The quest continues: –
For many years we both held an image in or minds that had always been pushed aside by the rigors of everyday toil. The image, we occasionally had talked about over the years, was that of us both standing at the doorway of our own magnificent, ivy draped Inn welcoming guests to our glorious establishment as seasoned Innkeepers. The ‘behind the scenes’ work was nowhere in the picture, but we were after all veteran business people and, of course, new all the ramifications. Right!
At first, the possibility seemed to be just one of those fleeting ‘wish list’ fantasies that we all have from time to time, but the more we talked the more the transition from business administrators to Innkeepers seemed possible. This would not be a retirement project for a little extra cash – quite the contrary. We knew that if we were to follow this dream it had to be a viable, sustaining business. We also knew that to achieve our dream would probably take all of our financial resources and it would mean taking risk.
We would have to sell our home in Richmond Hill, a home that we had poured our lives into. A home we had purchased new some fifteen years ago and had decorated and revamped to make just the way we wanted. We had, just the previous year, finished all the major work on our home and were, as my wife puts it “on maintenance only.” Our new venture would also mean undertaking business planning, market research and a search for an establishment in a good location that would suit our budget and business needs.
Extrication from the partnership would also have to be managed and, for our own ethical viewpoint, we would need to ensure that the transition be a smooth as possible. This process took several difficult months during which time my wife and I decided that it would be a good idea to simultaneously try out or new Innkeeper roles by running a Bed & Breakfast operation from our home in Richmond Hill. Although we knew that this was not a great location for this type of business we thought it would help us to establish standards and clarify how the business actually married with our concept. We knew that the grass was not always as green as one supposes from the outside looking in and we had much to learn.
Initial research indicated that there were several organizations that helped with marketing and establishing price position relative to accommodation offered. Most marketing tools were Internet based and through trial and error we discovered the sites that worked better than others. A most useful feature of Internet sites, when determining where to set up shop, is the ability to visit locations on line, determine how many businesses were already there, and look at the pricing structure.
In determining location we found that there were many variables to consider. It became apparent that local by-laws, fire regulations, Municipal, Provincial and even Federal regulation could all have a significant impact on the number of rooms permitted and terms under which the business was run. Various municipal economic development offices were also able to furnish valuable information that helped determine location. The most important consideration for location is that it will generate business. There must be reasons for people to visit the area and the accommodation must be convenient for this type of guest.
A significant issue was the number of guest rooms we would run. There was a break point where four or more rooms changed the characteristic and legal implication of a Bed & breakfast operation. More significantly though, it seemed to be the point at which part of the property is used exclusively for guests, changing the characteristic from a casual B&B into a more formal Bed & Breakfast Inn. No sharing of bathrooms, private ensuite bathrooms are essential these days.
One of the most frustrating issues of running a Bed & Breakfast Inn has been the public perception of what a B&B has to offer. Certainly the variable standards offered by B&B’s goes a long way to dissuade people from trying the experience. We have found that we can have no rooms booked while the motel down the road, with no significant difference in room rate, will be full. We surmised that this is because guests don’t know what they will be getting at a B&B but know exactly what they will be getting at a motel. It only takes one bad experience at a B&B to undermine the B&B business as a whole. We therefore take great pleasure in converting guests to the B&B experience by maintaining the best quality and service we can provide. This not only builds repeat business but also spreads the word through referral. Also, we have noticed a growing trend for guests who want the benefits of the B&B experience. We have identified these components as ‘Comfort’, ‘Cuisine’, and ‘Conversation’. For these reasons we try, wherever possible, to get our guest together at the breakfast table, where conversation and laughter is key. On occasion this is so successful that breakfast lingers well into the late morning with guests being reluctant to leave.
Establishing standards for our venture was paramount and we quickly laid out the ground rules for ourselves very early on. We wanted an older building with character but with very high levels of comfort, cleanliness and pleasing interior decoration. We would also provide the best linens we could find, full gourmet breakfast and exceptional customer service. The list goes on but we have never wavered from our initial concept. Although I must confess to attempting to talk my wife into changing from high quality cotton sheets to a poly cotton mix (cotton sheets require ironing by hand and we share that dubious privilege)
One of the most significant factors was providing private ensuite bathrooms for all rooms. We found that additional research was required, as we seemed to be moving closer to becoming a small hotel and what we wanted was direct personal contact with our guests. A personal touch to the rooms but separate enough for guest to be comfortable and not feel like they were infringing on our personal space. Over the next several weeks we spent time looking at home improvement and cooking to glean ideas that would help differentiate our B&B Inn. Both my wife and I really enjoy breakfast preparation and have developed several unique specialties for guest breakfast. Given our standards, and doing most of the work ourselves is a significant workload, so it is an important you and your partner are able to work well together.
After looking at several models we determined our own standard for the number of rooms that fit with other Inns that we knew and admired. Somewhere between four and twelve rooms seemed optimal and although we knew we could only financially start with four, we felt that this could allow room for future growth.
More to come……..