November 2021 Owner Newsletter Housekeeping Update

Tired housekeeper sitting on sofa

I’ve made no secret of my desire to eventually bring all housekeeping ‘in house’ with salaried staff under the direction and payroll of Seachange Vacation Rentals.

Using 1099 independent contractor housekeeping vendors (mainly due to staffing challenges in a small-town resort area) causes its own issues in terms of consistency, and trust of an outside vendors to run their businesses in a professional manner.

We saw major improvements in Housekeeping in 2021 due to the following 2020 updates:

  • Design of a Seachange Vacation Rentals Standard Property Appearance that we use to guide all our housekeeping including 1099 cleaning sub-contractors.
  • Designed an RFP Bid Process that brought in over 30 local housekeeping companies to compete on a bid for four 1099 housekeeping vendor spots.
  • Formal roll out of our Seachange Guest Bedding Program.
  • Tightening up of quality control standards on 1099 linen vendors.
  • New contracts with alternative external commercial laundries.

However, in 2021 we experienced major issues with one particular cleaning and bed making vendor, and minor issues with another cleaning vendor. Another of our vendors bravely admitted capacity issues (2021 saw business interrupting staffing shortages) and sadly discontinued cleaning for us despite an excellent track record.

I will caveat that when looking at housekeeping issues, one must not forget that media coverage of this extreme labor market is very real. The beach areas are experiencing the same labor market issues reported across all sectors of the economy across all states. Also, we have seen a rise in unreasonable Guests, often using a minor cleaning issue as a reason for partial or full refund even after cleaning issues are quickly resolved. We have also seen a rise in what can only be described as Guest scams.

For example, a Guest staying at a property for 2 weeks, then, a week after returning home reporting blood on their bedding on arrival requesting compensation for their experience. I personally have been Acting Head of Housekeeping this summer due to staff shortages. Our Seachange Guest bedding program ran for 7 months without a single complaint. We triple check all bedding for stains. Additionally, I personally made the beds before this Guest arrival, and stripped the beds after their departure. I do not miss a thing! There was no blood on their bedding. Two other sets of eyes and checking protocols with other housekeeping staff is a pretty quality assurance check and balance! It also begs the reasonable question, “Who sleeps on blood-stained bedding for two weeks, then waits until they get home to complain?” Scam!

So, my point is, in 2021 we had to draw on detective skills and tighten up our procedures to take into account an unusual labor market and increase in poor behavior on the part of some Guests. That being said, we still have decided, for 2022 rollout to:

  • Terminate our relationship with the two 1099 cleaning and bedmaking housekeeping vendors.
  • Keep our relationship with one 1099 cleaning vendor. It is no coincidence that this is the vendor we have been working with since the first year of business. Unfortunately, this vendor is maxed out on the number of properties they can clean for us.
  • THE BIG NEWS! For 2022, Seachange is formally developing our own internal housekeeping department! We have been quietly testing this as a proof-of-concept since mid-summer 2021. We already have a full-time housekeeper on payroll and used temporary seasonal staff to supplement that for our proof-of-concept trial. I have opened up a new mid-level management position for Director of Housekeeping Operations (DHO), and our new GM is actively hiring to fill. Our new DHO will build out a team of year-round W2 housekeeping staff to be supplemented in summer with seasonal staff.

What Are the Advantages of an Internal Housekeeping Department?

IRS rules do not allow us to direct the work of 1099 external sub-contractor vendors. We’re not allowed tell them what hours they work, how to clean, what cleaning products to use, even how to dress. Instead, we’re only allowed to tell them what the end result should look like. This makes for some tricky management challenges when turning properties in a tight window between Guests. It also makes it hard to hold them accountable for mistakes.

The IRS does allow us to direct W2 employees. Hence, we can really develop tight, consistent standards, and hold staff directly accountable for results. Instead of crossing our fingers and hoping they do a good job, we can ensure they do, directly. Watch this space for more information on new cleaning, Guest bedding, and linen protocols. We have a deadline for Dec 21, 2021 to fill the DOH position in order to fully staff at the lower levels ready for spring deep cleans, and other housekeeping related property readiness activities for the summer season.