As the weather warms, Brett and Sherrie Adolphson are gearing up for the season when they’ll work around the clock for at least 120 days straight. They are the owners of Bitterroot Cabins, a property management company that leases privately owned vacation cabins in the woods.
“If your cabin is made of logs, has smoke coming out the chimney and deer in the yard, and if it looks like it could be on a maple syrup bottle, then it would do really well in our program,” Brett said.
Last year, they welcomed almost 300 guests to the Bitterroot and tried to make personal contact with each one – either on site or at their business office on the north end of Hamilton.
“When you see a car pull up and kids pour out and the whole family is excited about their trip to Montana, it really puts things into perspective and you realize why you do the work you do,” said Sherry. “Everyone is happy – the property owners who are receiving some income on their investment, the visitors who are here to enjoy a Montana experience and our employees who get to earn some seasonal income. It really is a fun business.”
The Adolphsons currently manage 35 properties in the Bitterroot Valley, including the lodging facilities on the Teller Wildlife Refuge where they schedule and manage the wedding venue. Sherry said she booked the Teller facilities every weekend last year and already has weddings booked most dates for summer 2014.
“I’ve got a couple of dates left in August as well as September and October,” she said. “But that’s it.”
The Adolphsons came to the Bitterroot from Utah in 2001 with their two young daughters. They worked various jobs when they first arrived, but had been dreaming of various entrepreneurial ideas for several years.
“We’ve been together since middle school, we were high school sweethearts,” Brett said. “And one of our favorite dates has always been to drive to the mountains and see the cabins. So for us, when we started to get that itch to start a new business, cabins dominated our thoughts and ideas.”
With his technology background, they got to work building a business plan and a website and launched their business in 2007.
“The changes in technology and the housing market are mainly responsible for the growth in our industry,” Brett said. “With the Internet, it’s possible to effectively market the properties and when the economy took a dive in 2008, it opened the door of opportunity for people with second homes who didn’t want to sell for a loss. We provide a turn key program that delivers revenue without any problems for the owners.”
The Adolphsons provide marketing, property management, money management, tax collection and especially cleaning and restocking consumables for the guests. Despite the economy, they have grown their business every year since they opened and they attribute that to careful planning and efficient procedures.
“We provide a monthly accounting to our clients and really keep communication lines open,” said Brett. “We share our success with many local partners who help provide laundry services, yard care, as well as plumbing and electrical when we need it. So many contractors are an instrumental part of our success because we can make one call and they respond immediately. Once we had to have a well pump replaced on the same day that 15 to 20 guests were staying on a large property for a wedding. They obviously had to take showers and use the kitchen and we were able to solve the problems seamlessly. We’ve built trust with many local trades from catering to septic services … and can pick up the phone and move mountains if needed in a very short amount of time.”
Over the years, the Adolphsons have mastered their standards and procedures, especially when it comes to cleaning and maintenance.
“We keep our properties spectacularly clean, which is a great benefit for our guests and owners alike,” Brett said. “We have standards on how the beds are made, how the lids are stored with the pots in the drawer. … It’s all standardized, our staff is excellent and we spot check constantly.”
He said most of the guests who vacation in the Bitterroot are domestic – who just want to travel across the country for hiking, fishing and other outdoor activities. He said a significant number of guests come from Washington, California, Texas and Illinois and usually stay for an average of five nights at a time.
“They come book float trips and have dinner in town. They buy groceries locally so that they can cook in our cabins. There are many local businesses that benefit from the tourism generated from cabin rentals,” he said.
They said they have three or four families that stay an entire month every summer, so they have built relations with guests as well.
“Our cabins range from one bedroom, one bathroom log cabins to lodge-style homes that sleep up to 18 for family reunions or retreats as well as everything in between,” he said.
They also host families who come to Hamilton for sports tournaments at the high school. “Several families will go in together to rent a house which makes it affordable and then they also have a kitchen to cook some meals which saves them money and helps make their weekends more enjoyable,” Brett said.
Sherry said they recently opened a new facility adjacent to their business location called the “Osprey Nest” executive suite.
“It’s intended to provide long-term lodging for professionals who might come to area for six weeks at a time or something to work at the lab or GSK or the hospital,” she said. “We don’t compete with the local hotels, but sometimes when it’s long enough, these professionals need a place to call home while they work on a project or install equipment. It is conveniently located in town and has the amenities they need like an office as well as a bedroom and private bathroom.”
As another attraction to their office space, the Adolphsons have opened Montana Shirts and Hats which offers a wide variety of Montana-themed apparel and locally-made gifts and mementos, not only for tourists but for those who want to brag about where they’re from.
“Just yesterday, we had a woman come in a buy a Montana hat and sweatshirt to wear on her travels as she was deployed,” said Sherry. “She was so funny, she wanted everyone to know where she was from.”
They also offer Montana toffee made by talented confectioners in Corvallis and Big Creek Coffee roasted by Randy Lint in Hamilton.
“We’re always looking for more properties to manage and more ‘Made in Montana’ items to distribute and sell,” Sherry said.
Brett concurred, “That part of our business has taken off much better than even we anticipated.”
Next month, the Adolphsons are also launching a new version of their website which will include even more information on local events and activities.
“This is such a great place to live and a great place to share,” said Brett. “We feel honored to be able to connect so many to all that the Bitterroot has to offer.”