Sunday, February 23, 2020

B&B Location, Location, Location!

At a recent family gathering, we ran into a friend that is turning his family home into a Bed & Breakfast.  He was very excited and started telling us all about his Victorian House located in the Historic District of his home town.  He showed us pictures of the home, described the furnishings in great detail, talked about the kitchen remodel, and exuded endless enthusiasm.  Yet, when we asked him about his target market, he went silent.  After thinking for a few moments, he responded "well, there are no other B&B's in the area, the others have closed their doors".  Exactly!

When it comes to owning a B&B, it's not just about The Bed and The Breakfast.  It's a lot about location, location, location.  Bob and I looked at many places before we settled on The Grand Kerr House located in Grand Rapids, Ohio.

 Grand Rapids, Ohio calls itself "The Town For All Seasons" and we like to think of ourselves as "The Place For All Reasons".  There is so much to offer, we have trouble narrowing down our target market.

Local attractions include..

  • Boutique shopping within walking distance
  • Nearby dining choices including Mexican, Italian, Home Style, Bar & Grill, Fine Cuisine and even a Micro-Brewery
  • Hiking trails for nature lovers
  • Kayaking and bicycling rentals
  • Fishing and bird watching
  • Wine tasting
  • Golfing
  • Wedding Halls
  • History - canal rides, trains, a flour mill and an historic main street all built in the 1880's
  • Within driving distance - The Toledo Zoo, The Toledo Art Museum and The Hollywood Casino
  • Village sponsored events 
    • Spring Fling on Mother's Day Weekend
    • July Rally Day
    • August Village Garage Sale
    • October Apple Butter Festival
    • November Christmas Open House
    • December Light Up The Night
We also inherited the Goodwill and Reputation of the original Kerr House - an elite 5-Star Spa & Health Retreat owned by Laurie Hostetler for almost 40 years.  Not an easy act to follow but, in her spirit, we offer Spa Days for house guests who can choose from a variety of services -
  • Yoga classes
  • Massage (relaxation, deep tissue, couples)
  • Facial
  • Body Scrub & Wrap
  • Reflexology
  • Harmonics
  • Vibrational Raindrops
  • Reflexolo-Chi 
  • Aromatherapy
Like we said, it's sometimes hard to determine what to focus on.  We would like to think we can do it all but spreading your butter  too thin over many slices of toast may not be as good as a thick slab of butter on one or two pieces of toast.  You don't need to be-all-to-all to be successful; it just helps to have something to offer that differentiates you and makes you the destination of choice.  If you need help finding your niche, you can work with your local Chamber of Commerce (and join the group!), talk to other Small Business and B&B Owners (we love to chat!) and identify your own passions for the area (your enthusiasm may be all you need to make you stand out).

So look before you leap and others will most certainly follow!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Staying At A Bed & Breakfast - What to Expect

Whether you are an Experienced B&B Guest or a First Time Visitor, you should understand that Bed & Breakfasts are like snow flakes, no two are alike and no two visits will be the same, nor should they be!  That is the "why" for staying at B&B's and not chain hotels.  If you are the type of person who craves the familiar, wants no surprises, and does not consider travel an opportunity for a new adventure, then you probably do not want to sty at a B&B .  However, if you enjoy meeting new people, sharing your story with potential life-time friends or just love to check out other people's homes, then a B&B stay might be exactly what you are looking for.

Bob and I always stay at B&B's when we can.  We have enjoyed a couples massage on a porch in Hawaii, relaxed with a cup of coffee watching the sunrise in Saugatuck, crept past our Wisconsin host sleeping on his sofa on our way to the only bathroom in the house, eaten gourmet breakfasts in South Dakota and walked away from the table hungry at more than one place.  Like I said, every B&B is different and every experience is unique and well-worth the stay.

So what can you expect at The Grand Kerr House...

CHECKING IN -

When checking in at The Grand Kerr House, you will be greeted by Bob and/or myself.  We will have some paperwork for you to fill out and we may need to collect the balance for your stay.  We will be happy to spend (literally) hours walking you through the house, sharing her history and our story.  Or we can quickly acclimate you to your surroundings, escort you to your room and then leave you to your own resources.  Just let us know what works for you and we will accommodate your needs.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU -

We love to get to know our guests!  We will ask you what brings you to Grand Rapids, Ohio and how you found us.  Sometimes this leads into exchanging information about family and work, sometimes the conversation ends there.  We will ask if you have had dinner yet and, if not, suggest local restaurants.  If you ask, we will tell you about the wonderful boutique shopping, the kayak and bicycle rentals, historic sites and walking paths in town.  Hopefully, we will not take up too much of your time.  We will not be offended if you glance at your phone, clear your throat or just outright tell us that you just want to be left alone.  We like to think that we can take a hint.

THE COMMON SPACES -

The Grand Kerr House offers several areas where you can sit and relax while talking with others, napping or reading a good book.  When first entering the house, there is a small "Library" off to your right.  This is a cozy spot for reading or napping on your own.  To your left, there is the Front Parlor sometimes referred to as the Formal Parlor or the Ladies' Parlor.  This room has a comfortable sofa, several welcoming chairs, and a pair of rockers strategically placed in front of the fireplace.  Next, there is the Center Parlor known as the Informal Parlor or the Men's Parlor.  This room is furnished with more traditional Victorian seating and offers intimate conversation and reading spots.  The dining room has 24 hour coffee and tea available along with board games and playing cards.  We believe that the house loves to be enjoyed by people and we strongly encourage you to experience every room during your stay.

YOUR GUEST ROOM -

We will show you to your room and point out the in-room fireplace and phone charger, tell you there are robes and slippers in the closet and leave you with homemade cookies.  We offer one room on the first floor and three rooms on the second floor.  There are two rooms with King Size Beds and two rooms with Queen Size Beds.   There are no televisions for guests but the WiFi has a great signal for your laptops and iPads if you need to stay connected with the world 24/7.

THE BATHROOMS -

This is the part of the house that most guests are hesitant/nervous about but we've never had a complaint from anyone who has stayed!

The Spring Room, located on the first floor, has an attached bathroom with the home's original copper soaking tub.  It's a long, deep tub that provides a wonderful hot soak.  We believe it may be one of the oldest tubs still in use in North America.  Imagine soaking in a tub where a Civil War Veteran once bathed.  That's a piece of history you can't experience in many places.

The second floor bedrooms share a communal bath area.  This area is located across the hall from the guests rooms and offers two vanity areas, two half baths and a shower room.  It is a bright, clean area and we receive lots of positive feedback about the design and layout.  This area really should not be the determining factor when deciding to stay or not to stay with us but we understand if it is a concern.  However, we promise that you will not be disappointed once you actually experience it.

BREAKFAST -

Breakfast is normally served from 8:00 to 10:00 am.  For breakfast we have several options - you can eat at the dining room table with the other guests, you can request to be seated separately in another room or at another time, or (weather permitting) you can be seated on the porch.  Let's face it, some people prefer to eat alone but there is nothing we enjoy more than hearing the conversation and laughter of houseguests sharing stories over breakfast.

Bob's breakfast specialty is omelettes but we will often ask our guests to close their eyes, imagine their favorite breakfast and tell us all about it.  Breakfast always includes fresh fruit, orange juice, pumpkin bread or rolls and lots of hot coffee.  We always does our best to make sure you never leave the table hungry.

So that pretty much sums up The Grand Kerr House and what you can expect to find here - great accommodations and wonderful hosts!  Who could ask for more?  We hope you come to stay sometime and experience it all for yourself - it truly is a one-of-a-kind snowflake!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Want to Own a Bed and Breakfast?

This past weekend Austin, a College Hospitality Major, called to to interview us for a school paper he is working on.  Austin said he had six simple questions to ask and I agreed to work with him.  Turns out his Six Simple Questions were not as simple as I would have hoped but life's questions (and answers) rarely are simple, are they?

The questions were -
1.  What  is my involvement in the B&B
2.  What is my educational background that qualifies me to run the B&B
3.  What do I like best about running our B&B
4.  What do I like least about running our B&B
5.  What is our biggest challenge with the B&B
6.  How do we make financial decisions regarding the B&B

And here are my thoughts on Austin's questions-

1.  What is my involvement in the B&B?  The Grand Kerr House is owned by my husband, Bob, and myself.  Since we are a business, we also have job titles - Bob is the President and I am the Director. Regarding responsibilities, I would say that Bob is the Braun and I am the Brain (although he my challenge that and, in reality, we do share most responsibilities).  As the Braun, Bob does the physical things including Maintenance and Repairs, Housekeeping, Breakfast Preparation, and much of the interaction with the guests.   As the Brain, I do the bookkeeping and marketing, handle reservations, and Blog.  While the work division may seem disproportionate, it should be noted that Bob is "retired" while I am still working 40 hours a week at my day job.  The balance we have found together works for us and that is what is important, as B&B Owners you need to do what you love and either have a partner to do the rest or hire it out.  Don't do it if  you don't love it.

2.  What is my educational background?  No, I did not major in Hospitality (though that sounds like a wonderful area of study!).  Bob and I both have business degrees - he majored in Marketing and I majored in Operations Management with a minor in Accounting.  These areas of study have provided some much necessary business acumen.  We were fortunate to be living in Wisconsin when we first started thinking about owning a B&B (after getting married to each other in our 50's).  Wisconsin has a wonderful B&B Organization (wbba.org) that offers excellent training classes and opportunities to interact with B&B Owners.  In addition to being members of this wonderful group we also stayed at every B&B we could on weekends and when traveling on longer trips (we still do!).  We have found that B&B Owners love to talk about the Good, Bad and Ugly of their business.  Living it makes them the true experts.

3.  What do I like best about running our B&B?  I love our guests!  Each and every one of them - really!  Guests come to stay here for every reason imaginable - weddings, funerals, reunions, romantic getaways, time alone.   Every guest has a story to share and I love hearing them.  And how wonderful to work someplace where people come just to relax and have a nice time.  For the most part, people are easy to please - they just want a little attention, no arguments, a good night's sleep and a great breakfast.  We can do that!

4.  What do I like least about running our B&B?  Well, it is a 24/7 job.  Hard to get away and find time for ourselves to do something together.  On the occasional weekend we will find ourselves without any bookings.  Scary for the pocketbook but wonderful for the soul.  If you don't take care of yourself once in a while, you can't take care of others.

5.  What is our biggest challenge?   Marketing!  It's so important to have an internet presence.  We tried advertising in printed media but found little response and bookings from that.  Today people really do make many of their decisions browsing on their phones or searching on their laptops.  It took a while for us old folks to figure that out.  We work hard to earn and maintain our 5 Star ratings which will put us at the top of a search.  We need to maintain our FaceBook page and website almost daily.  We need to Blog.

6.  How do we make financial decisions?  First and foremost, we make them together.  It's a business, we are partners.  The Grand Kerr House is a four bedroom B&B - there are advantages to keeping it small.  However, I think the optimum B&B size would be six rooms with a 40% occupancy.  That is our business goal but we need to understand why we are not there and why we may never be there.  Our biggest challenge is lack of private bathrooms for each guest room.  We are on the National Register of Historic Places so we can't just throw on an addition for bathroom space.  And it's really special to have the original house drawings hanging throughout the home and to be able to point out that little has been changed.  When making financial decisions we often ask ourselves "how many rooms do we have to rent to pay for this investment and how long is that payback?".  Asking ourselves this, we decided to delay the $30,000 bathrooms and invest in the $15,000 guest kitchen. Financially speaking, we can't have it all but we need to think about what the house guests really want.

So those are the questions and my answers.  If you would have answered differently or think there is a better response, we would love to hear from you!  Every B&B and B&B Owner is unique - that is what makes staying with us special!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Returning B&B House Guests

We love it when someone, who has been here previously, returns to The Grand Kerr House for another stay.  It means that, for one reason or another, they liked their first visit enough to come see us again.  Now that we are into our third season, we are starting to see familiar faces and, to be honest, we tend to take that personally.

With help from our modern technology, we are notified by our reservation system when someone is a returning guest.  Using our old school technology (i.e. index cards that we manually complete for each visitor), we will refresh our memory regarding something notable about their last stay and what we learned about them- their employment, their hobbies, their family, whatever.  What did they have for breakfast and did they love it or leave it.  Any suggestions they may have made for home improvements and/or guest enjoyment.  That way we can greet guests with a sincere "Welcome Back!" and a little familiarity.

Familiarity can often be a good thing and sometimes it is not...

We need to remind ourselves that guests are not returning to just see US!  Surprising, but true, we have not become their newest BFF (let's be honest, that could be a bit creepy) and guests may be returning with a need for time alone - either on their own or with their travel companion.  Each return visitor must be considered on their own merit, some may ask us to join them for a drink and others may be appalled if we invite ourselves for a drink.   We have found that's its best to allow the guest to take the lead and we try to gladly follow along.

Speaking of travel companions, more than once I have assumed it's a returning couple when, in fact, it's someone returning with a different partner.  That can be very embarrassing for everyone.  I have learned to not fill out registration forms with the second guest name prior to check-in  But, if you are the returning better half, there is nothing wrong with giving us a call ahead of time to let us know that you are traveling with someone else - you can even enter the name of the second guest on your reservation (which is always appreciated!)  That can prevent a lot of awkward moments.

Occasionally there is a returning guest that we are not so happy to see again  We had one couple that came to stay and, for whatever reason, they stained the sheets with heavy oils on their first two visits.  This was discerning but otherwise they were enjoyable guests.  Having noted the darkened sheets on their card, we made up their bed with "their" sheets on their third visit.  These guests have not returned since, maybe they were embarrassed or angered.  In hindsight, perhaps we should have handled the situation differently but having to replace sheets after each guest visit can become a costly investment.  Should they return, I may just pick up a less expensive set of sheets for their next stay.

Sometimes we have guests that we immediately click with and, when they check out, there are hugs and promises to see each other again.  And, although I believe they are sincere at the moment, they are gone never to return.  I think about them occasionally and wonder how things are going - did their daughter marry the the boyfriend they were here to meet with for the first time, did they sale their house and move to the home of their dreams, are they still happily married, have they  fully recovered.

People often ask why we run this B&B that takes up our weekends and prevents us from traveling or being spontaneous or even relaxing and I always say "It's because of the guests!".  Everyone has a story and every story is wonderful.  We are touched by our guests and hope that we have been able to send them away with memories that they occasionally recall with joy and contentment.  We are so lucky to meet so many along the way and, maybe someday, we may meet again!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

2019 Rhythm On The River Series

There are so many wonderful things happening throughout the summer in Grand Rapids, OH!  Among our favorite events is The Rhythm on the River Concert Series.  Every show is a different genre so you are certain to find at least one performance (if not all of them) that is sure to please.

At The Grand Kerr House, we love starting Concert Sunday with a leisurely breakfast on the front porch (Bob makes the best omelettes!), walking into town afterwards to do a little window shopping (OK, sometimes I do a lot of real shopping), grabbing a late lunch at one of the many fine Grand Rapids restaurants, meandering along the towpath (with the beautiful river views), then grabbing our chairs and settling in for the show.  What a perfect Summer Sunday!

The event is held by the Wright Pavilion on the towpath along the Maumee River.  Concerts begin at 4:00 p.m. and are FREE and open to the public.  Be sure to bring a chair or blanket, maybe even a picnic snack, then relax and enjoy the show.

In the event of inclement weather, events are moved to the Old Fire Station on Main Street.

This year's schedule is:

Unclouded Day
Vocal and Instrumental Ensemble
Presenting Sacred and Patriotic Music
4:00 p.m., Sunday, June 9, 2019
 
Bliss
Acoustic Rock/Folk
4:00 p.m., Sunday, June 23, 2019
 
Glass City Steel
Toledo School for the Arts
Steel Drum Ensemble
4:00 p.m., Sunday, June 30, 2019
 
New Moon
Blues on Guitar, Harmonica, Bass and Drums
4:00 p.m., Sunday, July 14, 2019
 
At Sundown
Paul Keller Trio
Jazz on Piano, Bass, Clarinet and Vocals
4:00 p.m., Sunday, July 28, 2019
 
North Coast Big Band
Jazz~Swing Music~Big Band Sound
Director:  Gary Keller
4:00 p.m., Sunday, August 25, 2019
 
Ol’ Creek Road
Folk Band Playing Bluegrass, Gospel, Americana, 1970’s Tunes
4:00 p.m., Sunday, September 15, 2019
 
Otsego Swing Choir and Otsego Marching Band
4:00 p.m., Sunday, October 6, 2019
Local High School Organizations
Directors:  Brien Sewell and Rich Dubler


Reservation Options for B&B Owners

Today I am thinking about the many Reservation Services that are available to B&B Owners.  Options range from a desk calendar with pencil (never ink!) to simple on-line services to sophisticated, sometimes complicated, integrated systems.

We started out with more, went down to less, and still question what we really need.  Even though our website allows potential guests to book on-line through the site, I have found that the majority of our guests still like to pick up the phone (to get additional information about our B&B and maybe to find out if we sound like nice people) before making their reservations.

Personally, when I am making travel reservations, I like having access to an on-line calendar where I can see if rooms are available and what the pricing is.  I enjoy comparative shopping before committing.  Then I will call and make the reservation if that is an option.

What are some of the services that reservation systems can provide to the B&B Owners -

1.  Allows you to indicate what rooms are available and what are not so that searchers know right away if there is room at the inn - you can block out rooms that are not available for things like repairs, family and friends visiting, and your own availability.

2.  Sends out confirmation emails to people making reservations

3.  Provides Data Collection including occupancy rates, busiest days, most booked room, taxes and fees collected and more.

3.  Collection of payments for depositing to to your bank.

4.  Provides a history of guest information

5.  Can track what rooms need cleaning (nice if you have outside cleaning service that has access to your calendar and comes in as needed)

6.  Links your calendar to other reservation providers including booking.com, airbandb and expedia.

Of course, everything comes with a price.  Our reservation provider has several levels of service at different pricing

A.  Basic for $20 per month
B.  Essential for $75 per month
C.  Professional for $85 per month

And you get what you pay for!  All the bells and whistles can be nice.  However, as my cousin, who has a very successful B&B, has pointed out - fees can really cut into your profit when you are a small business owner.  How many rooms do you have to rent to pay your service providers (they can eat up your profit).

So when choosing which reservation system is best for you, think about how much time you have to manage your bookings and what is your potential house guest looking for.  I am not a full-time B&B Manager. I work Monday through Friday at my other job.  I am not available to answer the phone 24/7.   The majority of people making reservations today start out with an internet search before making that call or clicking that Make a Reservation button.  Your Reservation System needs to work for you and your guests.

I would opt for a calendar and pencil if I could but I know I would be losing bookings (and possibly my mind) if I did.  Since I don't pay the systems to do it all for me, I have to be responsible to make sure that all calendars on the internet are kept current (double bookings are no fun for anyone),  I need to take the time to send confirmation emails and invoices to people within 24 hours of making their reservation (or they will anxiously call too late at night to confirm) and I have to remember what I love about being a B&B Owner including managing the reservations that contributes to the overall Guest Satisfaction which is what it is all about.


Sunday, April 7, 2019

A Typical B&B Sunday Morning

I have heard so many guests say "I've always wanted to run a B&B!" and tell me "You are so lucky to have this wonderful place!".  I cannot tell you how many times I heard myself say those very words.  Owning a B&B has always been a dream of mine and I know I am very lucky to be here at this point in my life.  But did I really know what would be involved in maintaining an 8,000 square foot Historic Victorian Home and making sure that guests could enjoy my home without a care (complaint) during their stay.

I don't think anyone can really know what it is like to own and manage a B&B until they have experienced it themselves, however, I thought I would tell you about a typical Sunday morning here at The Grand Kerr House.

Before beginning, you need to know that I am not in this alone.  My husband, Bob, is in this with me 100% (maybe even 110%).  Through the past year together we have learned how to share the work and, most times, things run very smoothly.

This weekend we had four houseguests occupying two rooms - they were not traveling together but both groups were here enjoying a mother/daughter weekend.  Dawn & Hannah were  returning guests having been here a year ago and Allison & Lynne were first timers.

Breakfast is normally served from 8:00 to 10:00 am, though we have served breakfast as early as 5:00   am when requested.  This morning Allison & Lynne wanted to eat at 8:00 and Dawn & Hannah requested to eat at 8:30.   No dietary restrictions or special requests so we were serving what has become Bob's signature omelettes made to order.

The alarm went off at 6:00 am but I confess that it was probably closer to 6:30 before I got up.  I took a quick shower, got dressed and was ready to begin work at 7:00.  We live in the "Garden Apartment" of the house with a lot of stairs to climb.  First I climbed up to the second floor to pick up the snack tray that the guests left in the hall last night and then checked out the common bathroom space.  Lots of used towels and full waste baskets in there!  I took the tray downstairs and asked Bob if he had time to empty the trash and bring the linens down before starting breakfast and he immediately headed upstairs.  While Bob was tidying up the bathroom, I headed up to the first floor dining room to set the table for breakfast.  This is my favorite part of the morning, laying out the tablecloth and putting out the good china and silver.  I change out the dishes every day so guests who are staying multiple nights never see the same setting twice.  I like to think it makes walking into the dining room special every day.

While I have been setting the table, Bob has made the coffee and started preparing breakfast.  I always thought I would be the Head Cook at my B&B but I've become the Chief Bottle Washer.  It turns out that Bob is a great cook and he really loves doing it.  I load the towels into the washer and then join Bob in the kitchen.  Bob is preparing the fruit bowls and I fill the water and juice decanters then head back upstairs with them along with the pumpkin bread and butter.  Then I go back downstairs, get the fruit bowls, and take them upstairs to set out for the guests.

Yes, there are a lot of trips up and down the stairs - especially for someone like me who has had both knees replaced - but I tell myself that the exercise is good for me and its nice that the guests can't see our unavoidable kitchen mess.

At 8:00 Allison & Lynne arrive for breakfast.  I grab their made-to-order omelettes, hash browns and bacon and take breakfast up to the dining room.  The ladies and I chat a little about their visit but I sense that they did not come to TGKH for my company so I only stay a few minutes.  Back in the kitchen, Bob has started the second set of omelettes that are done just in time for Dawn & Hannah.

By 9:00 the guests are served and Bob and I sit down with our omelettes (the joy of owning a B&B, we have wonderful breakfasts too!) and play a game of Gin Rummy.

At 10:00 we can hear the guests getting up from the table and I go upstairs to see if they need anything else and collect their final payments.  Allison & Lynne leave.  Dawn & Hannah stay to chat. We once had a houseguest who was a former B&B owner who gave us some great advice:  "When guests want to chat, one of you should stay and talk while the other starts to clean up".  So I talked while Bob cleared the table and started the dishes (lucky me!).

By 11:00 all the guests have checked out, the dishes are dried and put away, and we are ready to strip beds and start laundry.  The rest of the day will be spent doing the bookkeeping and laundry, cleaning the house, working in the yard, and getting ready for the week ahead.

Still thinking the B&B Life is for you?  It may very well be - I know that bob and I love it!  We enjoy the guests, we love the house, and it's nice to have a job where the people you work with just want to relax and be pampered a little - who doesn't want that?

So if you really think this is what you want to do, why not come spend a weekend and walk in our shoes on a Sunday morning.  We would love to share our time with you!