It takes ingenuity, dedication, and a positive spirit to steer through difficult times. Fortunately Timbers Kiawah – Ocean Club & Residences has General Manager Shannon Eckhaus at the helm. Her impressive, decade-long résumé curating Owner experiences across properties in the Timbers Collection, plus a knack for out-of-the-box thinking, turned 2020’s challenges into opportunities for heightened service and deeper connections. Shannon shares how her team delivered a true vacation experience in the midst of a pandemic.
COVID caused tremendous uncertainty. Where did you focus your efforts?
Communication with our Owners was key. When everything began to slow down in February and March, we got to know them in a different way. Checking in, we heard their concerns, what they were missing, what they needed. As things got hectic we endeavored to provide a sense of normalcy, remove stress, and help them hit the easy button.
How did this play out?
If they needed to work while here, we set up an in-home office with a printer/scanner/ fax, provided administrative assistance, and kept the kids busy so they could concentrate. During the academic year, we supported remote learning with appropriate technology, school supplies, and individual lunches coordinated to the strict break schedules.
As restaurants closed, our chef started preparing nightly dinners, hot and ready to eat. We’d offer several choices directly influenced by Owner input. During the day, they’d mention a craving for Mexican in passing, and find tacos and margaritas on the menu that night. These have been so popular we are continuing them as establishments reopen.
We helped Owners maintain exercise regimes by housing their favorite workout equipment in their residence — free weights, kettle bells, yoga mats, bands, fitness balls, even Peloton bikes.
Services previously viewed as conveniences took on more important roles. Pre-stocking groceries (and wiping them down first). Family haircuts on the balcony. Picking up dry cleaning. Shipping packages. Anything they needed was only a phone call away, so families could avoid exposure and be safe.
If they were returning to a city experiencing shortages, we’d load up their vehicles with everything they’d have trouble finding when they got back home: toilet paper, cleaning supplies, steak, pork chops, specialty items.
With these things taken care of, our Owners could shift out of survival mode and get down to what a vacation home is about, namely relaxing and enjoying themselves.
Explain some of the ways you re-imagined activities and events to be safe on site.
Using a little creativity, we found ways to play it safe without compromising fun. Treasure hunts on the beach. Group bicycle rides. Cookie decorating with families at different stations. Watermelon eating contests with chairs scattered apart. Happy hour bar service to folks on their balconies enjoying live music playing in the courtyard below. Movie nights spaced out at the Beach Club. Long drive contests shooting golf balls made of fish food from the beach into the ocean at low tide. We did it all!
What about the Owners who couldn’t travel this year?
This is where I think we saw the greatest impact, bridging the gap for those not able to join us in person, while at the same time strengthening bonds among all the Owners.
Community building can be difficult when people have to stay apart, whether that’s six feet or 600 miles. So, in addition to mailing fun packages to Owners stuck back home, and catching up with them on phone and video chats, we came up with clever ways to include everyone — whether they were here or not. The first of these was virtual bingo. Everyone got a card. Each day we’d post a video in the Timbers Kiawah Owners Facebook group that matched up to a square. These were on-property experiences like cooking with Chef Teddy or cycling on the beach. The first family to get to a T (for Timbers) won a prize. Next we did a scavenger hunt where Owners would submit their own photo or video for each item on the list (e.g. footprint, dog, family selfie, something you made, etc.). Through these visuals they shared glimpses of their lives, which ended up launching conversations and connections, even across the miles.
What sort of connections are you seeing?
One little girl, Lyndsey was supposed to spend her 13th birthday here, but instead she was in lockdown in New York. We assembled all the Owners who were here and they sang her happy birthday on Facetime. She was in tears. Her parents were in tears. And now those 20 families are interested in and ask about Lyndsey even though they haven’t met her in person yet.
We don’t have rentals here, everyone is an Owner or the guest of one. Shut off from their usual social networks, plus spending more time here, they are forming connections quickly. They are planning trips together to other destinations in the Timbers Collection, sponsoring each other at their respective country clubs, even helping with referrals and job placements for their children graduating college.
You make it sound easy, but surely there were challenges..
Operationally the challenge was keeping up with demand. In December we’d typically see 35% occupancy, but we are at 100%; and have been that way pretty much since COVID began. Outside of space reserved for new buyers, we are almost totally booked for 2021 too. Owners tell us they are choosing to spend more time here instead of their other options because they feel safe, and are having a good time.
Is there a moment that you feel encapsulates the year?
There were many, but one does stand out. It was a beautiful beach day, sunny and warm. Live music was flowing and all the Owners were standing on their balconies, having cocktails, and chatting with each other Brady Bunch style (up, down, right, left, diagonal). They later spilled into the courtyard because they couldn’t resist talking more and getting to know each other. We had to keep reminding them not to get close, but they were comfortable, safe, and having fun together.
We have to ask, what’s new in the beverage department?
Working with a local sommelier, our Owners Wine Club has proven very popular. Through it Owners can purchase lesser known boutique wines they wouldn’t have heard of otherwise from the curated list at cost by calling the “wine hotline” if they are in residence or order by the case to pick up the next time they visit. Our weekly Vines & Vibes program combines a wine tasting, cooking demo, and live music.
We also launched our own private label Timbers Kiawah IPA (with Foothills Brewery) and Timbers Kiawah Pinot Noir (with Sojourn Cellars), both are the result of direct Owner collaborations.
What other successes can you point to?
Unsure what effect COVID might have, we were pleasantly surprised to exceed last year’s sales by 18%, and welcome many new Owners into the fold. (Kiawah Island overall had the best real estate year in its entire history — further testament that this is the place to be!)
Most gratifying to my team is that 37% of our sales this year, and 50% in the past six months, were Owner referrals. We have clusters of neighbors, from places like Charlotte and Nashville for example, up to eight families strong, whom have all purchased a residence here. One such group was sparked by a family loading up the car this spring. Their neighbors asked, “Where on earth could you be going? You can’t travel now. It’s dangerous.” And they replied, “We’re going to the safest, most magical, place we know, our home at Timbers Kiawah.” To me, that level of trust is the ultimate success.
What’s next for Timbers Kiawah in 2021?
Everything starts and ends with the Owner experience. That’s what drives us and makes Timbers so special. As we approach sell-out, I’m excited to work with our Owners to shape Timbers Kiawah into the full embodiment of what they want it to become. It’s going to be terrific.