Jill is the Director of New Media Marketing at Innisfree Hotels.
Blood Locals & Barefood Conceirges
A well known travel truism is when in Rome do as the Romans do. If you want to live by this credo while vacationing in Pensacola Beach, Florida you should seek advice from your beach chair attendant – especially if they work for Lazy Days Beach Rentals. Ashley Curd is the manager there. He and his team get up the at the crack of dawn every morning and set out hundreds of deep blue foam pads on wooden loungers and then adorn each pair with a matching umbrella. It hardly seems possible to make this post card pretty beach even more bewitching, but that’s exactly what Ashley and his crew do every day.
Lazy Days only hires ‘blood locals’ – you need to be born and bread on the the confined shores of Santa Rosa Island to earn a spot amongst this privileged crew. Young local surfers aspire to the coveted positions and must come with a referral to be hired. Once on board, they stay with the company for years, often using their income to work their way through college. Some, like Ashley, never manage to tear themselves away from the idyllic beach lifestyle. He says, “We wrap up our twelve hour work days by surfing and taking in the sunset. I spend my days off on the beach. I am on the beach seventy-hours a week and love every minute of it. I really have no reason to wear shoes.”
It’s a business model that owner, Bill Patterson has carefully cultivated. He says, “I only hire beach kids and they are always my friends before my employees. We are very close and have known each other most of our lives. We know every thing and everybody in Pensacola Beach.” He laughs and says, “We know more then we should about what’s good and what’s not around here and are candid with our customers.” In short, the Lazy Days crew is like a team of barefoot, shirtless, well-tanned concierges. Whether you are looking for a jet ski rental or the best Po Boy sandwich on the beach, they’re the guys to ask.
Maybe the loyalty results from the fact that this is not your average beach attendant job. Bill has high expectations of his staff and instills a powerful responsibility for protecting the beach and everyone on it in his crew. People come year after year looking for Ashley. He says, “I talk to everyone, carry their heavy coolers over the sand, adjust their umbrellas for the sun and treat them like family. By the end of the week I know them. I’ve got guys phoning me from Michigan before they come down for a weather report.” The Lazy Days crew is anything but lazy. They clean up seaweed and trash by hand every day and they worked tirelessly to restore the beach after Hurricane Ivan and the oil spill.
Pensacola Beach is there home turf and they have an inordinate amount of personal pride tied up in the aesthetic of the beach and the character of the local community. They believe that it stands out from the crowded Florida beach scene because it isn’t overly commercialized. The condos and hotels are centralized and therefore the beach is beautifully undeveloped at both ends. It’s a quiet destination and being there is more about putting your toes in the sand than shopping or driving. Ashley says, “Here you park your car and immediately proceed strait to your beach chair. Most people don’t move their cars again. You can go every where you need to go by foot. People come here for that.”
On top of the setting up and beach cleaning Bill’s crew regularly save lives. The entire staff is lifeguard certified and have done countless rescues over the years. Bill says, “We are always pulling people out of the water even though it’s not technically in our job. Every one of my guys are surfers and are very water orientated. Not one of them would hesitate to save someone.” Last year a tourist had a cardiac arrest while swimming and was pulled out of the water by one of the Lazy Day crew members. They gave him CPR and he survived. Ashley says, “It’s a comfortable feeling for families. We make sure they have a safe time while they’re here.”
Lazy Days provides beach rentals for all three of Innisfree’s Htels on Pensacola Beach including the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Resort. The staff and managers in both businesses have an intimate relationship, built over many years, that runs much deeper then room charges for beach chairs. Founder and CEO of Innisfree, Julian MacQueen, who is also a pilot, took Ashley flying last year so he could take aerial photos for a Lazy Days brochure. Julian’s nephew, Johnny Rocket, works for Lazy Days. You’ll often see the Lazy Days crew enjoying the breakfast buffet at H20 Asian Cajun Grill in the lobby of the Hilton.
The crew meets lots of people on the beach every day and pretty much anything that could happen has happened in the last twenty-seven years. Nonetheless there are still lots of stories to share at the nightly ‘check out’ which happens daily at Bill’s house. This ritual that started when he and his wife founded Lazy Days in 1987. Bill says, “The guys work out any problems that arise during the day so we can all start fresh the next day.”
Today Bill has sixteen employees servicing seven hotels and condos with chairs, umbrellas and equipment like paddle boards and surf boards. He says, “It’s a really good life. Lots of fun. I get to live on the beach and I love where I am at.”