The June Motel was created by April Brown and Sarah Sklash – two best friends who share a love for discovering new travel destinations, good wine, and creative designs. In 2016 they quit their jobs in Toronto and made the leap into the world of motels, purchasing a faded roadside motel in Prince Edward County. They rolled-up their sleeves, gave the place a makeover, and reimagined the motel experience for people like them. Today, local hospitality is served-up with a chilled glass of wine at check-in – just the way they like it! Staying there is all about living outdoors in the sunshine and enjoying the simple pleasures of life in beautiful open spaces.
Since opening, The June has been turning heads for their rosé state of mind and colourful doors. The ambience has proved a hit for girls’ getaways and for couples on mini-breaks. So much so that the duo went ahead with a second motel property in Sauble Beach, Ontario – The June Motel & Swim Club – which they have finished renovating and opened during the summer.
But there were moments during the initial wave of the COVID-19 global pandemic when the pair thought their dream was at risk. Motelier Sarah Sklash relates the impact of the first wave in the early part of 2020: “we had planned on opening at the beginning of April, when the mayor here asked accommodations to stay closed, we ended up staying closed for all of April, all of May, and June was a very, very slow month for us. The other thing that was really scary is we also had taken guest deposits when they booked. So I think we had about $100,000 – we have a generous cancellation policy, even more generous this year – so we had to return about $100,000 to guests who had cancelled their reservations.”
“The other thing is we did purchase our second motel, this is in Sauble Beach, so we actually worked with the Community Futures there as well, which was really wonderful.”
Support from the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF), a local fund backed by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, offered the June Motel a “safety net” for their business, and provided comfort as they navigated the first wave of the pandemic.
“We were supposed to open early in the Spring and ended up being 4 or 5 months delayed in opening so, it was a very difficult year.”
“So what I always needed to feel comfortable with is knowing it’s not just about making it through the first wave but we won’t start seeing our revenue coming in again until next spring. So it was making sure that we had in our cash flow forecasting that we would be able to cover all the ongoing expenses that we had, until we reopened next spring.”
After delayed openings, The June Motel ended up having a very busy summer season, before closing for the winter.
They worked to change the way they did things, making sure everything was cleaned thoroughly, closing common areas like their lobby – and moving to fully contact-less check in. They shifted their target market, and recreated experiences that the June was known for (girls getaway trips, group events, Bohemian Forest dinners) so that they were appropriate and safe during a pandemic.
Although they paused some projects, they shifted their focus to building out their digital channels.
When asked if Sarah had any advice for other business people, she says: “It’s a tough question and all I can speak from is our experience, and what we’re seeing. I think one thing, is right now, the message is so strong about shop local. And I think you should do what you can to really lean into that, and one thing we always like to do is collaborate and support other local businesses as well. So even if it’s not just about talking about ‘shop the June’, it’s about shopping local. So we are trying to share that message, and I think it’s a bit of good karma and kind of shifts back to us. “
“The other thing, and it’s a tricky one, but I think it’s spending your money really wisely right now. We always have projects that we want to take on. So it’s really looking at what are the projects that you can put off until things return to normal, or you’re confident that you have the cash to do so. But not also stopping the growth of your business. So while there’s renovations that we are putting a pause on, we are starting to work on rebuilding our e-commerce site as well, so that we can adapt and be ready for this new world. “