The Grand Getaways Plan

The seventeen-year-old Luxury Retreats transformed Joe Poulin’s passion for travel and discovery into the destination for high-end rental properties

The goal of vacation rental experts Luxury Retreats is simple: keep the clientele from only saying, “I rented a nice home.” And so far, the company has been able to keep that goal. That commitment of going beyond nice is  what sets Luxury Retreats apart from its competition. The company, founded in 1999 by seventeen-year-old Joe Poulin, is today’s leader in luxury vacation rentals.

Poulin’s strong foundation for his successful entrepreneurship began in the mid-nineties. At just thirteen years old, he began pursuing his interest of web design and development. Out of his parents’ basement in Montréal, Québec, the young entrepreneur worked as a web designer and Internet marketer for companies on contract.

Four years later, after posting an online ad promoting his services, a Barbados-based villa owner contacted Poulin to contract him for the development of an online rental portal for the property—a six-bedroom, six-bath mansion on the beach with a full-service wait staff. For this job, Poulin invested in a plane ticket and flew to the Caribbean, making it his first experience as a lone traveler.

“It was my first big trip. Just me—hopped on a plane, went down to Barbados, was building this website for a gentleman—and that sparked the idea to get this business going,” says Poulin.

Pack your bags

It could be hard to find a luxurious vacation that fits your needs. With thousands of villas available across the globe, Luxury Retreats helps the search by letting you search by experience, such as beachfront, city escape, good for groups, etc. Some of its most popular destinations are in the Caribbean.

Poulin’s vacation rental company, originally called CaribbeanWay, began with seven properties. The initial goal was to make $1 million each year. Poulin figured that one thousand homes at a rate of $1,000 per home would be an achievable goal. As the company quickly flourished, he turned for assistance and hired his first employee—his nineteen-year-old brother Jazz. Falling a little short of his aggressive goals, CaribbeanWay made its first $1 million in sales after its first two years. As the brand continued to grow, Poulin changed the business model to commission-based—relative to the value of each rental booking. After expanding across the Caribbean for three years, a client suggested that Poulin broaden the brand to the European market, which ultimately led Poulin to rename the company.

Today, Luxury Retreats offers over thirty-three hundred handpicked and professionally inspected villas across ninety-five international destinations. The secret to the company’s success is in the quality of product and its 24Seven Concierge service.

In 2012, Poulin was the recipient of the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Québec Award in the Business-to-Consumer category. A year later, Luxury Retreats launched its Quality Inspection (QI) Program, in which 140 quality inspectors—comprised of full-time and part-time global staff—ensure that a property meets the hundred-point Luxury Retreats standard. Depending on the house size, the inspection process may go over a couple hundred points of inspection. The inspectors check the surroundings of the home, report the proximity of the neighbours, and what types of homes surround the building. Then, the inspectors provide this information, along with photos and video, via the company’s app that goes to the centralized team in Montréal.

“If it’s something that you’re passionate about, and you feel like you could be better than whatever else is out there, and you’re willing to put in the hours—that’s key. It’s not going to be easy.”

Upon staying at one of the villas, guests have access to a dedicated 24Seven Concierge team that aims to provide anything guests desire. If one wishes to drive a Ferrari through Tuscany or have a private pool party with fire dancers in Palm Springs for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, for example, the concierge will deliver.

The successful characteristics that continue to make the company thrive in customer satisfaction is the constant investment in the network of on-location inspectors, investment in technologies, and the decentralization of the inspection and concierge teams. Having teams closer to the product, Poulin realized, weeds out inaccuracies—a native or local of a region will be better acquainted with an area than someone who has only visited, resulting in fewer potential language-barriers as well.

Recent additions to the company’s portfolio are villas in Paris and apartments in Florence, the city where Poulin married his wife Jimena last May.

Poulin notes that building this luxurious vacation rental empire came from the ability of finding “a ton of like-minded people.” He goes on to advise that if someone wishes to have a successful business, the first step is to create a team of sharp-minded people who will join you in your mission. Persons interested in starting a business should be an “insanely” passionate leader creating a best-in-class product. Secondary to that is the financial aspect of figuring out how to create company growth and revenue.

“If it’s something that you’re passionate about, and you feel like you could be better than whatever else is out there, and you’re willing to put in the hours—that’s key, because it’s going to be long, painful, and it’s not going to be easy,” says Poulin. “Make sure it’s something that you want to talk about day-in and day-out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”