"Mom and Pop" hotels struggle to compete

Shawn Wertz, owner of the Vancouver Motel

Shawn Wertz has owned the Vancouver Motel in downtown Myrtle Beach for the past nine years.

"I just kind of happened into it by seeing it online for sale, and checked into it, and just kind of jumped right into it. Not knowing what I was getting into," Wertz said.

He now cleans rooms, fixes the plumbing, works the front desk and cleans the pool.

"Pretty much everything that it takes to keep this place running, I have my hands in," he said.

And he does all of that because he has seen what happens to hotels in Myrtle Beach that fall in to disrepair.

"We have neighboring properties that were not taken care of and they let them run down to the point where it wasn't justifiable to put the money back into them," he said.

Brad Dean, President of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said the trend of smaller hotels closing only increased after the recession.

"We saw a lot of mom and pops who either went out of business or simply scaled back. And, unfortunately, some of those independently owned properties had plans to upgrade and expand their holdings, but when the recession hit the capital dried up and a lot of those plans got shelved," Dean said.

The struggle for Myrtle Beach "mom and pops" was even highlighted by a national reality TV show when the former Carnival Inn was featured on the Travel Channel's hotel makeover show Hotel Impossible.

The improving economy is helping, but "mom and pop" hotels still face many challenges, especially when competing against the high-rise hotels.

But Dean says there are ways for smaller properties to compete.

"As much as it is a much more competitive environment today, locally nationally and worldwide there are also some advantages that a small property can maintain particularly in the marketing realm," he said.

He pointed to social media as one example.

"Frankly, for a small business that understands how to engage with their consumers, oftentimes they can be more quick to respond to their consumer base than a larger property that has to go through a chain of command," he said.

He also said that knowing what customers want is important.

For example, a recent economic impact study done by the chamber listed proximity to the ocean and beach accesses, as well as having a kitchen are the most sought after amenities.