the skiing and spending time with my kids, but I missed the energy of work and the interaction with colleagues, so I started to look for a new challenge.
- Tell us how OVO Network came about
Finding that challenge wasn’t straightforward. Unsure which way to go, I started to build on another passion – computing and technology. A friend ran a bungee jumping company with sites around the world and he needed an online booking system – I offered to help create the technology. It was a great success and paved the way for a new idea – OVO Network, which was launched in 2010.
I had – and still have – a very clear vision of our business model. It’s radically different to other businesses operating in the vacation rental industry, providing a much more personal, tailored solution for property owners. When we started I couldn’t find any software that could accommodate this vision, so I decided to build my own.
I teamed up with a friend who had computer programming skills, and together we built the first version of the OVO Network system and associated websites. The next step was to find some chalets, so I persuaded some ski buddies to give us their chalets to manage and market through the system. Steadily the portfolio of properties grew through word-of-mouth recommendations, as owners recognised the quality of the website and the level of bookings we were achieving.
From the start, I’ve invested every cent back into the business, enabling more properties and more team members to be added. Over the years the technology behind the company has been refined and developed, and we now work with over 340 properties across the Alps.
- What does OVO Network now offer to property owners?
We’ve developed our Complete marketing, booking and property management solution, which makes it easy and hassle-free to run a chalet rental business from anywhere in the world.
It’s an all-inclusive solution that covers everything from creating a beautiful, bilingual website for your property, to professionally marketing it, managing bookings and handling all guest communications. It literally takes away all the admin involved in renting out your chalet, and even provides detailed reports for end-of-year accounting and monitoring Taxe de Sejour payments.
But the solution we offer isn’t just tech-based. We have a really experienced team, who always go the extra mile to support our owners. They provide expert insight on everything from the initial set-up of a property and its pricing, through to year-round revenue management and performance optimisation, helping ensure that every property we work with maximises their bookings and their occupancy – all in line with the owners’ expectations.
- Which parts of the Alps does OVO Network work in?
OVO Network works right across the French Alps. While we started in the Aravis, we now also cover all of the major ski areas such as the Portes du Soleil, Evasion Mont Blanc and the Three Valleys.
What makes us different is that we don’t just focus on the big-name resorts such as Chamonix and Courchevel. We do have properties in these areas, but we have many other properties in smaller, less well-known areas that still offer easy access to fantastic skiing.
When we select a resort we look at its year-round potential – not just demand through the winter months. The Alps are increasingly popular through spring, summer and autumn thanks to a growing awareness of the activities on offer here – everything from world-class cycling and hiking to adrenaline sports and chilled-out lakeside beaches. We generate demand for the Alps across the seasons, so assessing a property’s year-round potential in terms of its location and the facilities it offers are key for us.
We have also just taken on our first property in the Swiss Alps, so this is a great step in the growth of the business. In addition, we have a growing number of properties in and around the Annecy and Lake Annecy, which offer easy access to skiing in the Aravis, as well as watersports, cycling and the shopping and dining of a stylish French town.
- Is there a typical chalet owner?
While there isn’t a ‘typical’ chalet owner, the one thing that our most successful owners have in common is a focus on maximising their year-round occupancy and rental yield. They recognise the benefits of generating high-profit levels during the peak weeks and lower profits during the off-season – all with the aim of maximising their annual income.
Our owners also want to add to the capital appreciation of their property, by building up a highly successful rental business with a proven track record. After three years of renting, they have rental records to demonstrate performance. This ensures that the property stands as a valuable business asset in its own right and gives the owner an associated business to sell. As a result, our owners are achieving excellent capital appreciation over the duration of their ownership and maximising their return on that investment.
While we have many French owners, we’ve also found that over the years our owners have become increasingly international – we have owners from the UK, the Netherlands, and even the Far East. As they’re not on hand to market and manage their property themselves they entrust it to us and listen to our advice on how to maximise their rental revenue.
- What do you offer that is different to other big online companies such as Airbnb?
We have a completely different concept from these other companies. We hand-pick every property for its location, style and facilities, so not every chalet that contacts us will be featured on our site. As a result, the property owners know they are part of an exclusive ‘club’ that all benefit from the quality and service we provide.
In addition, we work ‘with’ our owners, providing them with a complete range of support and advice to maximise their rentals throughout the year. Every owner has their own Account Manager, who works closely with them to monitor performance, adapt pricing and offer advice on everything from French legal requirements to industry trends. It’s very much a partnership approach, something which the big online companies can’t – or won’t – commit to.
We’re also very focused on maximising year-round occupancy through our pricing strategies. While other companies do use dynamic pricing tools, generally they’re not built for individual properties such as ski chalets. Ours is a much more tailored approach to the pricing of our properties, all driven by a highly experienced revenue management team.
As a result, we are achieving far higher annual returns for our owners and enhancing the capital growth of their properties. One property went from earning €30k in 18 months with an owner who opted for their own pricing, to earning €250k in 22 months with the new owner who followed our advice. It shows what can be achieved with our more tailored approach.
To reach a wider audience we also create a bilingual (French and English) page for every property, with our professional copywriters and photographers ensuring the best possible presentation for each home. Our marketing team then implements a year-round marketing programme, incorporating everything from newsletters and advertising to social media activity and PR, all of which builds awareness and generates bookings.
- What’s next for OVO Network?
It’s a very exciting time for us. We’ve grown our team and we’re working to add more quality properties in new locations and expand further into the Swiss Alps. We’re lucky that we have very loyal guests who book with us year after year, and more people are discovering us all the time, so we have strong demand.
Not only that, but this demand is year-round. While many people may think of the Alps as predominantly a winter destination, the summer season is just as strong and through our marketing activity we’re generating growing business for the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn – they’re great times for the affluent cycling market.
What we’re focusing on now is balancing the generation of more year-round demand from guests, with reaching out to new owners who have high-end properties and the vision of what can be achieved by maximising occupancy across the seasons. It’s a supply and demand balancing act, but a very exciting one for us as a fast-growing business.
For more information visit: www.ovonetwork.com