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Female Disruptors: Sarah Sklash of the June Motel On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

“If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.” — Harvard Business Review article. We seem to have endless opportunities we can pursue; we think of them as “the shiny object”. Our whole team read this article, and we often use the title of it when we’re trying to make a decision.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Sklash.

Sarah Sklash is a co-founder of the June Motel. Prior to becoming a motelier, Sarah spent a decade working in public service, with a focus on creating customer-centric, efficient processes. She continues to focus on keeping operations running smoothly at The June and is always seeking to make the guest experience as great as possible. Splitting her time between Montreal and Prince Edward County, Sarah is a graduate of Ivey Business School, with a passion for world travel.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

It’s truly one of those stories in which two best friends have a moment where everything clicks and we take a risk. It was New Years Day 2016, and my best friend April and I decided that this would be the year we’d work together, find a project where we can really dig in. We had this idea to create a weekend escape to the Ontario countryside and host a ‘wine camp’ for adults — somewhere we’d want to hang out with friends. We knew Canada’s Prince Edward County was an up and coming wine destination, so we looked for a dingy hotel we would temporarily rent for our adult camp idea, thinking we’d just decorate it for the weekend. Once we visited the run-down property (the Sportsman Motel), we were taken by its massive potential. What was meant to be a side hustle quickly became something bigger, and we purchased the motel to be the place of our ‘permanent wine camp.’ The clientele were mostly hunters and fisherman — not really the boutique travel crowd — but we set to work bringing our vision to life. We put all of our time and energy into the property, replacing the fish-gutting station with a wine bar, and much more. We opened our second property in 2020 in Sauble Beach, and have loved every minute of building a company and brand with our own rules.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I think what we’re doing is more inspiring than disruptive. April and I decided we wanted to do more and be more than our regular 9–5 jobs, so we took a huge risk and followed our dreams. That can be disruptive to some people, but we hope to be more inspiring to others. We’re not your typical motel, and we’re not trying to be a hotel conglomerate. We’re approaching everything as ourselves, from our point of view, while also being inspired by our peers. You can really feel that when you enter our properties; The June is place where you can feel at home, like hanging with a good friend. If what we’re doing disrupts people to the point of inspiring them, then we’re accomplishing what we set out to do.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We say we seem to always learn lessons the hardest way possible. And none of the mistakes were funny at the time! But, seriously, probably the biggest mistake anyone can make going into their own business is thinking any of it will be easy. It wasn’t as simple as buying a property, redecorating it, then opening the doors. It took a lot of planning, a lot of hard work, and a lot of wine to get here.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I learned a lot about leadership working in the public service from some of the individuals I reported to. The industry I’m working in now couldn’t be more different, but leadership is leadership regardless of industry. That’s why it’s so important for The June to support other small businesses, especially women-owned businesses.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I think it all comes down to aligning with the values of your community. Values do evolve, but I believe businesses that evolve with them will stand the test of time. Like I said earlier, we want to inspire more than disrupt. However, if being disruptive is supporting your community and peers, then we’re disruptors for sure.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“The world is small, be nice to everyone” — my mother

“If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.” — Harvard Business Review article. We seem to have endless opportunities we can pursue; we think of them as “the shiny object”. Our whole team read this article, and we often use the title of it when we’re trying to make a decision.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We’re not going to slow down. Over the years we’ve opened two properties — one during a global pandemic, launched an online shop, continued to partner with like-minded brands, and have more to come. We love that The June has become a destination for people to relax, enjoy the beautiful countryside, and unwind, and we want to grow the brand to reach more people and spread the good vibes.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?;

I understand there are challenges facing ‘women disruptors’, but our experience has been a very positive one. We feel so supported by our community of fellow female entrepreneurs, including the founders of Hoame Meditation and Atelier.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Every long car ride (and there are many) I’m always listening to How I Built This podcast. Listening to the founding stories of other businesses always helps me to reflect on my own.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I hope people look at me and think, “If she can start her own business, then I think I can too”. I believe The June is having such a positive impact in its communities, and I think entrepreneurs can bring about great changes, both big and small, in the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Life is short, drink good wine” (or whatever else pleases you!).

We created The June to give more people the opportunity to getaway from their regular day-to-day lives and go on a local adventure with their friends, family or loved ones. To me, those are the precious moments in life, that we need to prioritize.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.instagram.com/sarahsklash/ and https://www.instagram.com/thejunemotel/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.