The Journal begins a regular feature this month profiling women entrepreneurs in the Cayman Islands. We kick off the series with the spotlight on Kerry Horek, co-founder and managing director of Island Rental Services.
Coming from strong female Brac stock set Kerry Horek up for life. “My background was poor yet the sense of community within which I grew up was incredibly strong,” she confirms.
Kerry says her grandmother, Marvita Walton, was an important matriarchal figure within her family who worked as a cook for an esteemed family on the Brac, while her mother, Guelda Tibbetts, did not finish high school, but was “as sharp as a razor”.
“She always said that if she had received a college education she would have been a rocket scientist!” Kerry exclaims. “My grandmother always said that it would be women that one day ruled the world.”
Her father, Stacey Tibbetts, was a well-known Country and Western singer in Cayman and was also a strong figure within the community. Kerry has vivid memories of people congregating at their home on the Brac and then in Grand Cayman (Kerry moved here with her family when she was ten years old). “My father was a ship engineer and so was away a good deal of the time in his early years as a young man. When he was home people would bring their boats to him on Sunday morning if they needed them to be fixed as of course everyone wanted to go boating on Sundays. He would be able to diagnose the problem instantly.”
Good all rounder
Having studied at Webber College Babson, Park, Florida in computers and business administration (for which Kerry had received a tuition scholarship), she held down a number of jobs, including waitressing at a pizza restaurant, DJ-ing on college radio, establishing a radio station, working in human resources, duty free stores at the airport and working as a corporate administrator. “This diversity was all great experience and suited my multiple personalities!” she says. “If I had had to clean houses I would have done so; I had to survive. At one stage I had three jobs – a day job, a night job and a weekend job.”
It was while working as a corporate administrator that Kerry got a taste for managing property, as she explains, “Part of my duties was to manage properties and stratas for clients and I found that I really enjoyed this aspect of the job. I am a ‘people’ person and enjoyed resolving issues relating to property management.”
From there on Kerry began managing properties for friends and relatives for which she began charging a small fee. She became quite successful at this and realised the business potential. “I knew then that I had to take that leap of faith and turn this sideline into a full-blown business,” she states.
Drawing upon an established network of friends and relatives is an essential starting point for a prospective business owner, according to Kerry, who drew heavily on the support of her own network to get her business up and running.
“I started with very little capital but a deep conviction that the business would succeed. I really had to pull the business out of nothing! Miss Darlene from Inter Island Realty kindly gave me a desk in her office from which I could operate. Then friends Darla and Darna offered me office space at a reduced rate and allowed me to pay off the deposit on the rent in installments. My fiancé Andre helped me source office equipment that I purchased on credit. Really good friends were the key to my initial success,” she confirms.
Kerry began placing small one inch by one inch adverts in the newspaper that simply gave the contact details of her business and she says business slowly came knocking. However, it was the development of her website www.properties.ky in 2002 that was a turning point for the business flow.
“It took around four months to get the website where I wanted it to be. I wrote all the copy and took all the photos to make it as user-friendly as possible. From that point on the floodgates opened. Up until that point I had operated by myself but I quickly realised I needed to expand so I began to hire staff and look for a new location” she states.
Kerry says she tried a variety of locations across the island to make it easier for her clients to visit her, including a variety of locations along Seven Mile Beach and West Bay. She finally settled at a great location on Owen Roberts Drive at the airport, which, she confirms, is the perfect location for attracting tourists looking for long-term rentals.
Diversifying business opportunities
As well as running her successful long term rental agency, Kerry also runs a small real estate business that concentrates on helping local mid-to-low income clients purchase and sell homes. “My focus is on properties that do not exceed the CI$275,000 mark,” she explains. “I think this bracket is sometimes overlooked by the bigger real estate companies and so I seized upon this niche in the market, providing a personal service for my customers.”
Having worked in the rental markets for a number of years now, Kerry has gleaned an expansive knowledge of the industry, which she has put to good use, creating a book entitled ‘All you need to know about renting in the Cayman Islands’. “It’s a really useful guide for tenants and landlords that is packed full of just about every question and answer you possibly think of in relation to renting here,” she says.
She has also embarked upon writing a fiction book, titled Bodies in the Mangroves and says that both books are scheduled for publication this year.
The recession has taken its toll on her business but Kerry is still optimistic about the future.
She says, “Many firms as well as the government have imposed a hiring freeze, which means there are fewer new people on the island looking for places to rent long term. As a result, home and condo owners are dropping the price of their rent to attract tenants which means our fees are dropping proportionally. The upside is that we are seeing families downsizing, i.e. moving out of their homes and renting them out while living in smaller accommodation to save money. I think as it took us a while to get into this recession it will take us a while to get out of it. But I am optimistic that we will and I’m optimistic about Cayman’s future as a whole.”