The 2019 Inaugural Vacation Rental Women’s Summit was held in New Orleans this February, and we had the honor of presenting the first Pioneer Awards to three outstanding women who have played integral roles in building the vacation rental industry: Rae Sloane Cox of Sloane Realty Vacations in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina; Bert Feinman of Sand ‘N Sea Properties in Galveston, Texas; and Sheila Hodges of Meyer Vacation Rentals and SH Enterprises in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Vacation rentals are now mainstream lodging options, but that wasn’t always the case. When these pioneers founded and established their businesses, there were not many families choosing to stay in rental homes for vacation. As real estate boomed and the industry grew, all of these founders excelled in change management, building successful businesses and working with the destinations and the larger industry to provide vacation home accommodations to generations of families.
Rae Sloane Cox, Sloane Realty Vacations, Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina
In 1955, Rae and her husband, George Sloane Jr., decided to move to Ocean Isle Beach and never turned back. Rae and George, the only residents on the island, raised their four young children on fish from local fishermen and produce from her mother’s garden while selling oceanfront lots for $500 and receiving a commission of $10 for each lot sold. They began renting the only other home on the island and the downstairs of their own home to travelers the following summer, and by 1957, they had built a small motel. Rae laundered and ironed sheets for the managed accommodations every night and communicated with guests by postcard and the only phone on the island (which was four miles away). The ferry operated until 1959, when a swing bridge was completed across the Inland Waterway. Throughout the 1960s, Ocean Isle Beach gained much-needed infrastructure, including streets and water and sewer lines.
George was tragically killed in a car accident in 1971, leaving Rae to fend for her children and herself. Despite her immense grief, mounting mortgage payments, and businessmen who believed she couldn’t run a business on her own as a woman, Rae persevered, and Sloane Realty Vacations exploded.
Rae and her family helped mold the entire island community. Today, Sloane Realty Vacations has 35 year-round employees and manages over 150 long-term rentals and 375 vacation rental properties from Ocean Isle Beach to Sunset Beach. The company is co-owned by Rae’s children, Tripp Sloane and Debbie Sloane Smith. Debbie is also now serving in her 14th year as mayor of Ocean Isle Beach. Pam, the youngest of the siblings, no longer works with the company, but she still lives locally and is married to Robert Yoho, Ocean Isle’s fire chief. Most of Rae’s 15 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren still live in the area, as well. Three of her grandchildren also work in the business: Whitney Sauls (general manager), Chris Bryan (sales manager), and Leah Peterson (accountant).
“Everywhere I go, someone is hugging me. I just love people,” explained Rae. “I’ve always just loved people. I worked hard, but I enjoyed what I did. I’ve had a good life.”
Bert Feinman, Sand ‘N Sea Properties, Galveston, Texas
One day in 1974, Bert Feinman’s husband, David, a developer on the West End of Galveston Island, turned to her and said that the only way a potential buyer would purchase three homes from him was if she managed them as vacation rentals for the buyer.
That day, she started Sand ‘N Sea Properties.
“We were doing everything back then. We tried an ad in the Houston Chronicle—it didn’t work at all, so we put signs on the houses. No one in our area had done that before. We also placed some advertising on the radio in Houston. This helped, and then word of mouth spread.”
Anne Reiswerg, Bert’s daughter, joined the company eight years later to help with the ever-expanding vacation rentals side of the business. At the time, they took reservations by hand, and they marketed homes by printing, stapling, and mailing property lists. Since then, she and her team have taken property management to a new level. The company even owns and operates its own Housekeeping Service Center, which houses a commercial laundry and provides linens to the vacation rental properties.
Fast forward 20 years, and Claire Reiswerg, another of Bert’s daughters, joined the firm, bringing a new emphasis on technology and marketing. Sand ‘N Sea played a leading role in forming the Galveston Association of Rental Managers and worked with community leaders to create an ordinance that works well for both residents and tourists.
Today, Sand ‘N Sea manages 150 vacation rentals and engages clients and guests through cutting-edge technology that manages every aspect of real-estate sales operations, property management, and the guest experience. The family remains heavily engaged in promoting the vacation rental industry and the destination, supporting dozens of associations, community organizations, and events.
Sheila Hodges, SH Enterprises (Meyer Vacation Rentals), Gulf Shores, Alabama
Sheila began her vacation rental career as a sales agent for Meyer Real Estate in Gulf Shores, Alabama, in 1978. Six years later, she decided to use all of her savings to become an owner of the company. Her first challenge was to bring the company into the modern world by switching the rental department from paper to computer and then bringing in a switchboard as opposed to the six phone lines used previously.
Unfortunately, those challenges were only the tip of the iceberg for Sheila. Hurricane Ivan, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, economic recessions, and Hurricane Katrina put Sheila’s strength and tenacity to the test, but each time a new struggle presented itself, Sheila overcame the barriers and continued to find opportunities that could have been left behind. For example, Sheila recognized the need for a large-scale laundry facility to service their rentals and founded South Alabama Commercial Laundry, which has since become Starr Textile Services, the largest commercial laundry provider between the Texas and Florida coasts.
Sheila is widely recognized as a community and industry leader. Throughout her 30-year career, she has been named to countless boards, committees, and appointments and has received awards including being the first woman to earn the prestigious Walton M. Vines Free Enterprise Person of the Year award.
Meyer Vacation Rentals now manages community associations and more than 1,100 rentals from Perdido Key, Florida, to Fort Morgan, Alabama. Together the companies of SH Enterprises employ 600 team members.
Rae Sloane Cox, Bert Feinman, and Sheila Hodges were given the first Vacation Rental Women’s Summit Pioneer Awards based on their innovation, dedication, hard work, and perseverance to help create the vacation rental industry as we see it today. We owe these women a debt of gratitude, and it was an honor to have the opportunity to celebrate their achievements at the inaugural Vacation Rental Women’s Summit.
You are an inspiration to all of us.