The idea started as an "adult wine camp."
This article is part of Narcity's bi-weekly Millennial Money Makers series, which profiles young Canadians who are making money in "new" — and often surprising — ways. Have a story to tell? Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you haven't watched Motel Makeover on Netflix yet, you're going to want to change that ASAP.
The six-episode show chronicles best friend duo 37-year-old April Brown and 36-year-old Sarah Sklash as they transform a dingy-looking motel in Sauble Beach, Ontario into what is now the second location of The June Motel, the first of which became a major Instagram dream-come-true sensation when it opened in Prince Edward Country in 2017.
Brown and Sklash spoke to Narcity about their advice for aspiring moteliers, the best and worst parts of the job, and why you should never think you're above any role or task.
How did you get into the motel industry?
"I'll take you back to 2016," Brown told Narcity. "I think we were both ready to make a leap of some sort, but we just didn't know what that thing was. So we opened a bottle of wine and we brainstormed like 40 business ideas. And they were all centred around wine and wellness, travel experiences. Those are the things that we are very naturally passionate and excited about."
Brown, who was born in Calgary, said she and Sklash, who was born in Windsor, have been friends for about 17 years. They had been going to Prince Edward County with their girlfriends for a while and saw an opportunity there.
"One of the ideas was actually an adult wine camp, and honestly, it was just supposed to be a side hustle," Brown said, adding that they were looking for a place to host it when Sklash came across a motel for sale.
"It was a very instant switch from 'oh, this is a side hustle and like a wine camp weekend' to 'we should buy that motel,'" Brown said.
The Prince Edward Country location officially re-opened as dreamy millennial destination The June in 2017, full of photo-perfect spots for drinking wine and hanging with friends.
As for the second location in Sauble Beach, the two friends purchased it for $1.4 million and personally guaranteed it with their homes. When they initially went to renovate, they were going to put $600,000 into the location, but due to the COVID-19 closure of their Prince Edward County location, which was a huge source of income, they could only put $500,000 into it.
The location officially opened in 2020, and the final result looks like a beachy Palm Springs resort.
What are your professional and educational backgrounds?
"April and I both went to Western, both studied business," said Sklash. "I think if you're going to be an entrepreneur, having some business education is so helpful."
However, she added that you can still make it work without it.
"I had focused on business analysis and project management in my past and April had focused on marketing and PR," she said. "So between the two of us, we didn't have any of the knowledge of how to run a motel.
Sklash said she had previously worked with the Ontario government and Brown had worked for a PR firm.
"One of the reasons why we're excited about Motel Makeover is I think it gives people a bit of insight into how to actually do this," she said.
One of the things the duo found important was hiring people who knew more about the motel business than they did.
"We were hiring experienced housekeepers, that's such a big part of running a motel," said Brown. "So making sure that you are hiring people, accountants, lawyers, staff, and not being afraid to be in a position where you're learning a lot from people around you."
How much money are you making?
"Both of us are making half of what we made when we were working in our past jobs in the city," said Sklash. "And we haven't given ourselves a raise in five years because we just want to invest in our team, we want to invest in our properties. And so we're not making a lot of money."
"We're really in a building mentality," Brown explained. "If we had just stopped at the one motel and paid off the mortgage and made money — like there, there's definitely money to be made in it. We're just in such a growth period that those gains are a little further out for us."
"But we're paying our staff more than we pay ourselves," Sklash noted. "And we're not those CEOs who take like a $1 salary a year because we both have homes, we have costs, but as much as we can, it's putting the money back into the business so we can keep growing."
Any advice for people trying to get into your industry?
"Some of the things we did early on were informational interviews with other hoteliers or moteliers," said Brown. "Just kind of like really learning and seeing what other people are doing has been a huge, huge influence in shaping kind of what we've done even here."
Sklash said her best piece of advice is to never "think you're too good to be in any sort of role."
"We do housekeeping, we work the front desk. And those are so important. We offer internships where it's like 'you are going to work every single job.' Because if you eventually want to lead a property, or you want to grow your own hospitality business, definitely great to understand every single role on the properties."
What are the best and worst parts of the job?
"The best parts of the job are when you find that motel and you get to dream big and have the amazing vision of all the cool things you're going to do," said Brown.
"And the worst part of the job is when you realize that you don't have enough time or money to do those [things]. And we go into like compromise mode of 'yeah, what can we really accomplish here,' so that's really always challenging. It's balancing 'dream big' with the realities of time and money."
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.