We talk to Ontario-based co-founder April to find out more about the about the pair’s business vision.
How would you describe The June Motel to someone discovering it for the first time?
The June is a boutique hotel with two locations that is re-imaging the experience of hospitality today. We treat our guests in a very casual way, serving them a glass of rosé upon arrival and texting them throughout their stay, for instance. We actually like to personify June – if June was a person, she would be a little old school, high-spirited, eccentric, and definitely enjoy the simple but finer pleasures in life (like good wine and good company). We like our guests to feel like they have a friend ‘June’ that has invited them to their house for a boozy weekend!
How did The June Motel come to be?
It’s truly one of those stories in which two best friends have a moment where everything clicked, and we took a risk. It was New Year’s Day 2016, and Sarah and I decided that this would be the year we’d work together, and find a project to really dig into. We had this idea to create a weekend escape to the Ontario countryside and host a ‘wine camp’ for adults – somewhere to hang out with friends. We knew Canada’s Prince Edward County was an up and coming wine destination, so we looked for a dingy hotel to temporarily rent for our adult camp idea, thinking we’d just decorate it for the weekend. Once we’d visited the run-down property (the Sportsman Motel), we were taken by its massive potential. What was meant to be a side hustle quickly became something bigger, and we purchased the motel to be the place of a ‘permanent wine camp.’ We opened a second property in 2020 in Sauble Beach, and have loved every minute of building a company and brand with our own rules.
What did you do before setting up your business?
Before working together, I worked in public relations for seven years, focusing on Nike and American Express accounts. Sarah, on the other hand spent a decade working in the public service, with focus on vital statistics.
Where do you find creative inspiration?
We definitely take inspiration in the surrounding areas of both Sauble Beach and Prince Edward County. A lot of our design is rooted in the peachy tones of a summer sunset on the beach, or the emerald green of the thick forest just behind The June in Prince Edward County.
How did you first discover your love for what you do?
We were both always driven by travel experiences, and loved to find that next cool place to visit. We realised that there was a shortage of amazing places to escape to that were close to home, that you didn’t have to jump on a plane to get to. We also had dabbled in some personal design and renovations, and found the love for seeing spaces transform into something beautiful. When we found our first motel to buy, that was the game changer. We really saw it for what it could be. The motel is just a vehicle for the things that drive us – amazing travel experiences, beautiful designs and wine.
Could you describe a typical working day?
There isn’t exactly a ‘typical’ working day at The June. Right now, we’re travelling between the two properties to make sure our teams on the ground at each motel are supported and always evolving the guest experience. When we have a new motel in development, there are a lot of sourcing and design meetings. A working day usually involves some meetings to discuss our social content strategy for the day or the week ahead, and reviewing other online content, etc. We’re also building a team, so there’s a lot of leading and coaching going on. Most days end with a glass of wine, though. It’s extra special when we’re at the actual motel and can enjoy it together.
What is the ethos behind your business?
At the very core of The June is the theme of conviviality. We believe there are very few things more enjoyable than a glass of wine, a good view and a great chat with a friend. This comes to light at several touch points throughout both June properties, from the way they are designed (with plenty of seating both indoor and outdoor) to the way staff interact with guests, always in a casual and laid-back way. We want guests to feel like they can truly relax at The June, and part of that definitely means spending quality time with loved ones.
What has been the greatest hurdle in starting your own business?
Staying focused. We love brainstorming and coming up with fun new ideas, finding the next property to develop, launching a restaurant brand, etc. But what we’re realising as we try to grow The June brand is that we need to stay hyper-focused on what drives us, and the core of our business – creating amazing experiences and moments that matter for our guests.
Tell us about The June’s locations…
The June has two properties, one at Prince Edward County and the other on Sauble Beach (both in Ontario, Canada). Both are up and coming tourist destinations, with plenty of local shops and restaurants to keep guests busy when they’re not relaxing at The June. Prince Edward County is wine country, so businesses in the area are definitely catering towards that, whilst Sauble Beach is a blend of a California coastline vibe with a splash of New England charm. They are both quaint and charming, as are the people who live and work there.
Is there an element of your work that you love the most?
We love that whole process of finding the next motel, discovering the destination, re-imagining the motel experiences and designing beautiful spaces. When we see guests at The June with their people, telling stories around the campfire or sharing a meal with friends, it all feels so worth it.
How valuable is the online community to your work?
The online community is incredibly important to our work. Our digital presence has been key in launching our hotels, and we have been dubbed ‘the most Instagrammable hotel.’ Because our design is so singular and so crucial to our brand, the digital sphere (especially in the form of social media) has been really important in getting our name out there. We have a great online community, which we engage with regularly across multiple channels, from Instagram to the blog on our website, where we give travel and design recommendations to all our followers.
What’s been the biggest eye-opener for you in running your business?
It’s definitely been the fact that work never stops. You can’t just design a motel and expect it to run smoothly without your constant effort and presence. It’s about delivering consistent awesome service and making sure that every guest has the best experience possible.
How did you approach the design of The June Motel?
We always start our design process by getting to know the destination and getting a feel for how The June should show up in the local community – i.e. who is ‘June’ when she’s at the beach? Across both of our properties, our design leans into being bold, retro and feminine. We’re not afraid of a bold pink door, or a retro pink neon sign. It’s about having some fun with the era of the motel, and bringing that era to life in a new way.
How do you differentiate your business in a creative industry?
We weren’t both from the hospitality industry, we’d never worked in the hotel/motel space, so we came at it all from a guest experience. We knew our target audience, because we are the target audience. We created a destination that was hyper-focused on the millennial woman, a place that just ‘gets’ her. I think our biggest differentiator is exactly that, we know what our audience wants because they want similar things to us!
How do you approach marketing and PR?
With authenticity above all. We realised quickly in our journey that people really loved our personal story behind creating The June. We’re always trying to give our audience a glimpse into the behind the scenes of designing and running the motels. We just try to show-up and be our authentic selves, and make it a priority to connect and engage online daily – it’s all about consistently showing up and producing quality, authentic content that resonates.
What have been your business highlights so far?
Definitely working alongside my best friend. One of the greatest things about running a business with a bestie is the fact that you both share values, and more often than not, have similar goals. For instance, we place a lot of value on supporting local and female-led businesses. I don’t think I could have found more enthusiasm and determination in this respect than I have in my best friend.
What’s one thing people would be surprised you do in your job?
We spend a lot of time on the road! Our two motels are five hours apart. When developing our second motel in Sauble Beach, we actually moved into the apartment above the restaurant. Nothing says a 24/7 work life quite like that!
Do you have any hobbies?
We’re both very into interior design. I’m currently renovating my mid-century home in Prince Edward County – because apparently I just can’t get enough of renovation life! And Sarah’s taking horseback riding classes!
What is the most important lesson that running your business has taught you about life?
To be flexible, adaptable and think on your feet. Covid has certainly shown us how important it is to act quickly and respond creatively.
Any good advice for independent businesses just starting out?
You don’t have to do it all yourself! We created a team of really amazing experts who fill skill gaps like graphic designers, accountants, lawyers, etc. And know why you do what you do – you should have a clear mission and vision that you can always come back to. Opportunity can be distracting, which is why it is so good to remember why you started in the first place and evaluate what opportunities align with your vision/mission/values.
What does the next year hold for you?
Having launched our Sauble Beach property during the pandemic, there are definitely a lot of exciting things coming down the line, which we can’t wait to share! One of them is the indoor opening of Sauble Beach’s Heydays restaurant, which is our version of a New England crab shack. We also recently launched our online shop, which sells a collection of curated items that can be purchased by people who want to bring a little bit of The June into their homes, or who can’t yet travel to us due to restrictions.