A Conversation with Aaron Markel from Hammond Hill
We had an amazing conversation with entrepreneur and part-owner of Hammond Hill Eco Resorts, Aaron Markel. We chatted about a plethora of topics, covering all things yurts, business, and so much more! Learn more about Hammond Hill, Aaron’s business journey, and our partnership below!
Tell me about yourself and your business!
My name is Aaron Markel. I’m part-owner of Hammond Hill Eco Resorts, located just outside of the Hammond Golf and Country Club in Hammond, ON. We’re a 62-acre eco-resort that’s been hosting guests for about a year and a half now! We made the decision to build completely off-grid and we run solar power, water reclamation, compostable toilets, our own sawmill, and so much more.
Why did you decide that your business needed yurts on board?
We ended up with the traditional yurt model because it fits our profile perfectly. Yurts (or Gers) were developed by Mongolian nomads and therefore have low environmental impact, are portable (yet stable), and are designed to be lived in all year ‘round.
We previously had a modern yurt for a year or so, but it was lost in a big storm along with about 4000 trees. Afterwards, we decided to purchase 3 Groovy Yurts to add to our yurt village – we wanted to fill the space with different styles of yurts. Peter from Groovy Yurts and his team came out and installed them for free after hearing about the devastating storm. We are so appreciative that they showed up for us – taking time out of their day to come help us out. They have a very special place in my heart, and I have nothing bad to say about them at all.
How did you hear about Groovy Yurts?
Through research! We purchased a yurt from another company at first, but ultimately found that they were getting too expensive and started looking at alternatives. We quickly discovered that Groovy Yurts was just 30 minutes away from us, and we loved the local, symbiotic feel.
Can you speak on a moment that encompasses your relationship with them?
I was there for the yurt installation and spent a lot of time with Peter. Through our interaction, I found that the Groovy Yurts team is extremely informative. Their passion and love for Mongolian people and their way of life is so inspiring – you can’t help but leave the install date with an overwhelming sense of “this is how people are supposed to think about other people and cultures.” Learning more about people, how they live, and who they are is so important.
Overall, dealing with the entire team has been so easy. They accommodated us because the storm was unexpected, and we couldn’t pay the full amount right away. A lot of businesses would have demanded full payment upfront, but they were super understanding of our unique situation and even gave us lots of time to ensure that our order was perfect. Through that experience, I know we made the right choice by choosing Groovy Yurts!
Why would you recommend Groovy Yurts to potential yurt buyers?
I run a construction company and I talk to many suppliers, so based on previous experiences, I know my interaction with Groovy Yurts was great. They are very well organized, and I’ve held on to their pre-setup and post-setup checklists. Something that really stood out to me is a time that we had some issues on our end – a lot of suppliers would just go dark – but Peter came onsite 3 other times to meet with members of my team and make sure everyone was on the same page. Their implementation process was amazing, and it was clear that they’ve done this many times as the yurts showed up on time, and their emails were very explicit in terms of what we needed to have ready and what we could expect upon arrival.
So, the beginning was great, and as a salesperson, I know that the beginning is usually great because a business wants your business. But the thing that I will always remember is the after-sale service. I know I can call Peter right now and he’ll answer the phone. These are the kind of people that I will continue a relationship with because when things go wrong (and they often do), we know they’ll be there to advise and support in any way they can. It’s truly amazing. For me, Groovy Yurts gets a check, check, and check.
What has been your takeaway from this relationship?
I think it’s affirmation. I’m not too sure if karma is the right word but as for what you throw out to the universe, you just hope that it comes back. I also hope that they felt their interaction with us was just as beneficial for them.
After they came to help us out, we bought the steak dinners and gave them a tour of our facility. There were lots of stories being told, and a little bit craziness (of the best variety) – it was all a part of the awesome experience. Perhaps my favourite story of all is how they began selling Mongolian gers. Yves, the owner, was a truck driver for a not-for-profit organization called Globe Trucker, which was delivering school supplies to rural Mongolia at the time. After dropping of the supplies, they didn’t want to head back with an empty truck, so they purchased a few yurts from a local manufacturer and brought them back to North America. I give a lot of tours of the eco-resort, and I start off with that story every time because it paints a picture of the power of global economy – it’s great stuff.
What has been your experience with providing an eco-resort?
Our interaction with the city and the county has been surprisingly positive and supportive. Typically, interactions with city officials can be quite adversarial and, in some cases aggressive, but the moment that we presented this property we were fast-tracked for approvals. We were able to show people that we didn’t want to cut down trees, but rather that we wanted to build within the envelopes, reuse nature (use the natural materials and pathways already laid out and provided by nature) highlight trails – we were fortunate to be backed by the community.
As a constructor, I can’t begin to tell you the amount of stuff that we end up throwing away. In the past, there was a 20% commitment to upcycling materials, but when you start talking to people, like the mayor, the city council, and RBC, it’s more about the feel-good component to upcycling. We started thinking that if we build a business, we want to do it better. We can build more sustainably; something that our kids can be proud of. As far as I can tell, what we’re building is the first of its kind and I find it inspiring because our story impacts everyone a little bit differently. The general response has been amazing.
We’re not reinventing the wheel, but we are doing things better at different stages in the process. So yes, Groovy Yurts fits right into that model – we like how their traditional yurts are authentically hand-crafted by a Mongolian family out of mostly natural materials. Additionally, 25 trees are planted with each purchase to replace the ones that were cut down.
Is the construction of Hammond Hill a long-time dream?
So, Hammond Hill is a recent idea – less than 2 years old. What’s amazing about the idea is that it was very organic, and it just grew alongside the company values. I have a great team, so it was a very interactive process. “Where do you think we should put the campsite?” “Hmm, how about there?” The excitement of the team, sharing the journey with my friends, and showing people how we accomplished cutting a trail through wetlands and built bridges are a few of the highlights for me!
Does Hammond Hills bring a sense of purpose or fulfillment?
Since the storm, we’ve recorded 3000 hours of footage. I do a weekly update of the progress that has happened on the Hill. The story is powerful, but the rebuilding process has been even more impactful. We were totally knocked down because of the storm – alongside many other people and businesses – but now I can see that we’re equally participating in rebuilding the community. We’ve donated logs, generators, and overall, helped everyone recover. For us, our vision of what we do next is even better than what we started with. That’s both exciting and fulfilling.
Why would you recommend getting a yurt to other resort destinations?
I’m going to approach this from the opinion of our customers that have come to stay with us. The resounding response is that it’s like walking into a 4000-year-old piece of architecture. With traditional yurts, not much has changed from when they were first conceptualized – you’re basically stepping into a historical depiction of how people lived a long time ago in other parts of the world, and, how they continue to live. So, I think when you get this type of reaction from your guests, it becomes clear why you would purchase something like this.
Why do you love traditional yurts (or Mongolian Gers)?
I actually got my wedding license this year (I jump around a lot), and I married three people on the Hill. For the first wedding it was raining, and I married them in the yurt. I was appointed to write a speech that dealt with the idea of family – I had to be accurate in my understanding of the Mongolian ger and its symbolism. We talked about the imagery of a circle, the completion of the ring, being at the center of your family unit, and making sure that the people around you are of equal importance. It made me realize that the yurt is beautiful because it promotes togetherness due to its simplicity – there are limited modern world distractions, which fosters building connections with your loved ones.
As we are leaving COVID (fingers crossed), a lot of people really want to get back to the basics and into nature, and our eco-resort provides the perfect getaway for this. We have many types of accommodations, including, pioneer homes and campsites, but with the yurt, it’s the only structure that promotes togetherness. I simply love and value it so much.
Thank you so much again Aaron for such an awesome time and conversation. We wish you the best in all your endeavors, and hope to chat again sooner than later!
Be sure to check out Hammond Hill Eco Resorts!
Next Read: The Intricate Symbolism of Mongolian Gers >