Corey Frank and Chris Beall just had the fun privilege of recording a Market Dominance Guys podcast with Mandy Farmer, CEO of Accent Inns on the most important value in her business (and ours also, it turns out) - fun. This is part one of this interview with Mandy. Take a break and enjoy some lightness, as well as considering a new approach to help secure employee retention while growing your bottom line and see why she and her team are thriving in the hospitality industry while her competition is going through massive layoffs.
As soon as the border opens up and we can cross the border, our team will take the ferry north to have fun learning more about the crucial role of fun in business - the best way, by direct experience! Thanks, Mandy, for being our second guest ever, and for sharing the business power of fun with us today. And thanks, Ryan Reisert for introducing me to Natalie Corbett yesterday.
I'm so glad we took the opportunity to have these conversations. Conversations Matter. Fun conversations matter even more! Join us for this episode of Market Dominance Guys.
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The complete transcript of this episode is below:
Corey Frank (00:28):
Great. Welcome to another episode of the Market Dominance Guys with your host, Corey Frank, and the esteemed patron of honor here, Chris Beall as always to my virtual left. Today, we have a very special treat for everybody because we don't have guests usually, Ryan [Riset 00:00:52] made it just under the wire from a few weeks ago, but we're honored to have Mandy Farmer who runs the Accent Inns. It's a family owned and operated group of hotels in the British Columbia area. And I think you'll agree after our chat with me and Chris today that their approach, the Accent Inn approach, of taking fun seriously is a core value for any company, especially in today's environment. So welcome Mandy to the podcast.
Mandy Farmer (01:24):
Glad to be here.
Corey Frank (01:26):
Chris, so how did we get to know Mandy here? Normally it's just Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, Ed McMahon, of course. And we decided to have some guests and an esteemed one at that, so how did we get to know Mandy? And how does this have to do with Market Dominance? Is fun a dominant trait for businesses today?
Chris Beall (01:43):
Well, yeah. So what happened was Ryan Riset, somehow, and you know how many people we talk to at ConnectAndSell. If you haven't had a conversation with us, you probably are hiding somewhere pretty well. Somehow he had a conversation with Mandy's colleague, Natalie Corbett, and I don't know how that came about, but he told me about it, he said, "These guys are doing something in the hotel industry that seems impossible and yet they're just doing it."
And they're doing a bunch of something. So one of them was they're providing accommodations for essential workers. And that really resonated with me because my son, Galen, is an essential worker in Reno. And I know the effort that he goes through just to get into the house, because there's other people in there and he has to come home and strip down in the garage and put his clothes in a bag and sneak in through a known path that he takes quickly into the shower, and the whole bit. This essential worker business is a non-trivial undertaking and actually, he had an experience the other day that it would have been very nice if he could have gone somewhere else because he had a seizure at the office.
He's the assistant manager of the FedEx office in Reno, and just some combination of some medication that needed to be adjusted and as a result, lack of sleep and the stress of dealing with the public, on the front lines of public, that by the way, is not always a very kind to these essential workers, basically saying, "Hey, you're not at any risk, this is some kind of a hoax or whatever." So it's not a nice thing to hear during the day. So anyway, it would have been great if he could have gone somewhere other than having to come from the hospital all the way home and do all that. And so I heard about that and I got into a conversation yesterday with Natalie and what jumped off the page and maybe what was wildest, you know my way of doing business, right? I say, if you're not having fun, you're not taking this seriously enough. That's our number one thing. And every company I've ever built, every company I've run, every team I've ever run, number one, we're going to have fun. Number two is we're still going to be enthusiastically wrong every day.
We're just going to be so wrong so often and we're just going to maintain our enthusiasm, not in the face of being wrong, but our enthusiasm for being wrong. And if we can do those things, then a whole bunch of good stuff's going to happen. We don't know what it's going to be, but a whole bunch of good stuff is going to happen. And those are not easy things. And then we're going to keep the parasites out. I don't know if Mandy cares about that, but I care about it a lot. No parasites allowed in the company. If you're not willing to get in the row boat, row with us and [inaudible 00:04:24] like. If you've got a yacht over there a little ways away, and you're willing to sink the rowboat to go over to your yacht, that one doesn't work, right? And I've got my ways to doing that. So I heard this flown in first as a core value thing, and I thought, this is the missing thing you and I have talked about, but we have a whole episode about it.
We have an episode that says the best surfer is the one having the most fun, right? So we actually hit on it, but we've come at it peripherally through the fact that we think the conversations are the key, but in Mandy's world, something else is going on. It's like a major business invention, putting fun at the top of the value chart, the value of the company values and then letting that provably drive business results that are effectively impossible for others with the proof being that when her whole industry went like this, her company came out of it in a couple of days with new offerings that made sense, that were being fielded, that were on the street, the people who are using with new stuff every day, coming back. And then it turns out if you go to the past, they were already doing stuff like that. It was a continuation. So fun as an instrument, an essential foundational capability of market dominance we've never explored and here we are with Mandy. Sorry. That was kind of long Mandy, but did I catch it?
Mandy Farmer (05:51):
You did. Yeah. And I think obviously we speak the same language, we are cut from the same cloth.
Chris Beall (05:57):
What's wrong with us?
Mandy Farmer (05:58):
I love it. The fun is so important and I think that it's a really crazy thing to actually be talking about right now because we're in the middle of a pandemic. It's almost like we're not allowed to have fun right now, but for us, my company, we are thriving right now. Yes, revenues are down. Yes, I'm worried about our bottom line, but my company is thriving and we're thriving because of our values of having fun and taking care of each other, making sure we've got the community's back. And so even in great times, we thrive, but I can tell right now, we're on fire right now.
Corey Frank (06:41):
You know Mandy, one of the things I noticed from your website, first of all, two things, I love it says that pillow fights are optional. So you're putting that kind of irreverence fun tone at the forefront. But the other thing is, and I'm sure you notice this too, Chris, is that the images that you have on your website are of active people utilizing the property, not just of the property. A lot of hotels, you're just going to see the beautiful room with nobody in it. You're going to see the pool with nobody in it. You're going to see the expensive restaurant with nobody in it and in your imagery, it feels very family-friendly, it feels that fun is a preeminent value. Where does that come from? From a thesis or a theme as a core value, as Chris had said, of your company?
Mandy Farmer (07:30):
Well, really, one of our other core values is authenticity. And so we call it, being real and for us, fun has always been such an important part of my personal values in that I really want absolutely every single one of my team to come to work and to have fun and to enjoy their jobs. And so it's really important that we embrace that in absolutely everything that we do. So when you're talking about the language on our website, when you walk into one of our rooms, we have actually sat down and thought about how do I make this pen fun? Okay. You walk into the bathroom, how is it going to be fun? It's just going to be a boring hotel bathroom, but we've actually brainstormed. No, no, let's just think outside of the box, let's throw really bad ideas at everything. Let's have a laugh because these ideas are so bad that we're just going to laugh and have fun, but then you know what, one of us will go, "Oh, actually it's not bad" Yeah. And then before you know it, we're implementing it and we're doing it.
I know that if I'm having fun, when we welcome people into our hotels, they're going to have fun. And what I love is that, especially this really dark time, it's really important that people have that brightness in their day. So one of our themes is we're big onto ducks. We've got ridiculous rubber ducks and they're the craziest rubber ducks you've ever seen. My favorite is the lumber duck, and he's got this really big beard and he's holding a chainsaw. Why? I don't know why. And so people see that and it just brings a smile to their face. They'll look on the phone, and there's a joke on the phone, when you look at like dial zero for the front desk, there's jokes in there that are hilarious. And what happens is if people might be attending for a funeral or they might be in a subtle worker and they've had a really hard day and suddenly we've just given them a reason to smile and to just not take themselves so seriously and not take this whole, like everything so seriously. And just to have a bit of a smile brightens people's day.
Chris Beall (09:40):
Wow. So how'd you get here? How'd you get to... where you raised fun? [inaudible 00:09:48] I was kind of okay, so here's my fun story, I'll just throw it out there. My mom was a great practical joker. Now her practical jokes tended to be extreme. So here's an example of one where I went to the school bus stop in the morning, I grew up near where Corey lives now in Scottsdale Arizona, but it was way out in the desert. And I went to the school bus stop in the morning and the kids were obviously teasing something that was on the ground and that something turned out to be a big rattlesnake, big, big thing. Big around as my current arm, not my skinny little arms back then, and I was probably 14. So I thought this is bad news.
I got to do something. So I ran home, got my rifle came back. Can you imagine doing this now? Came back. I was thinking of getting a shovel or something, but I thought, I think I can kill the snake. And we didn't kill snakes, by the way, our family had a... One of our family values was not killing snakes, but this snake definitely was a problem. So I come back, now with the rifle, you can be at a distance, right? Hold it at arms length and that was my mom's gun, actually that she'd given me. Shot the snake, took it home, put it in the refrigerator because I thought we might need it because it's a snake. It was a lot of meat, right? We lived in a tough area and what did my mom do with it?
She curled it up on the top of the garbage and put it out for the garbage man, but she went to the effort of propping its mouth open and propping its fangs out individually with little toothpicks so the things are sticking out like this. And I found her waiting for the garbage man to show up and I said, "Mom, they'll never come and pick up our garbage again." She said, "It'll be worth it." So, that was the kind of fun that went on in my family. It was a little [inaudible 00:11:42] came right down to it, but I was otherwise raised by a Western Massachusetts person who had lived through the depression, and basically thought that we were all going to go broke and die tomorrow.
Corey Frank (13:02):
So I wasn't raised with fun, but something in there, something lit up in me and I've been into the concept of, through my whole career, whether it was the rock climbing and mountaineering part of the career at doing big walls or whatever, the whole idea is don't ever let it be grim. If we're going to succeed, we're going to have to have fun because this is... I guess my view is, life is hard, we better have fun or it's too hard. That's kind of it. So I was raised in a tough kind of situation like that, [inaudible 00:13:32]. How about you? How did you get to this weird position?
Mandy Farmer (13:35):
Well, I'm in a family business, so I'm third generation. We started off as a construction company. So it was my grandfather that started farmer construction and my dad worked in that field and he didn't like it. He was not happy. And so as a kid, I saw him not really enjoying his job. And then one day he pitched to his partners, "Hey, why don't we take this field where we keep a lot of the construction equipment? Why don't we build a hotel there?" And they thought he was crazy and he kept pursuing it and eventually it happened. And I literally watched my dad change overnight where he became this really excited, happy, passionate, enthusiastic man. And it was because he found the right job. He found the right career. So I ended up in the hotel industry too, never thought I'd join the family business.
And to be honest, I needed a job when I came out of university and started in sales at the family business and eventually worked my way up because it was fun working with my dad. And so he really allowed me to take over the company, but in a family business, it can be challenging to take over because you often approach it feeling like, "Oh, I only got this job because I'm a daughter." Like, I was given this job. And so I really felt like, "Oh, I've got to prove myself. And I've got to be just like him." Or I've got to be the stereotype of a CEO. And so for the first few years of my leadership, I really thought, "Okay, this is how it's supposed to be and I'm going to be this way." And I realized I was not bringing my true self to work.
And this really upset me. And we had some parasites and I knew that if I was really going to bring my true self to work, which is really a bit of a weird and wacky and fun loving, big hearted person, there was going to be some big changes at work. And so it took me a number of years to really figure it out. But it meant cultivating the right team. They have been the secret sauce to my success without a doubt, making sure that I'm surrounded by people who inspire me, who I want to be around, who are fun. I want to enjoy coming to work. I want to wake up on a Monday morning and go, "Yeah, I'm going to work today." And so, it was them that really motivated me. And I knew, I really sat down and spent time thinking about what is my ideal workplace? How am I going to get there? What am I going to do? And for me, that's bringing my weird and wonderful self to work with no qualms about it.
Corey Frank (16:19):
So what's the hardest part of being, not just fun centric, but fun foundational. What's the hardest part about keeping the fun going or keeping the company going?
Mandy Farmer (16:31):
Whew. Well, first off, when we first started implementing fun, people didn't get it. They were like, "Well, how are we supposed to do fun?" And they wanted to know, tell me how fun is. And I realized this isn't something you've mandated. It's got to be really authentic and real and grassroots. And so it took a long time to cultivate our sense of fun. We tried training on it and I was like, this isn't working, this isn't real. And so eventually it grew, but it's about leading, leading with fun and making sure you hire people that are fun and with big hearts. So that was probably one of the hardest things we've ever had to do. When people ask me, how do you do it? I often think I just can't really give you a recipe because it's got to come from within.
But basically everyone knows, when I talk about a company's success and why we're thriving, it's because I'm actually looking at it in terms of fun. And so I'm often not talking about it in terms of the bottom line and for many businesses out there, they're like, "That is nuts, that makes no sense, you're going to fail if you aren't looking at your bottom line" Of course, I am looking at it, but what it is is fun comes first. And then what always happens is your bottom line is actually going to be even better because you've got all these engaged people coming to work. And not only do you have an engaged workforce, but then you've got engaged customers because they see you having fun and they're engaging on your social media and they're sending you sales leads because they want to see you succeed. So suddenly your bottom line is beyond what you ever imagined, because you've actually focused on the one metric of fun.
Chris Beall (18:11):
So is that what you would say is what the big guys are missing, is they're using probably hospitality as it's a destination, a clean room, a great restaurant, friendly staff. And you have this little secret that maybe is a little slightly irreverent because I can't measure it, but yet you're thriving. And yet you get referrals from your existing customers who seem to be a pretty fervent in their desire to continue to stay at Accent every time they come to the BC area.
Mandy Farmer (18:41):
Yeah. When I think about my competitors and some of them, they're big boys, right? Like Holiday Inn, Marriott, all of these guys just so big that they almost are a little bit heartless and we're all about heart. We were just one big gushy heart, right? And so for them, they have a share price that they need to maintain. I don't have a share price. So I don't have to focus on those metrics, I can focus on different metrics, but strangely enough, if they actually focused on my metrics, I think that the share price would go up, but it doesn't work that way, unfortunately. And so for us, compared to our competitors, they were all about, "Oh, whoa, we have to cut. Right now, they went into fear mode. We have to cut, we have to reduce everything.
We have to cut our sales team. We have to do all this. And for us, we took a different approach. We were first off, safety. Safety of our team. We can't have fun if people don't feel safe so let's make sure that they all feel safe. And so that's when we went over our safety protocols and all of that, the second thing I didn't cut my sales team and all of our competitors did and their business fell off. It just completely fell off. And instead what happened with my sales team was they decided to rebrand. So we no longer have a sales team. We have a Wolf pack and they are hunting, and they are fierce and they are... I have never seen them more, just connected in bumbling and bursting up. They're a real inspiration to all of us, our whole team. So yeah, just this whole different approach. Fear-based versus love-based. And then once we had got in place, we decided, okay, well, how can we help in this time of craziness?
How can Accent Inns help? And so that's when we realized, okay, we can actually house the essential workers, any of the frontline workers to keep them safe, to keep their family safe. But then we realized that there's evenmore that we can do there. And so we partnered with a charity. We raised money so that all of those expenses were covered, these stays are free. So that if you are working, let's say in a grocery store, we need grocery store clerks, right? We need to keep them safe and healthy. We need their families safe and healthy. They can't afford to pay rent twice and stay in a hotel. So by doing what we're doing, we can actually wrap our arms around them, keep them safe. And then what happened in the communities was people started donating food to them. We started dropping off Easter chocolate for them. We have schools writing them letters. And so we stick these little love letters from elementary school students on their doors. And suddenly now, we're all the whole community is doing something good and positive and we feel great.
Corey Frank (21:35):
It's just tremendous. It's just tremendous. I got to ask a very specific question, I heard about this Valentine's day thing you guys were doing. I don't know when it was two years ago, whatever it was. Can you tell us that fun story? I think we all need a fun story right about now.
Mandy Farmer (21:53):
You bet. So we have two brands and they're both our brands. I don't franchise. I don't buy it from holiday and they are brands and it allows us to do weird and wonderful things. So one is act [sentience 00:22:05], but then the other one is Hotel Zed. So in Canada, the last letter of the alphabet is Zed. And so Zed is a wonderful cousin to Accent, we still have humor and fun, but it is really out there and it can push boundaries and limits. And so it's a retro chic boutique motel. So it's got all the throwbacks to the 1960s. It's a really, really fun place to say.
So on Valentine's day, it was years ago, we started off by running a Nooner promotion. And so we decided that Valentine's day, a lot of times what people do is they [inaudible 00:22:46] bouquet of roses, they pay way too much for roses. They try to get a reservation at the restaurant, but they can't get in. And it's just, you often Valentine's day can fall flat. So we decided, well, why don't you surprise your Valentine's day with your gift of your sexy self? And it's a Nooner, so you check in at 11 o'clock and you check out at two.
Corey Frank (23:07):
Chris Beall (23:07):
Mandy Farmer (23:12):
So we started doing this and we run it every single year. And so this year, we always put a little slant on it. So this year, this slant was a baby maker and we thought, okay, so here's our Valentine's day nearest promotion. But if you actually make a baby at Hotel Zed, we're going to give you Valentine's day stays at any one of our locations for the next 18 years.
Corey Frank (23:39):
Mandy Farmer (23:43):
[inaudible 00:23:43] CNN picked it up and then when CNN picks up something, it goes around the world and it's translated into Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, Russian. It was crazy. Went around the world, TMZ picked it up. And then before you know it, they're doing a spoof on Saturday night, live on the weekend update.
Corey Frank (24:02):
Mandy Farmer (24:04):
Chris Beall (24:04):
TMZed that's right. And so, how many folks have... So it's been two years now, right? Or a year or so? I bet that everybody just flacks to the Valentine's day promotions this year, than at every hotel, that's incredible. And how many babies, any baby updates as for us yet?
Mandy Farmer (24:26):
We're still waiting for confirmation, but so far, no, it looks like we went and struck out this year.
Chris Beall (24:33):
Wow. Well. Hmm. So we'll be right up, but no, no babies. Not in the forecast on this particular Valentine's day or the next one or whatever, but that's just fabulous. So when you're in the process, when you made the decision to go fun, go fun or go home, right, so to speak?
Mandy Farmer (24:59):
Chris Beall (25:00):
And you're in that process and you're trying to figure out how to do it. And you're trying all the things that people might be recommending and let's bring in the consultants, let's do the training, let's do all that stuff. You got your parasites gnawing away at you because there's always parasites unless... In fact, I'll make a contention. In my companies, fun is how we keep parasites out. It's the number one part of our immune system, because the parasites have to fake that they want to come and have fun. And it's easy to find out they're faking before it [inaudible 00:25:34], usually easy before you hire them because they are parasites and parasites don't want to have fun, they want to have whatever they want to have. They want to feed off the organism that you've created and it's power and put some of it in their pockets, so to speak.
So you went through all of that, when were you like, "Okay, now Natalie, is this what I have to do because this is what I have business faith in, so to speak. There has to be a point in there somewhere, it's like, I'm compelled, I must do this. I'm doing it. Trying, it's sort of working, sort of not working and then pop. Now, I'm so convinced that fun is at the core of building a great business, that nothing will ever be able to push me off that even if a global pandemic, which probably is never going to happen. Where we were to come along, and the last of my industry is smithereens. I'm not moving off the fun position. The fun spot is going to be mine. When did that happen?
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