Friday, January 7, 2011

Hip + Urban Girl of the Week: Jennifer Miller

Imagine your life: waking up in Paris everyday and checking-in on the multiple French apartments you own, while sipping an espresso and eating a fresh-baked croissant.  Maybe you'll pack your bags and check out a Greek island on the weekend or wander around a local market.  Yeah, we thought it was a pretty damn awesome time too.  This week, we chat with a hip + urban girl who does just that - Jennifer Miller,  Co-Owner of Cobblestone Paris Rentals.

Tell us about your business!
My husband and I own and operate a short-term vacation rental agency in Paris, France. Tourists come to us for great value, service and an authentic Parisian experience vs. a hotel.
We also assist buyers looking for their vacation rental purchase in Paris and also decorate and equip the apartment for tourists.

How did you get into starting a vacation rental company?
My husband and I bought our very own small studio apartment in the 11th arrondissement of Paris near the Canal St. Martin (the one that Amelie uses to skip stones in).  It was really just a spur of the moment decision, and kinda crazy when we think about it now, but it changed our lives more than we every could have imagined.  We were still living in Toronto, so we decided to share our love of Paris with other travelers by renting it out to tourists when we were not there.   We had no idea it would be such a success. As time went on, we started meeting other international owners and they shared their horror stories about leaving their properties in the hands of rental managers that they didn't trust to take care of their apartments.  We saw a need, and we decided to provide a service that would make both the owners as well as the renters happy.  It was a labor of love, so it was not a big surprise when our plan worked.  This is the story of how Cobblestone Paris Rentals was born.

What brought you to Paris?
Everyone wants to go to Paris.  We were no different.  As a couple in love and our passion for travel, we didn't wait too long before booking flights and taking off.  Of course, we rented an apartment instead of staying in a hotel, so that first trip planted the seeds of the idea that we would one day like to buy something of our own there.  I think we were both surprised by how quickly that happened.  That has turned out to be a recurring theme, we get an idea, and before we know it, Voila! It’s a reality.   We are now thrilled that we can share our joy of Paris with others.

Are you fluent in French?
Every day I learn a little more, that's one benefit of living in Paris as a local.  You find yourself in all kinds of situations that a tourist would never encounter.  

What is your typical week like?
We spend most of our working hours answering inquiries and making booking arrangements online, as well as organizing the arrivals for our guests in Paris. Most of our business is done online, which is great, because it means we can live or travel anywhere in the world.  For the last year we have been living in Paris where we could train and supervise staff to do many of the tasks that we once did ourselves.  The confidence that we have in the right people allows us to travel more and work anywhere we have a Wi-Fi connection.

How often do you get to travel?
Sometimes it feels like we live out of a suitcase! When we are in Paris we take advantage of the close proximity to many great countries. This year we visited Spain, Italy, South of France, Turkey and Greece. 

Your apartments are gorgeous!  Did you have a background in design?  How do you approach decorating a room?
I don't have a background in design, but I have learned what people like and what they are looking for in their perfect French apartment.  We are very conscious that what we are selling is the "mystique" of Paris, and this means that we have to tap into people's inner vision of the perfect French apartment when coming up with a design for a new apartment.  Of course, the reality of how French people actually live is totally different, but the tourist has another idea and that is what we are trying to capture.  The closer we get to recreating that "dream apartment" that people are imagining, the more successful the apartment will be.  

Besides design, what do you do to get an upper hand in marketing your apartments?
Because we travel so much, we have a good idea of what travelers appreciate in their accommodation.  We try to keep all of our experiences, good and bad, in mind when furnishing and equipping an apartment. 

On one visit to a coastal village in Spain, we rented a beautiful little villa on the cliffs above the Mediterranean.  Even though we booked it for a last minute discount, it wasn't cheap, so we were not happy when we discovered that there were absolutely no basic amenities like shampoo, paper towels, oils, or spices.  The closest store was in a village on the top of a mountain, and it was closed most of the day.  We remember experiences like this and go to the extreme in the opposite direction when equipping our apartments.  We want to overwhelm people and leave no chance for disappointment.  We offer free amenities that hotels don't offer such as free Wi-Fi internet, free long distance calling, hundreds of TV channels, Paris themed DVDs, Paris Guidebooks, and French Cook Books. We also offer coffee, tea, sugar cooking oil, spices, paper towels and more so you don't have to shop for these basics when you arrive. The kitchen is ready for you to shop at a local market and try a new recipe.

What is the best part of your job?
When we hear that we have made someone’s dream come true!  When we get emails that gush over our apartments and services, we know that we are doing something right.

The worst part of your job?
When something happens to jeopardize a customer experience that is beyond our control.  Some examples are regular transportation strikes, stolen wallets, and building problems that we have no direct ability to repair.  We must wait for the building's unenthusiastic management to handle things in their own good time, which is sometimes a lot longer in France than you would expect in Canada or North America.

Top three destinations of all time and why?
Paris of course, because it is the most magical, romantic and historic city in the world. Santorini, Greece because it is the most serene and enchanting place I have ever been, and Barcelona for its vibrant and modern style and because my husband and I got engaged there.

What did you study in University/College?  Would you have done anything differently?
I studied Marketing Management at Sheridan College in Oakville. It was a well-rounded choice and I use aspects of Marketing every day.

Where are your favourite places to hang out in Paris? (restaurants/bars etc)
My favourite neighborhood is "The Marais", which encompasses the 3rd and 4th arrondissements near Notre Dame Cathedral and the famous Pompidou Modern Art Museum. You get a good mix of historic architecture and trendy cafes and boutiques.  It is always active and has a lot of gorgeous mansions built by the French nobility before the French Revolution.  It is still an "original" Parisian neighborhood because Napoleon ran out of money before he could demolish it like many other Paris neighborhoods.

Best place to shop in Paris?
Open-air markets always offer the best produce and also a good mix of affordable clothing, shoes, scarves and sometimes furnishings. Rue de Bretagne in the Marais is also a fun shopping street.

Tell us about your neighbourhood and what you like best about it.
The 11th arrondissement is an up and coming neighborhood on the border of the trendy "Marais". It is very residential so you see a lot of real Parisians and not so many tourists. It offers authentic bakeries, restaurants and boutiques and you don't see any souvenir shops. My favourite places in the 11th are the Canal St. Martin and the Popincourt Open Air Market on Blvd Richard Lenoir.

What do you wish someone told you when you were younger and just starting out?
Knowledge of finance and investing. Schools don't educate people enough about smart investments and how to avoid the pitfalls of poor financial planning.   Most people have to learn through trial and error, losing valuable time.

What life advice do you have for hip + urban girls out there trying to figure out what they want to do?
Take risks! Don't just do the safe thing because everyone else is doing it.  You only live once, and you don't want to be someone who looks back and wishes that they had done something more interesting.  My motto is JUST DO IT, don’t spend too long thinking or talking about it, because it may never happen.

Check out Jen's great apartments:
Facebook: Cobblestone Vacations Paris

The hip + urban girl of the week is someone who encompasses a fabulous attitude, job and lifestyle. We will feature a mix of entrepreneurs and urban professionals who are inspiring to follow.  Know someone we should meet?


  1. First of all, I just discovered this site and absolutely love it.

    Secondly, Jenn's job sounds amazing! It really takes guts to get up and start up a new life and business in a new country though, so props to her. Great article! :)

  2. very cool. loved the article.

  3. this article doesn't provide the details on how she did it. It would be nice to get some of the details on how she got her work permit, etc. You can't show up to a country and buy an apartment. This could've been a more thorough piece, only the sensational aspects are covered.

  4. @Anonymous - if you're really that interested in getting a visa and buying an apartment, feel free to email Jen directly. I'm sure she would be happy to answer your questions. Part of her business is to help others do the same.

  5. To answer Anonymous, if you are interested in buying an apartment in Paris and renting it out to tourists, we can provide assistance for you.
    FYI, foreigners are legally allowed to purchase property in France, without being a resident, if you do not plan to move there, but still wish to own your own slice of the Parisian life.
    email me for more info:
    Jennifer Miller