For Guests, It’s Sand and Surf, but for Midgett Realty, It’s a People Business
HATTERAS – Fishermen park their pickup trucks along the white sand beach and cast lines into the surf. On the sound side of the narrow island, kite surfers throw up spray as they skim across the water. Birds wheel in the cloudless sky as dune grass sways in the 70-degree breeze.
|Photo courtesy Outer Banks Visitors Bureau – outerbanks.org|
It’s early October on Hatteras Island and the family vacationers have left, making room for the fishing crowd. It’s still busy now, but by Thanksgiving, few will remain but the locals.
This is the rhythm of the outer banks and the pace of business for one of its principal employers, Midgett Realty. A 70-year-old family-owned firm, Midgett sells and manages resort properties from Rodanthe to Hatteras Village.
The rental portfolio is more than 500 properties, from condos to giant beach houses. Depending on the season, weekly rentals range from $600 to $16,000, said Anthony Fletcher, general manager. The average rental is about $2,500.
Midgett is one of “three or four” comparable-size agencies on the island, he said. It differentiates itself through superior service to owners and renters.
“In 70 years, we’ve tweaked the business as we’ve learned what guests and owners expect. It’s all about providing a great vacation. It’s all about the experience.
“We have nine full-time in housekeeping year-round and a full-time maintenance staff of 12. Competitors have nothing close to that. We can provide a cleaner, better maintained product than they can. Our overhead is bigger, but it’s worth it.”
Probably 70 percent of renters are repeat visitors, he continued. They come back because they’ve enjoyed the experience.
The full-time staff of 55 grows to 200 in the summer, including the weekend cleaners, said Carinne Hickman, accounting manager.
“This is a service business,” Fletcher added, and recruiting and managing the workforce is the principal challenge. On an island with 3,800 population, 3,000 rental homes turn over on a weekend and they have to be cleaned. Inevitably, 80% of the cleaners commute from off-island.
Payroll and benefits systems are critical, Hickman explained, and Savers Admin saves us “hours and hours every week, especially with insurance and processing payroll, and especially with those hundreds of cleaners.”
“Seeing what she [Hickman] went through with the previous payroll vendor,” Fletcher said, “this is a 1,000-percent improvement. Wanda and the group [at Savers Admin] will work with her. The previous guys would say, ‘you’re on your own now; good luck!’”
On a tour of the office, Fletcher points to a lingering stain above a baseboard in a storage area. “That’s where the water came with Hurricane Matthew last year.”
That was also the week that Midgett converted its payroll to Savers Admin. Hickman remembers that despite everything, “it was easy.”
|Carrinne Hickman and Anthony Fletcher of Hatteras Island’s Midgett Realty|
Midgett Realty traces its roots to 1938, when brothers Anderson, Stockton and Harold Midgett started the Manteo-Hatteras Bus line, delivering visitors, mail and newspapers up and down the island and driving frequently on sandy beaches before roads and bridges were built. In the 1960’s, Anderson and Stockton went into real estate. Stockton is still living but no longer active in the company. Today their children and grandchildren operate the business.
In the office today, Fletcher said, “everybody who works with us lives on the island. We’re very much a family operation. Most everybody has some kind of family roots here.
“At the end of the day, that’s who you want – people who live here and are invested in the community. During hurricanes, our people don’t evacuate. Everybody stays, and once it’s over they’re all out in the field making sure the properties are ready to go. We’re very much a tight-knit group of people.”
The nature of the island favors local businesses, Fletcher continued. “Every company here is owned by an individual or group of individuals. We don’t have the fast-food chains, except Subway.
“The people you work with are your neighbors and your family. When you’re out with your kids, we’re all at the same activities and events – especially in the off-season. The corporate guys struggle with this.”
Also, “after Thanksgiving, occupancy goes to 10% and stays there until Easter. A lot of businesses shut down for the winter. You have to make your money in six months.”
Midgett serves two groups of customers, renters and owners. The renters are always the fun-seekers, but the owners’ profile has changed. During the early-2000’s boom, there were lots of speculators. “They were flipping houses every six months,” Fletcher said. “Eventually they lost their shirts and they’re gone.
“Now most of our owners – probably 70 to 80 percent – are vacationers who’ve fallen in love with the island and decided they want to own. Some move here when they retire. Most have been with us more than five years and we have one who’s been with us 41 years.
“Rental weeks are our inventory and we try to maximize the return for our owners. We base pricing on demand. Our goal is yield management. As occupancy goes up, we bump rates up.”
The 2017 season has been “a little soft,” he continued, “and we’re not sure why. Last year we took two direct hits from hurricanes and maybe that made an impression on people. This year two of them skirted by, but missed us.
“Advance bookings for next year look good, so we expect a better year.”
An ECU graduate, Fletcher stayed in Greenville, working in pharmaceuticals. After his company’s division was sold, he decided to make a change. “My mother in law was one of the company’s owners here and she didn’t want me to leave the area with my daughter, who was four or five at the time. So in 2000, I started here.
“I had been manager of a sterile products facility, dealing all the time with machinery and processes. Today I’m dealing all the time with people – guests, owners and staff – and it’s all about meeting their expectations. It’s a challenge, but I’ve enjoyed it.”
Hickman is a Hatteras native who left to study accounting in Wilmington. After graduating, she said, “one of the owners asked me if I’d come back, and I did.
“My eight-year-old daughter loves it here. We live next to my brother and adjacent to my parents.”
Fletcher’s daughter, who spent her formative years on the island, is now 23 and living in Greenville and “now she wants to come back. For years she said she’d never do it, but now she’s decided it’s ‘not so bad.’”
Hatteras is a fragile island, vulnerable to seas and storms, but it tugs natives back and keeps visitors returning, year after year, with a resilience that defies the elements.