Saturday, January 23, 2021

I Have A Dream! But Don't Forget To Plan.

Many of us dream about having a B&B.  We picture ourselves living the life of Dick Loudon, a creative spirit who, with his partner, owns and operates an inn in a small, rural town that is both home and guest house to eccentric, lovable characters. Yes, it is a wonderful dream.  But while you're dreaming, be sure to take a look at reality, and make yourself a plan.  I am a firm believer that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

I started working on a B&B Business Plan years before we purchased The Grand Kerr House.  I had a spreadsheet that allowed me to quickly drop in numbers to see if a break-even point might be achievable.  Oh-oh, did I say "break-even"?  That's right, I never thought in terms of making a profit or getting rich.  If that is your dream, then a B&B is probably not going to be your reality.  A Bed & Breakfast is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a house or small hotel in which someone can rent a room to sleep in for a price that includes breakfast the next morning". Normally a B&B will have four to six rooms and provide only breakfast. It's not easy to get rich with such limited offerings.

My personal opinion is that you can break even with four guest rooms working alone, make a profit with six guest rooms working with a partner, and find yourself totally overwhelmed with seven guest rooms unless you have a lot of (payed for hired) help.  But that's just my opinion.  The proof will be in your business plan and how well you execute it.

A Business Plan is needed for many reasons.  It will force you to develop a realistic budget.  The Bank or SBA Loan manager will want to review it before investing in your dream.  It will help you to understand your market, your targets, your guest offerings, your pricing, and a myriad of other necessary things.  You can write your own business plan, hire someone to put one together for you or even call me for help (I will do almost anything for a fee).  

A Business Plan is not only useful at a single point in time, it will be useful throughout the live of your business.  Once you have your B&B up and running, you can (and should) go back to it at least annually to see what has changed or should be changed.  Your Business Plan is a living document that should never be ignored or allowed to die due to neglect.

Business Plans should include the following sections -

  • The Summary or Abstract - a quick read for people not interested in the details
  • The Objective - a general overview of your plan
  • Market Analysis - customers, target market
  • Lodging Competition - what do they have that you don't have, what will make you unique
  • Competitive Strategy - market positioning and pricing
  • Marketing Plan - advertising, promotions and other opportunities
  • Management Structure - who does what
  • Sales Forecast - projected sales and expenses
  • Finances - start-up costs, sources of income

Be brutally honest with yourself during the process of developing your plan.  It's better to find the challenges early and implement the fixes before everything comes tumbling down around you.  

Of course Bob and I have had a few surprises along the way, things that did not work out how we thought they would, but a good plan has helped us keep living our dream.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The 5Ws of B&B Ownership

Congratulations!  You are the proud new owners of a Bed and Breakfast!  A million thoughts and questions are running through your head.  Answer these "5 Ws" in the beginning and you will be well on your way to finding the answers.

  • WHO do you want to attract as guests?
  • WHAT can you offer your guests?
  • WHEN will you be open?
  • WHERE are you located?
  • WHY will guests choose you?
Goodness!  This could easily turn into a half dozen more blogs or I could end this right now.  But I will try to be brief and get you pointed in the right direction...

WHO do you want to attract as guests?  This will be your target market.  We knew early on that we did not prefer guests with small children or pets and we could not accommodate people requiring barrier free or handicap accessible.  But do not rule out these categories immediately.  If you can open your doors to these, you will find yourself in a market with high demand.  Since like likes like, we thought about what we looked for when traveling and looked at the history of our B&B for ways to build on it's five-star reputation.  

WHAT can you offer your guests?  Take the time to look at your competition, maybe even spend a night or two with them.   Don't offer what they offer, you can't compete where you don't compare.  Find out what is not available in your area and see if you can offer that.  Is your home architecturally unique, on the Historic Register or a working farm.  Popular B&B packages include Romance, Health & Wellness, Outdoor Escapes, Remote Working and Seasonal Getaways. Do you have a talent you can share like cooking classes, baking, scrapbooking, music, drawing, writing?  Does your B&B have a swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, gym?  Now is the time to think about what you love and incorporate it into your new lifestyle.

WHEN will you be open?  Do you live an area where all four seasons are attractive or are some seasons best to be shut down so you can take time to travel, relax or work on home improvements.  Will you be open seven days a week or only weekends because you have a day job Monday through Friday.  Check the occupancy numbers of your neighbor lodgings (a quick look at their reservation calendar can tell you a lot with a glance) and see when their bookings are occurring, then think about why.  

WHERE are you located?  Are there local attractions that guests will be visiting?  Look at the 30 mile radius around you for an amusement park, zoo, museum, casino, hospital, college, wedding venue, wineries, anyplace of interest that people will be visiting.  Are there local bike paths, kayaking, golfing, skiing or fishing spots for guests to enjoy? Find the places around you that your family and friends recommend and list these on your website.  Work with your local business owners to put a package together for your guests and they may, in return, recommend your B&B to their customers.   

WHY will guests choose you?  Naturally, once you have your five-star ratings and start showing up at the top of a google search, guests will choose you first.  But until then, you need to make sure that you have an inviting website, fascinating Facebook page and an interesting blog.  Stress the W's we have talked about so far and make it easy for people to reach you.  Pick up the phone when it rings, return calls immediately and respond to emails the same day.  Accept a last minute reservation (in the beginning our motto was "always be prepared") and give your guests what they want (within reason).  Make it easy for guests to provide feedback ratings on google and remember that word of mouth goes a long way.

Well that's a lot of food for thought.  Did I miss anything that you would like to ad?  Or have I said something that you find questionable or outright wrong.  Let me know your thoughts and thanks for taking the time to read.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Thinking Of Opening a Bed & Breakfast

Well it's a New Year and I am committing to blogging.  I am making a note in my new 2021 Planner to "Blog" whenever I have the time, energy and something worthwhile to say.  As B&B owners, we often have guests that say they envy us our lifestyle and then ask us all sorts of questions about what is it really like to own a B&B (it's not all Gilmore Girls or Nights In Rodanthe).  We have had Hospitality Students and Aspiring B&B Hosts spend anywhere from a day to a week with us to observe and learn (with one young lady running out after six hours saying she didn't want to work this hard!).  We recently collaborated with Jon Nelson who is writing a book on Bed & Breakfasts and asked us some very interesting questions.  We are never at a loss of words when people ask questions, so I guess I am going to start sharing some of our information with you in these blogs.  

Please feel free to ask your burning questions and add your own comments.  There are no dumb questions and we certainly do not have all the answers.  

When thinking of opening a B&B, it is important that you have a vision of your target market and an understanding of what you have to offer that will initially attract guests and have them coming back for more.  Whether you are buying an established B&B or starting a new Guest House, you have to do what will make both you and your guests happy.  Sometimes carrying on with the old will work and sometimes you need to bring in the new.  If you are not happy, then your guests will not be happy.  Create a place where you would like to stay.  More than once I have said to Bob "I wish we could take a vacation here".  It's that simple.  

So how did Bob and I find ourselves at The Grand Kerr House - well, according to an article submitted by Gabby Deutch to The Blade in June 2016...

"Nearly 100 people gathered Thursday night in the rain at a public auction in the village of Grand Rapids for the historic Kerr House, though most there were not interested in bidding - they just wanted to see the beautiful home before it sold.

The three-story Victorian-era mansion sold to Bob and Cathy Trame of Maumee....When asked about their plans for the home, the Trames said they are 'exploring multiple ideas'."

That's right, we were clueless as you can see in our smiling faces on closing day.

Yes, I always dreamed of owning a B&B but, after two knee replacements and starting to look into retirement,  I had decided that I no longer had the energy for such an undertaking.  However, I guess Bob and I both got caught up in the excitement of the event and, somewhat impulsively, we threw our hats in the ring and the rest is history (we have a much longer, animated story that we share with house guests when asked).  With the opening of our doors, we tried several ideas - some that worked and some that did not.  And that is what I will talk about in my next blog.  

Let me know your thoughts - you know I am going to tell you mine!  


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!