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Business Observer Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020 1 year ago

Entrepreneurs take long view in running one boutique resort, selling another

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After four decades in the boutique resort business, a pair of entrepreneurial siblings believe they have the right amount of resilience to outlast the pandemic.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

You would think the pandemic would be a hard time to sell or run a boutique resort. But Michael Koch and Mary Ann Muir say that’s not the case.

The brother-and-sister duo own two boutique resorts on Siesta Key. In an effort to slow down, they’re selling one — the eight-unit Siesta Palms by the Beach, listed for $3.5 million — and they plan to continue to run another — the eight-unit Siesta Key Inn.

Courtesy. The eight-unit Siesta Palms by the Beach is listed for $3.5 million.

Koch and Muir’s parents first bought vacation rental property on Siesta Key 41 years ago, so they grew up learning what it takes to run boutique resorts. Through the decades, they experienced hurricanes, economic downturns, Sept. 11 and other hospitality industry challenges. Now, amid the pandemic, they’re taking the long view — on both the property for sale and booking rooms at the Siesta Key Inn. 

Before moving to Sarasota to start a vacation rental business, Koch and Muir’s parents owned apartment buildings in Chicago. They bought property on Siesta Key when Koch was 19 and Muir was 13.

‘Bottom line is they’re not making any more Siesta Key. It’s always going to be a desirable place to be.’ — Michael Koch, Siesta Palms by the Beach and Siesta Key Inn

Koch and Muir took up the family business once they moved back to Sarasota in the late 1980s and early 1990s, respectively. They had both gotten degrees in environmental horticulture — a subject that came in handy since landscaping has helped create an oasis at their resorts. They originally planned to run a wholesale plant nursery, but the hospitality industry proved more profitable, and they centered their attention on the rental properties. They went to work expanding the operation and purchasing additional properties. “Our parents started it, and we kept the ball rolling,” says Koch.

Soon, several other rentals were part of the business. At its height in 2005, they had 44 vacation rental units. Since then, they’ve sold off units, and now have 16.

While the pandemic has spelled big troubles for accommodations nationwide, Siesta Key Inn has fared better, as guests see the upsides of separate entrances and outdoor activities. 

Courtesy. To sell the Siesta Palms property, Koch and Muir are working with Michael Saunders & Co. real estate agents Rudy Dudon III and Jamie Styers.

The eight units at Siesta Key Inn are spacious, with the smallest coming in at 900 square feet. “It was a good summer, and because our units are so large and they have separate entrances and we don’t have any centralized lobby, people feel very safe,” says Muir. Plus, people can enjoy the beach and pool, open-air activities that allows for social distancing. Porches, decks and swaying palm trees add to the ambiance. Business slowed down this fall, but it always does that time of year, says Muir.

Guests come from across the U.S., predominantly from the Midwest and some from the Northeast. The resort also gets a lot of Floridians from Orlando, South Florida, Tampa and even Sarasota. The drive-in market has been stronger amid the pandemic, says Muir.

About 50% of customers are repeat guests, some coming generation after generation. “I think people like stability,” says Muir. “They know what they can expect when they come here. We have a high standard of cleanliness and comfort.” That gives people confidence to come back, she says, and the encouragement to tell friends, creating a snowball effect.

Koch and Muir say the most challenging part of running boutique resorts is the ever-evolving world of marketing. Brochures and print media have made way for websites, Facebook and online booking. “As far as presenting the product and dealing with the guests, that is second nature because we’ve done it our whole lives,” says Koch. “Getting our name out there — that’s what we spend the vast majority of our time on.”

Courtesy. Koch and Muir both got degrees in environmental horticulture — a subject that came in handy since landscaping has helped create an oasis at their resorts.

In pursuing their plan to focus on Siesta Key Inn and sell the Siesta Palms property, Koch and Muir are working with Michael Saunders & Co. real estate agents Rudy Dudon III and Jamie Styers.

While it’s a challenging time for the hospitality industry at large, Koch and Muir don’t think it’s a bad time to sell a boutique resort — on the contrary. “We think it’s a great time to be selling,” says Koch. A key reason? The backlog of people who will want to travel once they feel it’s safe.

Given their vacation rental properties have been impacted by many forces over the years — an oil embargo, red tide, tropical storms, hurricanes, economic downturns, Sept. 11 and now, of course, a pandemic — Koch and Muir also have the gift of perspective. “That’s why this is just one of many adversities that we have encountered in 41 years,” says Koch. “The reason why we’re optimistic on selling is all those things passed, and this will pass, too.” 

Plus, there’s another factor he’s confident in: “Bottom line is they’re not making any more Siesta Key. It’s always going to be a desirable place to be.”

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