Danessa Itaya Shares Strategies for Success, Supporting Franchisees and Achieving Balance

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Melissa Castoro

With over 25 years of experience in the franchise world, Property Management, Inc. president Danessa Itaya discusses her secrets for growth, success – and work-life balance.

When Danessa Itaya joined Property Management, Inc. (PMI) as senior vice president in 2018, she had no way of knowing the challenges that would lie ahead in the years to come – but she did know she was joining a unique franchise system that she believed in.

“We’re a little bit different than anybody else out there in the sense that we specialize in property management, not just for long-term property management or commercial property management, but we actually cover the whole gamut. Everything from short-term rentals to association management to brokerage, which is a new division we’ve just recently launched. Our goal is to be the real estate management solution for anybody – whether they’re an investor, whether they’re an owner who owns one or two properties – that is looking for a solution,” says Itaya, who became the company’s president in 2019.

As a seasoned professional with over 25 years of experience in the franchising industry, Itaya knows a thing or two about what it takes to be successful – and her track record of taking PMI to new heights through a pandemic and a recession is a testament to her abilities as a franchise leader.

Staying nimble in challenging times

Over the last two years, nimbleness has become a core component of Itaya’s daily operations, particularly as she navigated PMI through a historic pandemic that brought the global economy to a sudden halt in 2020.

“People still had to rent homes, they still had to find places to live. And so being an essential business was phenomenal,” Itaya recalls.

Despite being able to remain open amid the pandemic to provide essential services to the public, PMI still had to pivot quickly to keep its clientele and franchisees safe early on. Those measures included the implementation of safety features like virtual showings and finding ways to accommodate the rapidly shifting needs of renters and travelers in uncertain times.

“You couldn’t go out and do showings face-to-face. You couldn’t have people come and pick up keys at your office anymore. And so being able to show your homes virtually, being able to do showings online, having vendors and partners who helped do that, being able to have lockboxes in place so that an applicant could go and check things out – it was important that our model adapted to that, and we did that very quickly,” Itaya recalls.

Making those changes was critical for surviving as a business during the early stages of the pandemic, but the ability to pivot is also a defining feature of success even during normal times, according to Itaya.

“Your business model changes and needs to adapt when circumstances require it. And we did that very effectively, which was reflected by the franchise sales that we did during 2020 and 2021,” Itaya says, adding that nimbleness is “essential” for the success of any franchise brand.

Still, Itaya says if she could go back and do things differently, she would have worked to position the company more competitively early in the pandemic based on the changing needs of renters – something that has helped the company hold its ground through the challenges of the last two years.

“For me, I always wish that we would have done things faster. You know, hindsight is always 2020. Knowing what we know now, I wish we would have had the opportunity and the ability to tap into being able to market three-month rentals, things like that – helping or positioning ourselves to be able to market some of the more rural short-term rentals, being able to implement programs for keyless entry, things like that. All of those things, if we would have been able to do those faster, I think would be on my wish list,” Itaya says.

Despite that slower start, the challenges of the pandemic and its subsequent recession were no match for PMI, which experienced a positive year-over-year rate of growth in 2020.

“We’ve got about 380 franchises, so we’re growing like crazy,” Itaya says.

Differentiation as a strategy for success

Beyond its nimbleness in the face of unforeseen challenges, a key component of PMI’s growth has been its ability to set itself apart from the competition – a quality that has allowed the company to establish itself as an industry leader in property management.

“If you asked our franchise development team, they would tell you we are still selling and trying to differentiate ourselves from anybody else. Our biggest differentiator is our ability to manage so many aspects of property management – but we know it’s only a matter of time before a competitor comes and does exactly the same thing as we are because it’s successful,” Itaya says.

To mitigate the risks of operating in a competitive industry, Itaya says PMI’s development team is laser-focused on identifying opportunities for innovation and creating advantages to allow the company to maintain its position long-term.

“We know that we have a limited window here. So from our standpoint, we look at, how do we continue to innovate? How do we continue to lead the charge in the property management industry?” Itaya says.

In addition to offering a plethora of advantages for franchisees ranging from a six-week pre-opening training program, weekly business launch training sessions during every franchisee’s first year of operations, workshops and webinars, Itaya says PMI’s innovative use of technology to streamline operations is one of PMI’s biggest differentiators.

Recently, the company completed a major website restructuring project combining 700+ domains into one domain. It also offers franchisees a software system featuring accounting and bookkeeping support while enabling property managers to complete their daily tasks with ease through integrated client and tenant portals.

“I think technology is a big piece that will give us the opportunity to really continue to dominate the market,” Itaya says.

Maintaining a unit-level focus

When it comes to thriving as a franchise, Itaya says focusing on goal-setting, quarterly rocks, and paying close attention to unit-level economics is critical for success – and those qualities are something PMI encourages in its franchisees.

“We have these monthly numbers meetings, and we review where we are on our trajectory and each department kind of updates. And we, consistently for the past couple years, have been hitting our numbers,” Itaya says.

PMI’s growth has certainly been impressive in recent years. Since 2018, the franchise has gone from 237 outlets to 366 in 2021 – and the company isn’t planning on slowing down anytime soon. 

To keep that growth consistent, Itaya says a franchise-wide effort is key. During the company’s quarterly planning process, PMI works with franchisees to set goals, offer motivational and business coaching, and create opportunities for collaboration across the entire system.

“We get our whole franchise network on the phone at 9 a.m. and we do a little kickoff. I do a motivational thing, talking about the importance of setting goals, and then we do a little EOS training. And then we essentially break it off and they go back and spend some time with their team and their staff to develop their quarterly rocks. Our franchise business coaches actually clear their day because they want to have time available to do one-on-ones – they have kind of a scheduled slot where people can just open house check-in. And then our Facebook page goes wild with people getting online or going and doing their Facebook Live on what their Q2 rocks are, and it’s a lot of fun. So we kind of take that same philosophy and push it down to our franchise network, and they love it,” Itaya says.

PMI’s deliberate focus on goal-setting – hitting those numbers – doesn’t stop at the planning stages. Accountability is built into the process across the entire network, encouraging the whole team to support each other in their pursuit of success.

“We hold each other accountable to our rocks. But then we also share some of the KPIs and where they are, and where, as a network, we’ve continued to improve our revenue per – because we’re in all these different pillars, we call them ‘DUCKS’: doors, units, closings, keys and suites. And so we talk about what are those KPIs? And where do you fall there? So focus big, focus on unit economics,” Itaya says.

Although those strategies have paid off in big ways for the franchise system over time, Itaya says the team at PMI remains hesitant to rest on its accomplishments.

“I think there’s always a time that you want to enjoy it, and we do take opportunities to celebrate. But from our standpoint, we’re pretty hungry here. And it’s nice to have a team that’s hungry and says, ‘We are not a household name yet – our goal is to be a household name, so what are the areas that we need to address?’” Itaya says.

Striking a balance

As the president of a franchise system that has exhibited consistent year-over-year growth for nearly half a decade, Itaya is undeniably committed to PMI’s success. But as someone who also values spending time with family, Itaya says making a conscious effort to establish boundaries between work and home is important for achieving real happiness in the franchising industry.

“I say (work-life balance) has seasons. And it is never easy, but it has to be a priority. I think that if it’s important to you, you will prioritize it. But I have never found that it’s easy, that it comes naturally – I have to plan for it. I have to say, ‘I leave my computer at the office when I leave.’ Now, I leave the office at six or 6:30 sometimes, but my computer’s at the office. If people need to reach me and it’s an emergency, they can reach me on my cell. But in general, they know that my time in the evenings and my weekends are mine,” Itaya says.

Despite those efforts, Itaya acknowledges that making time for life outside of work can be challenging for business leaders focused on growing their brands. Still, she advises other ambitious franchise professionals to prioritize happiness while scaling their businesses.

“I’ve missed a soccer game here or there – I think making (happiness) a priority, and balance, is hard. But it’s absolutely worth it,” Itaya says.

Watch the interview below:

For more information about Property Management, Inc. visit https://propertymanagementincfranchise.com.