— When April Brown and Sarah Sklash bought the former Sportsman Motel in Picton, Ont., in 2016,
the signs that said “No fish gutting in room” provided quite a
different vibe from the millennial country weekend hotspot they had in mind.
Brown and Sklash were working in Toronto at jobs they had tired of, when they
decided to buy the motel.
didn't just wake up one day and say we wanted to buy a motel,” Brown told
the audience at Stay Boutique The Trifecta: Women's Empowerment Edition in Los Angeles
on Feb. 13. “We were entrepreneurial and we had dreams. The motel
coming up for sale was totally unrelated. And then I said, 'We need to buy
that motel.' “
they realize that they would be going from Toronto, with its metropolitan area
population of six million, to Picton, Ont., population 4,000 — and that they
would be living in the motel. On the other hand, the motel was located in
Prince Edward County, a wine country hotspot less than two hours from those six
Sportsman Hotel with its stained carpets and musty smell was a place for
fisherman to stay — it was certainly a far cry from the 16-room boutique
property it is today.
The two were
neither hoteliers nor designers, had no renovation experience and no money. So
they decided to run the hotel as it was for a year, getting enough cash flow to
finance the renovation.
were shaping a vision of who we wanted to be,” said Brown. “How would
our guests feel when they stayed with us? Motels are usually just a place to
crash for the night — just a bed. We wanted our place to have richer meaning
and moments. We wanted the check in experience to be something they'd want to
tell their friends about online.
Instagrammable moments with bright pink doors, a pink Peace Love Wine sign and pink
wallpaper. We have a lobby bar where guests are greeted with a glass of local
rosé. There is an indoor-outdoor lobby with a campfire every night. We hold
dinner parties in the Bohemian Forest at sunset. There’s a strong human
connection. Today’s guests are our biggest fans, and the moments they share are
is important at The June Motel, as it’s a platform for experiences. They have
partnered with Lululemon, and have yoga every weekend. They have workshops and
retreats. On Monday nights, they show old movies. “We’re just seeing what works,”
A crushing moment
Brown and Sklash had the brilliant idea of painting the doors of the motel
family and workers all hated it,” said Brown. “They said no one would stay at
the motel if we painted the doors pink.
It was a crushing moment. They didn’t share our vision.
“Sarah and I
painted the doors pink. We learned a valuable lesson. There will always be criticism and people will
always question your vision if you’re not brave and strong enough to find your
pink door and stick to it.”
doors are one of the big hits on Instagram. The previous evening at the
conference, Brown was awarded a BLLA Stay Boutique award for Best Boutique
Instagrammer Check out their Instagram https://www.instagram.com/thejunemotel/
And yes, the
motel quickly became popular. Brown’s background was in public relations and marketing. She started
promoting the motel on Instagram three months before it opened. They had an
influencer marketing program, having the influencers talk about the property
on Instagram. Publicity trickled and trickled and then spiralled once they appeared in an article in Vogue.
did get a group of fishermen after the reno,” Brown said. “They had a great
time — but no, we don’t generally get a lot of fishermen.”
Making do on a small reno budget
renovation budget meant Brown and Sklash had to look on YouTube to find out how
to tile a lobby floor or wallpaper a room.
“The day we
opened, we were literally finishing painting a room. I’m sure I had paint on my
hands. I checked in a guest with a glass of rosé. They saw the sign “Peace Love Wine”
and took a selfie. We had an article in Vogue that first summer, and were asked
to appear on a TV show in Canada. Within one month we were totally booked, and we’ve been that way even since. We’re now in our third year.”
One of the
biggest challenges when they took over the motel was that there were no systems
in pace. Reservations were written down on a piece of paper each summer.
“We had a
blank slate — we had to start from scratch,” said Brown. “We got a good PMS
system, and we used Wix to create our website.
Running a motel seems more complicated than it is. We’re customer
service and experience-oriented. I just would think about what I would want.”
they get a motel, the two would get accounting and operations systems that communicate with one another.
Sklash are shopping around for a second motel. “This is just the beginning of
our story in the boutique industry,” Brown said. And yes, the next motels will
also have the name June.
motels are an undervalued asset. They’re kitschy and niche, and they have a lot
[of boutique motels] in California and Palm Springs, but not in Canada.”
So how did
they come up with the name, “June”?
“We tried a
few names — we were looking for something, vintage, retro and feminine,
something to do with summertime and lightness. We thought about who this person
is — June was an old, classic name. Soon
we couldn’t imagine it not being called June.”
Motel operates from April to December, and the owners would like any future
hotels to operate on the same seasonal schedule.
“When we made
the move, we were creating a lifestyle — it’s nice to take the winters off,”
And no, she’s
not living in the motel any more. “I bought a house in Prince Edward County,
and last summer I moved out of the motel.”