A housekeeping services provider called MasterCorp morphs into an information technology company with a homegrown workforce management application.

Chief Operating Officer David Goff learned his lesson when he missed a monthly IT steering committee meeting earlier this year: His peers kicked his technology project concerning quality control to the back of the line. Now Goff is repentant. "I'll try to make all meetings," he says.

Goff's words draw chuckles from other executives, including CIO Jonathan Loveday. "I don't think he'll ever forget it or let us forget it," he says.

Joking aside, this steering committee takes its charge seriously, which underscores the importance of technology's role at Crossville, Tenn.-based MasterCorp Inc., a provider of housekeeping services for time-share resorts.

But the 25-year-old, privately held company didn't start out as a master of technology. In fact, IT merely bubbled behind the scenes for nearly two decades and then exploded at the turn of the millennium when the company "webified" a critical homegrown application. Today the software is the company's greatest asset.

In 1981, CEO Alan Grindstaff opened a commercial and residential cleaning service company. One of his first clients was time-share resort Fairfield Glade in Crossville. The time-share industry -- where groups of strangers "buy" time as a way to own part of a property -- had started in Europe during the 1960s but was in its infancy in the U.S. Thus, resorts focused more on sales and marketing than on day-to-day operations.

Grindstaff saw an opportunity to serve time-share resorts exclusively; he understood the logistical challenges and the marginal value of housekeeping to a time-share resort's main business of selling time. Consider the dirty labor itself: A housekeeper typically cleans four to five units a day, depending on the size of the unit. Starting at the front door, the housekeeper works her way clockwise around the unit, spending an average of two hours to clean a two-bedroom space. She must have a working knowledge of cleaning products and processes to get any job done. Before the unit can be approved as clean, a supervisor must check the cleaner's work.

The industry involves myriad managerial headaches, such as matching oft-unreliable housekeepers and supervisors to various units that need to be cleaned by a certain time. Many resorts have thus offloaded these tasks to MasterCorp, which today boasts 300 customers in 70 resorts across 19 states (with each resort having an average of four customers, or property owner associations).

MasterCorp's sales have grown 40% every year for the past three years and are tracking to hit $70 million this year. That blistering growth far exceeds that of time-shares themselves, where U.S. sales grew 9% to $8.6 billion in 2005, up from $7.9 billion in 2004, according to a study conducted by Ernst & Young LLP and released by the American Resort Development Association. More than 4 million households own time-shares in the U.S., with occupancy rates far exceeding those at hotels (perhaps one reason that major hoteliers like Hyatt Corp. have entered the time-share business).

To support its growth, MasterCorp looked to IT.

This was first published in December 2006

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