By Debbie Adams
Over seven years, the Gauntlet Business Program and Competition has welcomed a myriad of different businesses, both new and expanding– ranging in ambition from home crafters to manufacturers, and everything in between. The Gauntlet provides a 10-week session of business classes, followed by a competition for approximately $300,000 in cash and in-kind prizes.
The 2021 session includes both a 7-year-old boy who started off with a lemonade stand and a team of entrepreneurs– Aaron Garland, Ryan Apple, Ella Brown, and their spouses– who are renovating a stately, and possibly historic, home in the Wasena area into an Airbnb.
According to the Airbnb website, Airbnb began in 2008 “when two designers who had space to share hosted three travelers looking for a place to stay. Now, millions of hosts and travelers choose to create a free Airbnb account so they can list their space and book unique accommodations anywhere in the world.”
Garland says that the main difference between an Airbnb and a traditional bed and breakfast is that there is no live-in host who prepares breakfast at an Airbnb.
“A bed and breakfast typically offers the experience of staying in a large home and being catered to by the owners who live on site,” Garland noted. “Airbnb is a marketing platform for short term rentals. Our basic offering will be one- or two-bedroom furnished apartments with all the amenities that Wasena has to offer. Part of our business development process with the Gauntlet will be to decide more specifically what experience we want to create for our guests and what services we will be able to offer.”
Garland, Apple, and Brown came together as a Gauntlet team due to the fact that they were already working together. Garland is the owner of Garland Properties, LLC, and its commercial property manager. Brown is the residential property manager. Apple is the residential/commercial oroperty and operations manager. (He is also Cubmaster of Cub Scout Pack 235 in Vinton.)
The group teamed up not with the goal of reaping financial benefits from the Gauntlet competition to finance the renovations, but to go through the process of developing the business and gain knowledge on how to set up the Airbnb platform once the house is ready for occupancy.
The property they are in the process of renovating was built in 1922, with the typical architectural features of that era. Garland says they suspect that “it was originally a duplex with two very large units and later converted to a boarding house, probably during the Depression.
“According to my neighbors, it has a recent history of being a bit of a slum and has been a host to some interesting characters,” said Garland, who lives in Wasena. “I am interested to learn a bit more about the history so that we might be able to include this as a feature of our accommodations.”
Their property is located in the heart of Wasena near the Bloom Restaurant and Wine Bar, RND Coffee, the Taproom, the Green Goat Restaurant, River Rock Climbing, the Roanoke River Greenway, surrounded by many single-family homes.
“Ella’s husband, Mark Linson, is a trained chef and has been on the launch team for many of Roanoke’s finest restaurants, including Bloom Restaurant where he currently works,” Garland said. “Ella sometimes moonlights as a waitress at Bloom. A couple years ago Mark took a break from his career as a full-time chef and worked on our construction team for long enough to work on the renovation of and build out of both the RND and Bloom buildings.”
Garland and his father, John, are partners on the Airbnb building.
“My father is an engineer, and he has managed the design and construction,” Garland said. “We have subcontractors who work for us regularly for both trade work and labor. Garland Properties provides a support role on all our development projects, so Ryan and Ella are normally involved in some capacity such as bookkeeping or leasing. On this project they are taking a more direct role helping to make design decisions that will optimize the building for short term rentals.”
Garland has years of experience as a real estate investor and developer and continues to manage and develop a portfolio of properties along with his family as part of Garland Properties, LLC, which he founded in 2012. His expertise and focus have been on the redevelopment and management of historic properties in downtown Roanoke and the surrounding neighborhoods as mixed-use buildings that include apartments and commercial spaces. Properties he has been involved with include Crafteria, (formerly the S&W Cafeteria and Downtown Athletic Center), The Aurora (formerly Leggett’s Department Store), and many others.
He formerly worked in the outdoor recreation industry and in bike advocacy and has carried his passion for an active lifestyle into his real estate career, seeking to build livable communities.
“The property that we are currently focused on has common ownership with Garland Properties, however Ryan, Ella, and her husband Mark are working to create a separate business focused on capturing the increased value of short-term furnished rentals,” said Garland. “The new business would have a master lease on the property and sublet the space through Airbnb or a similar platform.”
As for why they selected Wasena as the location for their new business, Garland says, “In short, we didn’t choose to develop this business in Wasena; we were already here, and we decided to develop the business.”
In identifying their potential customers, the group believes they will attract a large variety of guests from travel nurses to weekend guests who want to escape the environs of cities like Washington, D.C., to out-of-town wedding guests, to those attending graduation ceremonies at the numerous colleges and universities in the area. They hope to attract those who want the opportunity to stay in a neighborhood home rather than a hotel. Guests might be staying for a couple of months or just overnight.
“Garland Properties has been a sponsor of the Gauntlet for a couple years, but we had never really been involved,” Garland added. “The Gauntlet gives us a nice framework from which to create this new business, and we are at the same time able to network with other businesses that may want to lease space through Garland Properties.”
The group plans to complete the business classes and enter the final competition for prizes. They participate in the virtual sessions each Tuesday night, as much as possible, and catch the reruns if they have previous obligations.
The Gauntlet is now into week five and Garland says he has “enjoyed learning about all the other business concepts as well as the stories told by speakers about their businesses.
The team says they plan for renovations to the Wasena property to be completed in April for a May opening. There will be two one-bedroom apartments and two two-bedroom apartments, with some connectivity possible between and kitchen facilities.
Shannon Dominguez, director of Business Development for The Advancement Foundation which established the Gauntlet, says, “We are excited to have Aaron Garland, Ella Brown, and Ryan Apple. Wasena is a great spot for a bed and breakfast. Their participation in The Gauntlet Business Program & Competition will fast track their success with this project!”