Environment

PROFILE: Moondance Enterprises LLC: Rental firm offers 'marvelous' nights Search for vacation retreat led to career change

October 15, 2007

Moondance Enterprises LLC Rental firm offers 'marvelous' nights Search for vacation retreat led to career change

Indiana natives Doug and Nancy Tracey visited Brown County one autumn night in October 1988, looking to buy a vacation retreat. The strains of Van Morrison's "Moondance" played on the car radio-"a marvelous night for a moondance 'neath the cover of October skies."

So when the couple purchased their rural hideaway, they christened it Moondance. And now they run a Nashville-based vacation-home rental and management company called Moondance Enterprises LLC.

When their adventure began, the Traceys lived in Minneapolis, where Nancy worked as a nurse and Doug as an executive with Musicland. They built their vacation retreat in early 1991 and it became their permanent home in 1995, when Doug was asked to oversee construction of Musicland's central distribution center in Franklin. He quit his day job to launch Moondance in 2001.

The two-still living in that original vacation retreat-own nine homes and manage two other properties they previously owned. Nightly rates range from $99 for a smaller house to as much as $450 for the larger homes. Special off-season rates are also available.

"The idea was to start a [rental] management company along with purchasing and remodeling or building new vacation homes," said Doug, 53.

Since the mid-1990s, the number of vacation-home rentals in Brown County has doubled-largely, Doug says, due to a lack of hotel accommodations in the area. Moondance's revenue reached $500,000 in 2006.

Moondance's customers, Doug says, are couples "who want a better-quality stay than they can achieve at a local hotel or families who want to all be together and a hotel can't accommodate them in a family environment."

All but one of the vacation homes are in Brown County, just outside Nashville; one is on Lake Monroe outside Bloomington. Each house has at least one fireplace, largescreen televisions and a hot tub. Most have pool tables and other amenities.

Doug Hackbarth, owner of Broadview Florist and Greenhouses in Fort Wayne, has stayed in Moondance properties more than a dozen times, most recently in early October when he hosted a weekend poker party for his buddies. He said the properties suit a variety of interests.

"People go down to Brown County for different reasons," Hackbarth said. "My wife likes to walk around the stores, and I like to eat."

For others, like Ken Leonard, owner of Carefree Spas Inc. in Indianapolis, the more secluded homes in the woods are a draw. He's been vacationing at the Moondance properties since the business opened. The spacious Grand Cabin, set on five wooded acres with its own stocked fishing pond, is his favorite.

"It's more like what I would buy if I had all of the money in the world," he said. "You get to play like you're rich for a weekend."

While the Traceys had a formal business plan when they started Moondance, much of what they've learned in running a 24/7 year-round business has been gained on the job. Both pitch in when remodeling is warranted, but have divided daily activities-Doug deals with maintenance issues and Nancy handles reservations and housekeeping. Son Geoff assists on weekends and fills in when the couple visits their daughter and grandchildren in Houston.

They attend four annual vacation travel shows but are considering scaling back since bookings through referrals, repeat guests and their Web site have resulted in an annual occupancy rate around 60 percent with most weekends booked.

While the business can at times be challenging-especially when guests phone at 2 a.m. to report a problem-the Traceys love what they're doing.

"Being in business for ourselves, although there are pitfalls, is the best," said Nancy, 57. "We get to enjoy living where we want to, not just where Doug's former job took us."
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