Vacation Rental Novices Forge Online Success

Self-Taught Retirees Turn Experiment into Industry Force

AUSTIN, Texas, July 18 /PRNewswire/ — Back in 1996, a Michigan couple began tinkering with a Web site, posting a handful of vacation rental properties for themselves and a few friends. No venture capital, no talk of a ‘new economy,’ no business plan. Just a guy recently retired from the Lansing, Mich., school system and his wife, a programmer analyst for a utilities company who got her college degree at age 40.

This year their family-run online business,, surpassed a key milestone in property listings and caught the attention of the industry’s largest organization, WVR Group ( who recently acquired the company.

“When we first started the site we never discussed success, especially this level of success,” says co-founder Pat Van Voorhis. “We did it because we got such a kick out of starting something from scratch and at the end of the day helping people rent or find their dream vacation home.”

The couple traveled an unlikely path to online success. Jan Van Voorhis earned his master’s in math in 1970 from Michigan State and spent much of his career in data processing. Pat soldered transformers at an Illinois factory for minimum wage and worked her way up as a single mother to a programmer analyst position at a Michigan utility company. The two married in 1993 and bought a Florida condo in April of 1996 before Jan retired. A management company failed to keep the space rented, so the couple decided to experiment with the Internet.

They ignored the glitz of the boom, entering every bit of data manually, asking their kids and friends to help out, and personally answering customer calls and emails at all hours. By December, 1997, Jan and Pat counted 88 ‘customers,’ though they didn’t charge the property owners for the service until the following year.

Pat’s daughter, Aimee Faulkner, and Jan’s daughter, Amy Potter, who have handled everything from marketing to programming out of their respective homes in Mississippi and Michigan, recall a time when their parents debated whether or not they could afford to buy a $20 deposit stamp for the business.

Now lists 10,000 properties across the globe, is one of the fastest-growing vacation rental sites in the industry and has roughly 900,000 travelers who search the site’s listings each month for the perfect ‘home away from home.’

Not bad for two Internet novices, who started an online company by chance, learned the business as they went along and enlisted the help of family members like Pat’s sister Barbara Lebow and longtime family friend Amber Schlappi who allowed the Van Voorhises to run their business from essentially anywhere. Set to ‘retire’ in August, the couple’s first trip will be back to Australia, where they spent their honeymoon 12 years ago. This time, however, they’ll rent a vacation property rather than stay in a hotel and have already picked out a quiet waterfront apartment with stunning views of Sydney Harbor at

After their overseas adventure, the pair will continue to play a role in the vacation rental industry that has come to trust their personal and dedicated customer service. They have invested in WVR Group and will serve on the company’s advisory board. “We put a lot of time and effort into,” Pat explains. “WVR Group shares our dedication to both owners and renters and we’re thrilled to be a part of their team that will mean great things for the industry.”

About the Company:

Great Rentals, Inc. was founded in 1997 and began as a free vacation rental listing source that grew to more than 10,000 properties in 2005. In early 2005, WVR Group acquired the company, securing WVR’s position as the largest international online distribution channel for vacation rental properties with more than 55,000 homes that serve nearly 20 million travelers annually. For more information: .

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