Perhaps one of the greatest decisions we have ever made was making the transition from conventional employment / work to that of becoming Innkeepers. Prior to the move we were self employed and enjoying the benefits that self employment brings but we have discovered that the joy of running a B&B Inn delivers so much more.
It is our guests that make this experience so wonderful. We meet fascinating people from all over the world and have made such good friendships over the years that many have become like family. We stand still and the rest of the world comes to us.
Also, we have discovered a passion for cooking and spend way too much time watching cooking shows and researching recipes. This passion was something we hadn’t realised until embarking on this journey. When we come up with new breakfast ideas we are rewarded when guests tell us how much they have enjoyed and appreciated their breakfast experience. Food aside, the breakfast table itself provides such a great setting for conversation and laughter that we call ourselves the second BBC (Bed, Breakfast and Conversation), solving many of the worlds problems over breakfast, coffee and tea.
The journey has been amazing and our only regret is that we didn’t make the transition sooner. You can read more about our journey at
As we have just celebrated our 70th birthdays we are thinking that we should be making more time for our family and friends and perhaps, just perhaps, be slowing down a little! This is easier said than done as we still enjoy doing what we do so very much. However, with some reluctance we have decided to put our beloved Green Woods Inn ‘up for sale’
Come, visit us and see what we are talking about before we move on to our next venture.
Nigel & Tessa
PS Book directly – it’s cheaper than going through a booking site.
Yes it is time for us to step back – so we are selling our beloved Green Woods Inn and retiring to move on to our next adventure!
How it all Happened
It was in 2001 that my wife and I sat down and revaluate our lives and made a decision that would significantly change our perspectives and direction in relation to our work lives. Shortly before this earth moving decision we were running two businesses. We were partners in an electrical / mechanical industrial process company and had a business consulting firm that we owned outright. Achievements through our businesses were significant, not least of which was receiving the Richmond Hill Chamber of Commerce, business achievement award, Corporate Citizen of the Year through our consulting firm.
We were, however, working flat out to service the needs of the businesses, which in itself was life consuming. Following years of servicing the businesses, the final crunch came when constant production delays in the partnered business caused repeated cash flow problems and although long term cash flow projections indicated that these issues could eventually be worked through we reached a point where ‘once again’ we would be working a cycle of irritating problems and frustrations to enable the business to continue.
As my wife and I sat down with a coffee one sunny spring morning to talk through the current situation and potential solutions, we looked at each other with that ‘here we go again’ look. Then, for just a moment, we both realized what the other was thinking. Perhaps it was the frustration surrounding ‘partner politics’ or perhaps it was that we had both just turned fifty and were suffering some kind of mid life crisis, but we both knew that to continue, would be embarking on a repeated course of action that neither of us wanted.
We talked through our feelings and came to the realization that we needed to take stock and re-evaluate what we wanted for the rest our lives. This day was to mould a future that was far removed from our existing lives. ‘What was it we would do if we did want we wanted to do?” Although this sounds like a catch phrase from some motivational speech, it was a significant turning point in our lives.
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.
As we developed the detail for our Bed and Breakfast Inn we found it necessary to continually revisit our initial concept. It was all too easy to be swept up to moving closer to a small hotel. What we wanted was direct personal contact with our guests. A personal touch to the rooms and service, but separate enough for guest to be comfortable and not feel like they were infringing on our personal space. After looking at several models we determined the number of guest rooms we could run that fit with other Inns that we knew and admired and our own vision. 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. Above all else and, I suppose, because we were entering this extremely ‘different’ type of work, we wanted to ensure we would find enjoyment in what we were doing. No more waking up in the morning feeling the day ahead would be a chore..
Our next major challenge was finding a property that would meet our needs. Firstly, through our research, we looked at location. We looked at the most popular locations – Niagara on the Lake, Stratford Ontario but considered them saturated. Eventually we honed in on two locations; Kingston, Ontario and Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Both met our criteria, but Wolfville had the added advantage of being close to where our daughter and her husband were living. However, when I approached our daughter about the possibility there was a distinct silence on the other end of the phone line. “We won’t interfere with your lives, honest” was met with further silence. “We do understand that you want to live your own lives.” “Its not that” My daughter interrupted “We are moving to Ontario and we hoped you would be close by.” So our search began in the Kingston area for a property that would meet our needs.
Eventually we discovered, through the Internet, a red brick Victorian farmhouse, within the city of Kingston, on highway 15, just 1.7Km south of Highway 401 and yet just a five-minute drive to downtown. On the 2nd April 2002 we purchased what is now Green Woods Inn. The old farmhouse was in a sorry state and needed significant TLC. So began our renovations, or as my wife puts it ‘seven weeks from hell’. But that’s another story.
Over the past years we have gained significant valuable information, learned that some of our preconceptions were wrong, developed alliances, partnerships, marketing strategies, cooked up a storm (over 15,000 breakfasts) and, most importantly, enjoyed meeting and listening to our guests. Nothing gives us greater pleasure than hearing from a guest that they really enjoyed their stay with us at Green Woods Inn. Our only regret is that we didn’t make this change ten years earlier!
We take great pleasure in introducing guests to the B&B experience. By implementing continuous improvement for quality and service we not only build repeat business but also spreads the word through referral. ‘Going the extra mile’ really does make a difference. We have noticed a growth trend for younger guests wanting the B&B experience. We have identified the main components as ‘Comfort’, ‘Cuisine’, and ‘Conversation’. We try, wherever possible, to get our guest together at the breakfast table, where conversation and laughter a key indicator that we are getting it right! On occasion this is so successful that breakfast lingers well into the late morning with guests being reluctant to leave.
I believe the most important achievement is that we both look forward to waking up and relishing the day ahead. I had no idea before we began this journey that I would really enjoy cooking so much. Now Tessa is one to limit my watching the cooking channel….. Nothing gives me more pleasure that when guest comment on the breakfasts we provide.
Must go now – more guest arriving………