Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Living In The Grand Kerr House - Day 3

Since I am currently working from home, we have decided that I should have my own office space to work in.  Bob says that my constant talking to myself while I am working is making him crazy (funny, my office co-workers say the same thing!).  He couldn't move me fast enough!

I have always loved the two bedrooms that were originally the servant's rooms.  Tucked away at the back of the house on the second floor, each room is approximately 10 ft by 17 ft.  Guests will comment on how large these bedrooms are but, then again, we don't know how many servants shared a room back then.  I am thinking that the servants used chamber pots back in the day as their rooms were not near the family's original bathroom (poor things were probably only allowed to clean the throne room but never allowed to sit on the throne itself).  No matter, it's just a short walk down the hall for me so I do not need to use the chamber pot - that could have been a show stopper!

When we have houseguests, these two rooms are used for our spa services.  One room is dedicated to massages and the other is used for esthetics (facials, body wraps, etc.).  Due to the C-19 shutdown, the rooms are not being used and I now have access.

I picked the corner room with two large windows - one overlooking the back yard and the other facing the church next door.  Bob moved a table upstairs for me to work at and a table for our grandson to do his homework at under my watchful eye.  This has been a good move!  I have privacy for the most part (somehow my grandson manages to escape for at least 4 of my 8 hour work day) and Bob is spared from listening to me talking to myself (and sometimes him) non-stop.

The house has excellent WiFi throughout so I have no trouble logging into and staying on my work programs.  An extra bonus are the church chimes next door.  Every day at noon the church plays peaceful, celebratory music from its bell tower - so relaxing and reminding me that it's time for my lunch break.  Yes I like this office space.

I may find it very hard returning to my office and giving this space back to the spa providers.  So, for now, I am counting this decision as a big win!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Living in The Grand Kerr House - Day 2

After checking out the available guest rooms, we made our "reservation" for the Autumn Room and started to prepare for our getaway.  We both packed just enough clothes for a one night stay - after all, we might change our minds and check out early so why overpack?  We also took our electronics (of course) and personal care items then headed to our room.

No TV!!!  I admit I watch more mindless stuff (just finished off the fourth season of The Magicians) and Bob watches mostly news (he keeps me well informed so I don't have to bother my pretty little head with it).  Without the TV to distract us, we were left to our own resources.  Bob did some reading and played Golf on his phone.  I perused Facebook and realized that having a good book to read may be a necessity.

There are a lot of books on the shelves in TGKH.  After looking through them, I realized that we have mostly history, scary stuff and some self-actualization reads.  Maybe I will have to head down to the used bookstore in Grand Rapids after it opens up and see what else I can find to add to our shelves.  I like the idea of having many genres to choose from with the option of letting guests take books with them if they haven't finished them during their stay.

This morning we slept in until 9:00 - that's really late for us but just goes to show how comfortable the bed really is.  The room was light but not too bright.  Bob talks about adding drapes or sun blocking curtains to allow guests to sleep in later but our breakfast hours are 8 to 10, so how late do we really want them to sleep in?  We will serve breakfast outside those hours if requested but I am thinking that late sleepers will just have to bury their head under the blankets if it gets too light.

Today was the first time I have ever used the guest shower.  Now I understand why people say they love that shower.  Water got hot fast and stayed hot.  Overhead shower head and hand held option (I used to work for Kohler Faucets and, of course, that is what we have in our guest shower here - really wonderful products!).  We have always told guests that the exhaust fan in the shower room turns on automatically but realized today that it did not happen.  We will have to look into that this week.

We also noticed little things that could have made our stay better.  There is a nightstand on one side of the bed only.  We had to put a little table on Bob's side of the bed for his things.  The room has a full closet but a tree stand in the room or pegs inside the closet doors to hang things on would be nice.    The rooms have transom windows that could let too much light through if the hall lights are left on for other guests - maybe we should look into curtains on the transoms to screen the light a bit.

Have you stayed at TGKH with us?  Maybe you have some additional suggestions for improvements that will make your next stay better.  We want your stay to be so grand that you come back again and again!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Living in The Grand Kerr House - Day 1

Please Join Us Living In The Grand Kerr House (as our virtual guests)! 

With the temporary closing of our B&B doors, we will be moving into TGKH to experience life in a 7,000 square foot historic home. This is the chance of a lifetime and we are inviting you along! For starters, check out the virtual tour on our website to familiarize yourself with the house. While you’re there, subscribe to our Blog (found at the “B” on the upper right corner of our website). And be sure to like and share our facebook page. We are looking forward to sharing our home with you!

Today we are making our plans and deciding a lot of little and big things. 

What bedrooms do we want to occupy.  Feeling like Goldilocks and The Three Bears.  Which of the three beds will be just right - the four poster king in The Autumn Room, the queen in The Winter room with the cozy reading nook, the king in the bright Summer Room. Or maybe even the bed that the original owners slept in that we have tucked away in the extra room.

What will we move up to our rooms - clothing, toiletries, linens, books, whatever.  I guess we are about to find out what our essentials really are.  

So, given these choices, where would you stay and what would you take?

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...


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.


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 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.


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.


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 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!