“Do not overthink it. Gather the facts and put together a business plan, and when ready, go for it,” says Jennifer Breen on advising emerging women entrepreneurs. She states “I was nervous to sign that first lease, but the moment it was done, my anxiety over starting Suite Home was over, and my excitement over establishing my brand began. Jennifer started Suite Home with an exit strategy in place, which she did not do with her first firm. She opines “If you have that exit strategy in place, it gives you a goal to work towards, even though you may divert from that original plan. Women are planners, and looking ahead is in our bones. Do not think of it as negative, and embrace having an exit strategy as a positive approach to your future.”
Jennifer Breen opened Suite Home Chicago in 2005 after years of being a vendor for the temporary housing industry. She set up a company bank account and her first apartment in the popular River North neighborhood of downtown Chicago, and the company was born. Having an operations background, the set up and design of the apartments was incredibly important. She asserts “we have always strived to provide a more homelike, rather than corporate, feeling when you stay with Suite Home.” The customer response to the company’s initial apartments was phenomenal and within the first year, it was operating about 50 apartments. In the past 15 years, the company has continued to grow into the Chicago suburbs and into Wisconsin, operating up to 700+ apartments during its peak seasons. Suite Home Chicago also expanded and began to assist its Chicago-based clients with their domestic and global needs, and began the rebrand to “Suite Home” this past year to widen its reach.
Services as per Requirement
Suite Home’s clients’ needs drive its decisions on where the company establishes apartment inventory or maybe secure exclusive relationships with apartment communities. The company maintains close relationships with property management companies and prides itself in its close partnerships which allow securing inventory when needed for the clientele.
Suite Home offers temporary housing in high-rises downtown, and apartment complexes throughout the suburbs and Wisconsin, and it has even been known to rent private homes or AirBnBs to accommodate its guests, and ensures a positive service. The company believes “It is that concierge, solve-it-all relationships that our clients want, and we strive to meet.” Suite Home also has strong partner relationships with vetted corporate housing companies throughout the world that operate similar to the company, where it can rent their apartments and provide a streamlined experience to the guest in those markets outside the Midwest.
Lead with Compassion and Commitment
Jennifer looks to fellow businesswomen within and outside her industry on a regular basis for inspiration and strength. She finds that the most successful businesswomen are passionate and resilient with an innate work ethic that allows them to forge through any situation. They are willing to listen to others, reflect, and adapt to challenges or opportunities in front of them, and she often finds that once they are ready for change, they boldly charge towards it without looking back. She states “I am inspired by their never give up attitude, and their commitment to compassionate leadership.”
Understanding the Emotion
Jennifer was actually relocated several times as a child due to her dad’s job. The family caters to the relocation and moving industry, and she thinks she is well positioned to empathize and understand Suite Home’s client needs as they move between cities or travel for extended periods of time. She also thinks that is why she is so firmly planted herself in Chicago. Jennifer has lived here 20 years now, and originally named her company “Suite Home Chicago” after her beloved city. She says “I love having firm roots now and all five of my children were born and have been raised here. When you are moved to new locales, you have to learn to adapt and thrive in a new environment. I use those skills now to embrace change and try new things, even if it is to start a new business venture.”
Challenges in Housing Industry
The hardest part of starting Suite Home was hands down the amount of capital and cash flow it takes to operate a corporate housing company. Downtown rents are not cheap, and one is often on the hook for 12 month leases, even though the client leases are month-to-month. If one does not carefully manage the exposure and vacancy, one can easily end up in the red. To sign leases, one also needs business credit which can take 2-3 years to establish. Jennifer had to personally co-sign leases to get Suite Home started and that is daunting to know that her personal financial credit is impacted as she started the company. The temporary housing industry is considered to be a very risky business, so Jennifer was unable to secure a line of credit when she started, and the entire financial backing of the company was on her.
Future After the Pandemic
Suite Home had its strongest year in 2019, and it was looking to an even better year in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed all of that. Much of the business & entertainment travel has stopped, and the company is working on managing its vacancy to reduce the losses. The company will have this momentary blip and work on its rebrand and marketing so that Suite Home emerges as a leader in its industry when it overcomes this setback. The company states “We are using this time to firmly distinguish our apartments and service versus all of the aggregators and vacation rentals out there, such as Booking.com or AirBnB.” There is no need to use these middleman services and corporate and individual clientele should look for reputable temporary housing companies that can ensure a streamlined experience, stringent cleaning standards and strict security guidelines for their apartments. “I am determined to grown our brand’s reach,” says Jennifer.