Who knew that renovating old roadside motels was a thing?
Ryan and Melissa Faircloth, two North Georgia grandparents, certainly didn't when they bought an empty 11-room motel in Trenton, nestled in the shadow of Lookout Mountain on Highway 11.
"I drove by it every day. I kept telling myself, 'I'm going to buy that one day,'" said Ryan Faircloth, 47, a full-time real estate investor and former dumpster company owner.
His wife, Melissa, 44, a real estate broker, didn't initially share her husband's enthusiasm for the low-slug strip of rooms that had been vacant for more than a decade.
"I can't say I was honestly, 100% sure about buying it," she said.
The Groovy Nomad Motel
But it turns out the Faircloths were unknowingly on the cusp of a trend. While some investors are renovating old motels to resell for profit, the Faircloths want to buy and hold the property while helping to capture tourism dollars in Trenton.
"We see gold here, while other people see nothing, sometimes," Ryan Faircloth said.
The end result of their vision is a whimsical boutique inn that's fast becoming a Trenton landmark. Each of the rooms has a theme — like the Elvis Jungle Room and the Cheetah Room and the Traveling Hippie Room — and rents for $203 a night.
The Faircloths named the property the Groovy Nomad for no particular reason except it seemed to capture the mid-century vibe they were looking for. In fact, there's a neon sign on the side of the motel that says, "Good Vibes Only."
"(Groovy Nomad) just popped in my head," Melissa Faircloth said. "We made sure the web address was available, and we went with it. ... I think we are old souls. We like this vibe and older music."
To promote the motel, they have special events, such as an "Elvis Night" in September that featured three Elvis impersonators and drew 200 people, and "Wine Down Wednesdays" that involves an open invitation for folks to come and share a bottle (BYOB) in the motel's highly stylized interior courtyard.
ROOMS AT THE GROOVY NOMAD
Rooms in the Groovy Nomad motel are named: Palm Springs, Seriously '60s, the Cheetah Room, Flower Power, Pretty in Pink, the Elvis Jungle Room, SciFi, Traveling Hippie, Havana Nights and Pac-Man.
The target customers for the property are the estimated 500,000 people who annually visit nearby Cloudland Canyon State Park, glider pilots who hang out at Lookout Mountain Flight Park and visitors using the numerous wedding venues in the area. Sometimes, the Faircloths like to stroll through the motel parking lot on weekends and count all the different states on the license plates.
Such a place called for the kind of kitschy design that drives online bookings. The Faircloths set about turning each room in the motel into a made-for-Instagram experience. They divided up the rooms and began to shop for mid-century furniture and design accents that could carry the nostalgia-heavy themes.
Their most-booked unit is the Pac-Man room, where even the bathroom tile has video game designs and a vintage arcade game is built into one wall. The Cheetah room features shag carpet on the wall and an actual gold statue of a Cheetah that Ryan Faircloth found at a home goods store in Chattanooga.
In retrospect, the Faircloths say it was probably good they divided up the rooms, so they could each have their own creative outlets. Otherwise, they might have butted heads.
"If I can see (a room) in my mind, it will frustrate me if I don't do it (to fit the vision)," Ryan Faircloth said.
"When Ryan gets ahold of a room, I call it the 'over-budget' room," Melissa Faircloth said jokingly.
When they were about halfway through the renovation last year, Melissa Faircloth created a social media post about the Groovy Nomad, which immediately went viral. On the day of the post, Ryan Faircloth said, "My (Facebook) Messenger just kept dinging and dinging and dinging."
The number of followers went from 200 to more than 5,000 in a day, the Faircloths report. Now, it's 41,000 followers and growing. They did another post earlier this month that prompted tens of thousands of "shares."
While their business is somewhat still seasonal — summer and fall are the busiest months — the business model has been validated. About 90% of the motel's reservations are directly booked through the motel's website, thegroovynomad.com. The Faircloths are already exploring opening a microbrewery nearby to keep the momentum going for Trenton tourism.
But success didn't come without plenty of sleepless nights.
Ryan Faircloth said he still remembers a guy who dropped by during the renovation just to tell him that the Groovy Nomad would never work in Trenton.
"I'll bet I second-guessed myself 100 times," Faircloth said. "We were taking a gamble. We used all of our money. Raised more. And now it's working."
And that's pretty darned groovy.