Author Archives: Richard Arnold

Leaving On A Jet Plane

THE DAY has arrived. The day we depart Georgia and head off to St. Thomas, V.I. to start our new position as Caretakers and Hosts for Silk Cotton Villa.

It was a busy weekend finishing up the packing of our personal items at our home andLeaving for STT getting them in the storage room in the basement. Then, the packing of the two bags we’re bringing to STT. We were able to get all the clothes we are taking into one suitcase under 50 lbs. Then another suitcase for personal items, toiletries, shoes, etc. 1 year, 2 suitcases. But we did ship 5 Priority Mail boxes down last week full of other personal items, vitamins, extra contact lenses, etc.  When Saturday night rolled around, we were pooped but had a nice dinner with one of our cabin neighbors on the mountain.

Sunday was spent handing over our car to Sharon’s daddy, having lunch with her family, and a ride to an ATL airport hotel. Then we hooked up with some more friends for a few drinks in the hotel bar that evening. All in all, a nice last day on the mainland.

Got up and decided to head to the airport for some breakfast and give ourselves plenty of time for a no-stress departure. Although it’s a Monday morning, we made it from hotel to check-in and then through security and on the “train plane” in right at 30 minutes. Unbelievable.

So here we sit, at the gate, waiting to board a jet plane to start our new position at Silk Cotton Villa. Next stop, St. Thomas.

Almost Time To Go

The last few weekends have been rather busy with visiting friends saying good-bye and packing up personal items we aren’t purging. About all that is remaining to pack and get into the office storage area are some kitchen items.  As far as food goes, we’ve been trying to eat up what’s in the freezer and pantry the last month or so. Whatever is left goes to neighbor Mark.

Speaking of Mark (who is taking over the Getaway Valet business), he and I have a few Getaway Valet jobs to do on Thursday and after that, it’s all his. I know you will do well with the business Mark.

This week is more good-bye dinners with friends and tidying up loose ends around the home. Still have to pack the suitcases we’re taking to St. Thomas but we can get that done this Saturday. Also packing up a few Priority Mail boxes we will ship down to the Villa before we depart containing items we can’t take in our suitcases. It’s not much – just items we don’t want to have to buy once we arrive.

Countdown: A little less than 6 days.

Purging Is Fun

Near the end of summer 2013, my old 1995 GMC pickup just quit working. I needed a truck to perform my Getaway Valet tasks. Plus, with a home and needing firewood and always working on projects, you have got to have a truck. Right, guys?

Toy 002

So, in August 2013 Sharon and I decided to bite the bullet and buy a new Toyota Tacoma pickup. We hadn’t had a new vehicle or a car note in umpteen years – now we did. But at least most of it could be expensed out through the businesses.

Now we’re departing for a new life in St. Thomas for a year and who knows where we’ll be after this gig. We don’t need the truck any longer. Need to sell it. So we created a flier, sent it out to friends and family and their networks. Also placed an ad in Auto Trader. Guess our “luck card” hasn’t run out yet … had a buyer from Auto Trader in a week of placing the ad. Cash money. And got the price we were asking that paid off the note. Toyota Tacoma gone and another hurdle out of the way.

GV_Logo_red-black_RGB

Now we need someone to take over our Getaway Valet business. Lucky us … again. One of our neighbors we’ve know for a few years is retired from the military and U.S.P.S., is young, healthy, and looking for a business that’s not full-time and will bring in a little extra cash. We offer him the business. He decides to take it over. After a little training and learning what each existing client requires to be happy, he’s now on his way to growing a nice little business in Blue Ridge. Good luck, Mark! You will do fine!

About all that is left to do now is pack up our personal stuff to get it out of the way for the new renters coming when we depart. Sharon’s current office becomes the personal storage locker. It’s also a great time to purge and get rid of stuff we just don’t use or need any longer. Purging is good. Purging is fun. Purging makes us feel good. Purging is good for the local thrift stores (and relatives and friends who want our stuff – LOL).

To Sell or Lease

OK. One major task completed – we found a great home for Bailey. Now, what to do about our home – sell, rental program, or lease?Front view

We had done so much in the past few months to get our Blue Ridge home ready to sell regardless of getting a caretaker position or not that we almost completely forgot about the lease/rent option. We did contact a few cabin rental companies about putting our cabin in a vacation cabin rental program but initial responses were that it didn’t look like a cabin. They are right … at least from the outside. From the inside, it looks like a mountain lodge. Oh well, we don’t have time to worry about that.

Screened porchTime is slipping away and selling a home sometimes takes more than a few weeks. One morning I woke up and remembered that Sandy had told us that there was always a need in Blue Ridge for long-term home leases. I decided to make some calls to my contacts at the Chamber to see if maybe they had heard of anyone needing a long-term lease.

I guess we’re on a lucky streak because within a few hours, I received a call from a fellow who wanted to come by and see our place after I sent him a few photos. His dad lives in the area, runs a successful business, and this guy and his wife just moved to Blue Ridge from Memphis so they could be closer to the parents. She recently started work at the local hospital.

Long story short … over the next few days they decide they want to lease our home for at least a year, maybe longer. Our timing works for them so we start the background check process and before long, it’s a done deal. Both sides are happy. And they need it furnished as they still have a home to sell in Memphis. Home issue resolved for the next year. Another major task completed.

Bailey, A Good Dog, Good Friend

We got the position of Caretaker / Host at Silk Cotton Villa. The house is “Show Ready” to put on the real estate market. But do we have time? About four weeks before we have to report for duty at the Villa on July 21st. It’s crunch time.

Let’s see. We need to get the cabin on the market. Find a new forever home for Bailey (the beautiful rescue we got back in early 2013), sell the 2013 Toyota Tacoma truck, and decide what we will do with our other vehicle.

Bailey 3

Sweet Bailey

Finding a new forever home for Bailey was first priority. I created a nice flier on her and within days it was flying through cyberspace from the help of many friends and family who are extreme dog lovers. We received a lot of calls but it was the first person that I discussed our situation with that ending up helping the most. I met him at our Vet’s office. He overheard me telling the Vet what was going on with our moving and why we needed to find Bailey a new home. This guy knew of someone close by who had recently lost a beloved pet of 18 years and had been dog-less for about two years. Within a week these folks came to our home for a personal family visit and they fell in love with our Bailey. We agreed to drop off Bailey the next day at their home for a Saturday visit while we attended an all-day family affair. When we arrived to pick her up that evening, there sat Bailey on the couch with the husband watching TV – like she owned the place. They had a great time that day and asked if she could stay overnight with them. They said they really wanted her. We could tell then Bailey had found a new home. We agreed.

Photo of Bailey at her new home after about a week. New toy was a gift from a new dog friend.

Photo of Bailey at her new home after about a week. New toy was a gift from a new dog friend. Looks pretty happy!

On the way home we decided we would just bring all her things back the next morning as we had another family function to attend on Sunday. When we arrived Sunday morning, there she sat on the couch with the husband again watching TV and didn’t even get up when we came in. We knew she knew and she just looked happy. Yes, it was hard to leave her but we knew we had found the right family.

The way we look at it now is we were chosen to rescue her back in March 2013 so we could eventually find her the perfect “forever” family. We will always love you Bailey! You brought a lot of joy into our lives.

Paradise Calls

Late June 2014

Most mornings, as I’m scrolling through my emails, I see the latest updates from the couple’s job offering sites we follow. Kind of nice to sit there and share with Sharon, discuss the potential, and maybe start our research online of the place and area. We call these discussions our “Board Meetings” before we make a decision to apply or not.

In late May, a job posted for a Caretaker / Host position in the Caribbean … St. Thomas, V.I. to be exact. Positions in the Caribbean don’t come across often so this one really caught our attention. The workload was part-time and provided living quarters. The facility was absolutely gorgeous. Silk Cotton Villa – check it out. We did our research and decided to apply.

Within a week or so the owners emailed us to let us know we had made the first cut. Now they wanted some additional information. Of course we complied. Got the requested information back to them via email ASAP.

A few weeks later we received another email from the owners informing us we had made the final cut down to three finalists. You can imagine our excitement while reading that email. We had been out all day on a lake with some friends and the email was several hours old. The owners also stated they wanted to conduct a phone interview that evening. We emailed back to let them know we would be available during the assigned time.

Sharon and I both thought the phone interview went well. The owners asked a lot of good questions that would help them make a decision. As we had been through several interviews like this before, we knew not to get too excited because you never know what the other end is thinking or who is your competition. All you can do is be prepared, be honest, and put your best face forward. Then wait.

Near the end of the phone interview, the owners told us when they would make a decision and they would contact us whether it was a Yes or No. The prescribed day came and that evening, the call came. And then the message we wanted to hear, “Are you ready to start at Silk Cotton Villa?”  Guess what our answer was?

Putting Your Best Face Forward

Spring 2014

Having applied for numerous caretaker and couple’s jobs over the last few years, we have improved and fine-tuned the information packet we send out about ourselves to the point we now get interviews on a regular basis. In fact, this spring, we made the final cut on 3-4 positions and the only reason we did not take one was because the hiring party wanted us there yesterday. We just needed more time to get our home ready to sell or rent.

If you follow job sites like Workingcouples.com and Caretaker.org seeking a couple’s position, you know the offerings are all different and request different information. To simplify the application process for us, we created a nicely done, 3-page, “introductory” document on ourselves. It includes some embedded photos, a brief intro on us, highlights of our careers as it relates to this lifestyle, and a list of core values and core competences. All done in an easy-to-email PDF format. This document seems to open more doors for us compared to when we did not have it.

When we apply for a position (most are done via email), we include this PDF, as well as our standard work history résumés, and a very targeted email opening letter addressing specific items in the job posting and how we believe we are the right couple for the position. It is all very professional and we proof it several times before sending as we don’t want any spelling or grammar errors.

We’re marketing people from way back so we look at the application process as just another marketing project trying to sell a product – US. It seems to work. Maybe it can for you, too.

Like we were always taught since childhood … if you are going to do something, do it right the first time. You only get one chance to make a good, strong, first impression. If you really want to find the right couple’s position, do your homework and research and put your best face forward.

Too Big, Too Cold

The winter of 2013-14 was very cold in Blue Ridge, GA as it was around much of the U.S. It was too cold for my liking. We had 4-5 good snowfalls and a couple that kept us in the cabin for a few days as our road in is fairly steep so we planned ahead for food and such so as not to have to get out among the crazies. Just don’t need the hassles.  But I must say … the snowfalls up here are beautiful. Especially with our view out across the adjoining mountains.

It was this winter that Sharon and I came to theSnowfall in Blue Ridge GA 2014 unanimous decision that this cabin lodge home was just WAY too big for the two of us. So no matter whether we get a caretaker couple’s position soon or months or years from now, we are going to get it ready to go on the market to sell. Time to downsize (again) and stay downsized. Promise: Never again will we own more than we need in housing/home.

New Motto: OWN LESS! The more you own, the more YOU are owned.  

Ergo, we pulled out our project list, reviewed, and added items and got busy getting it “Show Ready” to sell. You know the drill … painting, fixing items that had been put off, fine-tuning and tweaking everything so you make the best first impression possible. Good for us, we had been doing fix-er-upper projects since we moved in September 2012. So at this time, our list was not overwhelming and could be accomplished in a few months of dedicated weekend hours.

For most of spring 2014, we were the handy-man and-woman couple. We’ve been there, done that many times in the past. And we’re good at it. Slowly, but surely, we got it done. She’s ready for “Prime Time.”

Property Caretaker Training

The real estate agent that helped us find our home in Blue Ridge is a friend I’ve know since high school, Sandy Wilbanks (if you’re thinking of moving to Blue Ridge, contact her – she’s awesome!).  At the time we started looking for a home, Sandy had been living in BR for about 8 years and knew the area very well. I mentioned to her that my marketing business had slowed down a bit. She suggested a great idea – a property care, home/cabin watch, and concierge service business for absentee owners of mountain vacation cabins. Her suggestion got my attention.

As she explained more, I learned that a large majority of these absentee owners were in need of a trustworthy, honest, professional to handle various projects and needs for them. Example:

A new owner lives in Tampa, FL. They buy a new construction cabin and are about to furnish it. They need someone to open the cabin and accept deliveries. They need someone there to let the propane gas guy in. They need landscaping. They need housekeeping services, And the list just goes on and on. And based on what Sandy was telling us, there just weren’t many service professionals in BR filling the need. After some research and developing aGV_Logo_red-black_RGB marketing plan, we decided to start a company to fill this void and we named it Getaway Valet.

I joined the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce with Getaway Valet and also signed up for the Leadership Fannin training course in early 2013 as a way to meet local leaders and build a network. And it worked. Between referrals through the Chamber and referrals through real estate agents, Getaway Valet was gaining about 1 customer per month. And it could have done much better if I had put 100% of my time into it. But as fate would have it, when 2013 rolled around, my established marketing business (Key Concept Services, Inc.) started getting busy again and I spent most of my time on it and my long-time, established customers. Getaway Valet became the fill-in business but I knew it had great potential.

By opening Getaway Valet, I learned a lot about what people want as it relates to service and it just confirmed what I already believed … people desire and expect 100% customer service – especially people with extra money to afford a vacation cabin. But as we all know, 100% customer service is vanishing from most service-oriented businesses.  I can’t tell you how many times people smiled and thanked me just for showing up on time. I heard so many stories of how some of the local service providers never showed up, never returned phone calls, and on and on the complaints went. I found out quickly that my professional training, management training, and just a basic good upbringing from good parents made a big difference in me as an adult.

Operating Getaway Valet for the past years also confirmed my belief that Sharon and I were ready to enter the professional property caretaker business and lifestyle. We know how to do it. We know how to WOW customers with extraordinary services. We know what we like in excellent customer service and would provide nothing short of our standards for anyone who might hire us. Our confidence is high and when the right position comes along, we will be ready.

The North Georgia Mountains Are Calling

It took over a year to sell our dream home in Alabama but the right couple did come along. We sold it in 2011. So, now where do we want to go and what do we want to do? We were watching the couple’s job sites and applying occasionally but only for jobs in the southeast as my mom was in a nursing home in ATL and we didn’t want to get too far away … just in case something happened to her. I’m sure this is and can be a big issue for many wishing to pursue the couple’s job lifestyle. But we kept looking at the updates and applying for positions we thought we’d like or fit us. No cigar yet.

Sharon found a job in the Apparel industry at a small firm located in Cumming, GA. Not as bad as ATL, but still too crowded for us. You do what you have to do to make ends meet. After about six months in a 4th floor condo overlooking downtown Cumming, we rented a cabin on the Toccoa River in Blue Ridge to celebrate our anniversary, April 2012. While sitting on the porch overlooking this beautiful and serene river and stargazing at the gazillion stars overhead, I said, “Why don’t we move here?” She looked at me and said, “Good idea.” That started the next journey to find a place to live in Blue Ridge.

Fast forward about five months and 70+ home visits later and we’re closing on a lodge typeScreened porch home on top of a mountain just south of Blue Ridge, GA. Gorgeous place and excellent views out to the east and southeast looking to the Aska Adventure area of Blue Ridge. And as fate would have it, only a few days after closing the home, Sharon received a call from some friends and co-workers from her Russell days and they offered her a job with their new apparel-related company. Everyone in the company works from a home office.

Perfect. For now. But I’m still scanning the couple’s job and dreaming. But mom isn’t getting any younger and is starting to have some health issues. We wouldn’t feel right going too far away and Blue Ridge is only 1.5 hours north of ATL.  So we settled into our new home in the north Georgia mountains. And dream.