Developers always look for innovative ways to launch their projects, and that’s where people like Harley Nakelsky come in. Harley is vice-president of sales and marketing at Skyline Developments, and he is passionate about his work. This week, the Toronto Star’s NewInHomes.com team went to Skyline’s head office to meet with Harley, and learned some new things about online marketing, as well as Skyline’s vision for its destination communities.
NewInHomes (NIH): Where did you get your start in marketing?
Harley Nakelsky (HN): It certainly was not your “traditional start.” I actually had a computer consulting company; I was creating websites and doing more back-end work. If you look at it today, everyone uses back-end systems like registration….. Fifteen years ago, no one was. I started to do a lot of work for “Kates Marketing Group,” which is a real estate marketing company. I did one major program for them called the Preferred Home Buyer Alliance, which was a very unique way of selling real estate in Toronto, and they got me really involved, almost full time, on this one project. One day, we went out for lunch and I was told, “You know what, you’re going to come work for me, I own your company, you can have a piece of mine.” He didn’t ask…I was with him for roughly 10 years.
NIH: What brought you to Skyline?
HN: We were very heavily focused on marketing in the United States at the time, but we got hit pretty hard by the economic downturn. Over the course of two months we lost seven projects, so things were obviously going downhill. We were doing some interesting things, but it wasn’t the excitement of brand new real estate projects. So I started talking to people. I had a great conversation with Gil (owner of Skyline), whom I had known for a while—met him at the Pantages launch. Once I heard he bought Deerhurst, I called him up and told him, “Now you need my help,” and here I am today.
NIH: What were some of the new strategies you brought to Skyline?
HN: A lot of database marketing. A lot of event-driven sales. My big thing is marketing that actually causes actions, aka call-to-action marketing. A lot of the tools I brought to the table allowed us to track buyers better. We can now track every ad we run and analyze how effective it is. We can even track it right down to the individual buyer. It’s a great system.
NIH: How much has marketing changed in the past 10 years?
HN: It has changed, but amazingly, not as much as you would assume. There are still very few people who do this. It’s funny, I find myself using the exact same tools that I used 10 years ago. It allows us to spend our money better, which allows us to maximize our advertising budgets. We sell quicker, and are able to sell for a lot less because of the money we save on the advertising front.
NIH: What are your short- and long-term plans for Deerhurst?
HN: The Summit Lodges were a big win for us. We launched those last year and were able to sell out in a weekend, which was great. It was a win-win for us because we sold them, but almost every purchaser put the unit back into the rental program, which provided us with new suites for the resort. What we have also done is take the capital that we made and reinvested it into the resort. At Deerhurst, we have upgraded our conference facilities, we added an indoor rock-climbing facility—which has been extremely popular with guests—and the arcade is being upgraded. We have also upgraded our gym and added a kids’ play area. We have been pretty busy these last few months.
We have a new cottage project that we are putting up around the Muskoka Highlands Golf Links. We are putting up 39 new lots. The great thing about this is that we already have all the approvals, so we don’t have to add extra costs to the public. We can go to market at a much more reasonable price. We will also be opening up a model home for that project, and doing some more fun things in the coming months.
Soon, we will launch a new condominium project at Deerhurst. We are replacing a few older buildings and bringing 167 suites to the area, with almost every single one of them overlooking the water. It’s a cool site because of its location. The price point will be $189,000, and it’ll feature some great designs. We are working with Union 31 to bring some very neat designs to the interiors.
NIH: Any new information regarding Copeland House?
HN: Our first phase sold out quickly, and we are planning on starting construction later this year. The second phase is launching this weekend. We are expecting to have the same success that we saw with phase one. So far, we’ve gotten some great feedback.
NIH: Much like Deerhurst, we assume you guys are adding infrastructure around Copeland House?
HN: The first large-scale resort enhancement was our addition of the Adventure Park. It starts with a big miniature golf course and a maze. We’ll hold events there, too. We have a skateboarding park that has become quite popular within the community. We have a pond that will be up and running with radio control boats. We also added rock climbing and ziplining—it’s a really awesome experience. My favourite part is something called OGO Ball. It’s an 11-ft. ball you get strapped into and then thrown down the hill. Tons of fun.
NIH: How important was it to bring the S.S. Keewatin, the prize of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s former Great Lakes Steamship fleet, home to Port McNicoll?
HN: It was extremely important. Gil has been looking at this forever. He has a model of the Keewatin in his office. He’s wanted the boat forever, and it’s taken us over five years to bring it all together. The biggest issue was the logistics of everything. The boat had not sailed home in over 50 years. The logistics behind bringing it back home have been intense, however, it was all worth it in the end.
We have a new community of townhomes coming up right beside a past development, and our new yacht club. We had hoped to have the yacht club opened this year, but it will now be opening next summer with a new layout to account for the Keewatin coming home. We are also bringing in a memorial park right in front of the Keewatin. Once it’s ready to open as the museum, this will be its long-term home. We are also planning on bringing the Ossawippi Express from Orillia up to Port McNicoll. Our CEO, Michael Sneyd, was once a waiter on it, which is kind of a cool connection. We will be incorporating a restaurant into the area. So now, instead of just a yacht club, we will have a much more vibrant community.
Also at Port McNicoll, we are releasing a new set of lots on the opposite side of the bay. The plan is to see a significant amount of single-family homes right on the water. Half of the lots will be on Hog Bay, while the other ones will be on a deep-water harbour. This is one of the last deep-water harbour lots in Canada. The advantage of deep-water harbours is that you can park any kind of boat there, even a 50-ft. yacht.
NIH: What’s next for Skyline Developments?
HN: We are always looking forward. We are in some key negotiations on a few areas. Hope to have positive news soon. We are looking primarily at resorts in Ontario, some which may not be in Ontario. We are always looking for new projects. We may be close on one within Ontario that would be very interesting. We also have recently purchased The Arcade in Cleveland, the first indoor mall in North America. We have some exciting plans for it, which we hope to share soon.
The team at the Toronto Star’s NewInHomes.com would like to thank Harley Nakelsky for his time, and we look forward to seeing Skyline’s vision for all its destination communities unfold.Google+