A Conversation with the Women Behind Motel Makeover, April Brown and Sarah Sklash

Motel Makeover, the newest Netflix docuseries, shares the process of renovating a run-down property in Sauble Beach, Ontario into one of the hottest new destinations, The June Motel. Behind the renovation are April Brown and Sarah Sklash, two Canadian women who left their desk jobs behind to launch a motel empire, first in Prince Edward County, and now in Sauble Beach.

We spoke with April and Sarah about the appeal of motels, how they chose Sauble Beach for their second property, completing the renovation during a worldwide pandemic, and how they’re excited for the rest of the world to discover The June.

What was it about motels and the motel experience that was so appealing to you in the first place?

April: When we discovered the motel back in 2016 with our first motel in Prince Edward County, we really saw it as a platform or vehicle to create travel experiences, and wine and wellness experiences. We knew that Prince Edward County was an up and coming area. So when we discovered this motel [in Sauble Beach], we really had a vision for how we could transform not only the look and feel, but the entire experience of what it would be like to stay at a motel. Now, when guests check into our motels, we serve up a glass of rose, and we pull out a map an help curate their stay. It’s more than just transforming the look. It’s taking an old and forgotten building, reviving it, and making it new and interesting by adding communal spaces that bring people together at the motel.

How did you decide on the location for your second property?

Sarah: We first came to Sauble Beach because we saw that this motel was for sale, and we were really charmed. The motel had everything we’re looking for: a restaurant, a pool, 24 guest rooms, and a random building that is now The Shop. It was the motel that brought us here, but we spent a night and got to explore Sauble Beach and it has such a retro beach feel. You put on your flip flops when you arrive and you don’t change out of them for your whole stay. You can walk down the Main Street, we’re five minutes from the beach, and the sunsets are spectacular.

It was also an interesting time to be here. We saw other young entrepreneurs starting businesses. There’s The Wellness Refinery so we knew there was a place where we could send our guests for healthy smoothies. And we were obsessed that there’s a taco truck as well. The June’s not about being the just the motel itself. It’s really important that where we open [a location], there’s awesome things to do around the motel as well.

Starting a business and renovating a property are already challenging. With this series, you had the added layer of cameras following you around and documenting every step along the way. How did that element change the experience versus your first project in Prince Edward County?

April: There was a lot of pressure. When we revealed or finished every space, there was that extra pressure that it needed to be as amazing we could possibly make it because everyone’s going to see this on Netflix. The first time around [in Prince Edward County], we had no reputation. The June was brand new. There was not this established brand or aesthetic. [In Sauble Beach], we felt the pressure of everyone’s eyes on us, like all of our followers wondering what we were going to do, when we were going to open, and what it would it look like. And of course, with the television show, millions of people are going see this, and we want to be proud of what we created.

When you finally got to watch Motel Makeover, what was that experience like?

Sarah: It was fun and surreal. We were in a meeting at work with Courtney, our project manager, and then we screened the show [and there’s a scene] of us in a meeting. People are going to see what it’s like behind the scenes of The June, and we’re excited to share. It’s not just that picture perfect image that everyone sees on Instagram. There’s all the hard work and everything that happens behind the scenes.

You may not have planned it this way, but are you ready to become ambassadors for Canadian tourism now that the entire world can watch Motel Makeover and discover The June Motel?

April: We’re incredibly proud of Sauble Beach and proud of what we created. We’re excited to share Sauble with the rest of the world. It’s a really special place to us. So many more people are going to discover it. People in Ontario are going to discover that this is in their own backyard, too. There’s so much of Canada to explore, and we don’t have to go to California for that beach moment.

In addition to having cameras documenting everything along the way in renovating The June, you also completed the project amidst a global pandemic. Do you feel like anything is possible after overcoming all of those hurdles?

Sarah: Actually, one of our best qualities as entrepreneurs is we’re always a little naive. Everything’s so much harder, takes more time and money, and is way more stressful. We’re going to keep going back to that and embrace it. Anything we put our mind to, there is a way to do it. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, but at the end of the day, I believe that we can do it.

What’s next for The June Motel empire? Are you already thinking about starting this process all over again?

April: In the final scene of the show, Sarah’s like, “Okay, we’re doing this all over again,” and I didn’t respond. I know exactly how I felt, and I couldn’t imagine doing this again.

Sarah: We had hammered in the last nail, and I was like, “I’m ready.”

April: And I felt pure exhaustion. We go back and forth, and we both know that there’s going to be another motel. We love the process of finding that diamond in the rough, bringing our vision to it and seeing that transformation. After having this year to get the operations of the June Motel in Sauble Beach running smoothly, we’re excited to shift our mindset back to finding the next property.

Motel Makeover is available now on Netflix worldwide.

Photos Courtesy of Netflix

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