FEH Editor’s Note: Some realtors just happen to sell historic properties, the same way some people just happen to own businesses located in historic buildings. Then there are people like Diane Kauffman who are the epitome of the active historic property lifestyle. When we first met Diane we were immediately inspired by her enthusiasm for historic Tybee Island, her vacation rental business savvy, and her support for local causes. She is proof of the power of the historic real estate economy and a role model for future entrepreneurs and preservationists. FEH co-founder, Meggen Taylor, sat down with Diane to learn more about her business and what brought her to coastal Georgia.
How did you start your uber successful Mermaid Cottages vacation rental business?
I spent 26 years working for Marriott Hotel in training sales and marketing, where I learned everything I know about the hospitality business. About 8 years ago there were a lot of corporate changes happening at Marriott and when my position became one of constant global travel I decided to bow out gracefully and create the life that I wanted to live. I will forever be grateful for the training, education and experience I gained from working with the Marriott team. Mr. Marriott will always be an inspiration to me! When I left Marriott, I moved from DC to Tybee, Georgia and started renting out one vacation rental that became very successful. Since Tybee is small, I was asked by other homeowners who had vacation rentals in the area to manage their properties, which I was reluctant to do, but eventually I did. From word of mouth more rentals came my way and within 4 years I was managing over 20 vacation rental houses, Mermaid Cottages was born and the rest as they say is history.
What made you chose Tybee Island, Georgia?
Tybee Island, also known as Savannah’s beach is your quintessential beach town full of historic cottages and historic B and B’s. It is reminiscent of the types of beach towns we have all been to as kids. Tybee Island is 20 minutes from Savannah, Georgia and offers something for just about everyone. It is a barrier island so you can enjoy the beach, the marsh and the surrounding inter-coastal waterways along with the maritime forests. The salt-water marshes are a sanctuary for birds and other wildlife that are unique to the Georgia coast & our beaches are also the nesting grounds for Loggerheads Sea Turtles. It is a great community of artists and residents that have been able to keep the charm of this town and has managed to keep out big commercial businesses. When visitors or locals for that matter want a more urban experience we are only 20 minutes from lovely Savannah, Georgia.
What makes your business so successful?
So much of what I learned about hospitality I learned from Mr. Marriott during my Marriott days. I run a tight ship and my vacation rentals are no different. Twice a year we do a top to bottom interior and exterior inspection of each property. If anything needs to be addressed whether it is the refinishing of floors, a fresh paint job needed or any other maintenance we determine what needs to be redone or refreshed during the inspections. We then let the property owners know our thoughts and how long they have to take care of what we see as needing to be addressed. Our customers have come to expect a certain type of boutique experience and our rentals need to maintain or exceed those standards. If owners are not around to take care of the issues themselves we have created a network of trusty local contractors who can service the property.
I see that you have your own line of Mermaid Cottage’s Goodies that help support various causes. Can you tell us a little more about them and the organizations that they support?
Giving back to the community is so important to me. We created the Mermaid Morning Bliss Coffee with the help of master roaster Phillip, of PERC Coffee located in Savannah, Georgia to support the efforts of Tybee Sea Turtles program and for the efforts around the world to support endangered sea turtles. We also created Beach Bum Biscuits, a line of biscuits for our four-legged furry friends where the proceeds from the sales go to support service and guide dogs.