Talk to potential competitors during research phase?

23 replies [Last post]
Offline
Joined:
09/10/2008

If I stay at a B&B in the general area I'm looking to open a B&B, would you all recommend talking to the B&B owners about my future plans (since the plans are probably 5-7 years down the road)?  Is that in bad taste because I am a potential competitor?  I've seen lots of discussion threads where B&Bs refer guests to each other, so obviously it's in the B&B's best interest to be "friends" with other local B&Bs (i.e., competitors).  But I don't want to seem like a potential threat to anybody.  I'd like to know how business is, how difficult it was to open in the area, and how we could possibly work together down the road.

I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on this.

 

gillumhouse's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

As Copperhead pointed out - a lot can change in 5 -7 years.

We looked VERY hard to find  house in a town about 20 miles from here. It had a college and the rail-trail that gets a lot of publicity. Just could not find anything that would do - THANK GOODNESS!! That town, unbeknownst to us did not have a good relationship with the college that has since had 3 differnt owners (private university) and is struggling, the town has not had a strong leadership, and today is worse off than my City when we we at our lowest. That town is now embroiled in a water project controversy as it is needed for customers but the question is can those customers pay for the water.

My City hit bottom as far as business in town but had a rail-trail come in (and a B & B after I opened) that started a resurgence as people started coming here. It took a lot of people doing a lot of things and I am happy to say (fact, not brag) that I was in on a lot of it. A lot of the people who came to town were because I marketed it but I was also going to Council meetings (served for 1 1/2 terms) and involved with the City. Because the City started doing things - like upgrading our water system, building codes, zoning - we were invited to take part in some training programs for revitalization and development that will quality us for other possible grants in the future.

None of the above would have been dreamed of 15 years ago and was just starting to be seen 5 years ago.

Find where you want to live FIRST. If you are not happy living there, you will not have a good business.  If you buy turnkey, you know business CAN be there (good marketing can do wonders) if the business has been there more than 10 years but you need to like the town and the people in it (unless you are a hermit at heart and then you are going into the wrong business) to be able to promote it.

My guests rarely are coming to the Gillum House - they are coming to the area for something. I promote WV, my region, my area, and my town and by the way, here is a great place to stay....Love the town first!

Offline
Joined:
05/30/2008

I don't think that there's a problem in telling them.  Most innkeepers (in my experience) would feel good that you felt their area could support another property.  I would not ask specific questions about their business or badger them with questions about how the B&B business is in their area.  Lots of innkeepers (except JBJ, who is sick of getting asked...haha)  like to talk about how they got into the biz, what was involved in renovating, or fixing up an existing inn, etc.  The conversation will probably evolve naturally, especially if there is wine involved   I had many enthusiastic innkeepers (some on this forum) share their advice and inn-sight when I stayed with them

Actually, you might encounter an innkeeper that is thinking of selling their biz a few years down the road! 

__________________

People don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy.
~ Anton Chekhov

 

JunieBJones (JBJ)'s picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

Samster wrote:

I don't think that there's a problem in telling them.  Most innkeepers (in my experience) would feel good that you felt their area could support another property.  I would not ask specific questions about their business or badger them with questions about how the B&B business is in their area.  Lots of innkeepers (except JBJ, who is sick of getting asked...haha)  like to talk about how they got into the biz, what was involved in renovating, or fixing up an existing inn, etc.  The conversation will probably evolve naturally, especially if there is wine involved   I had many enthusiastic innkeepers (some on this forum) share their advice and inn-sight when I stayed with them

Actually, you might encounter an innkeeper that is thinking of selling their biz a few years down the road! 

If you compare us to other B&B's...we have mostly one nighters so that we are asked twice as often as the rest of you guys.

__________________

"What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds." Will Rogers

 

swirt's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/17/2008

One tact that worked for me was that I built my website when we had only hatched the idea. The site indicated what we were going to be, but then provided a list (with links) to other B&B's in the area.  Of course this was back in the day before search engines added history and time delays in the equation and I could pop a site into page one within a few weeks. (boy I miss those days, they were fun  )  By the time I went to chat up a few B&B's they already thought it was cool because I was sending them guests already.  I think it loosened them up a bit.

If your plan is really several years out, I would not be so serious about approaching them, I would just stay with them, observe everything you can take in, express a real interest in the area and interest in running a B&B.  No need to jump right to connecting profession and location together.  In fact I'd go mainly with location specific interest as a lot of the nuts and bolts you will get out of them will be similar to what you'll find hanging out on this forum  Eye-wink

Offline
Joined:
06/24/2008

KP wrote: "I was planning to be very up front about our thoughts and ideas and to email the innkeepers ahead of time to see if they would even be interested in sitting down and talking with us.  I would never ask personal questions re: occupancy, but only generally about the area and B&B life:  is tourism up (or at least consistent with what I've gathered from my research)? do they see it increasing or decreasing down the road?  do they have other jobs? what do they like/hate about being B&B owners?"

In my case, we had lived in the area for almost 15 years before purchasing a home to renovate and open a B&B.  During that time we had learned from the scuttlebutt around that it would be to our best interest to get through the hurdles of getting our zoning in order before much talk or we may very well have a problem getting the zoning passed. 

Why? - One that was afraid of competition.  And I agree with GH regarding 'competition'.  Why do you think Mickey D's always is across the street from BK's or another burger joint...they feed each other business!!! But many of business owners (including inkeepers) do not get it and feel you are going to come in and steal away their guests. 

You have mentioned your time table on this venture what you haven't stated (unless I missed it) if you plan to move to your 'chosen' city & future B&B prior to that time frame to settle in?  LOTS can happen in a five year time frame not only with the chosen location but in your own life.  If you are planning to move in the near future, make sure you would be happy LIVING there, not just because it seems to fit the 'ideal' location for the future B&B. 

In research for the 'ideal' location, you may want to get with not only the state B&B association, but also with the state and local tourist commissions.  They can give you a lot of information about historical lodging occupancy #, now that would include all lodging, not just B&B's, but that data is very helpful.  They also have a good idea of what is predicted in the near future in terms of tourism, industry etc which affect occupancy.   I would leave my questions regarding this to these groups.  Now I am not saying that they have that crystal ball of seeing the future, but they are your best shot! 

In our area, 5 - 7 years ago NO one was predicting what is currently happening in our area.  This area was establishing itself as a 'nature lovers paradise' as the promotions go - have fun in the big city and then take some R&R in nature.  That was 3 years ago, now we are in one of the countries biggest boom areas and this area is becoming a big business (mostly high tech) corridor.  My business has changed from 85-90% tourist (or visiting familes,friends, romantic getaways) to 85-90% business travelers.  NOW that is a substantual change in 3 years!

In addition to finding the 'ideal' location should also include what laws the area has surrounding this industry.  And I do not want to burst your bubble here but these laws are forever changing and in most cases have become MORE strict than in years ago.  In my days of research, I felt that as time went on and more people were aware of the positive aspects of this industry that laws would become more lax.  So give 5-7 years in the future, who knows what the laws will be in the area you choose. 

I am not saying all this to discourage you, not in the least.  We took our time as well.  I just wanted to help you take off those rose colored glasses and see with your eyes wide open what can happen in 5-7 years.  Please stick around.  Learn about the industry from all of us here and have fun while looking for that ideal spot. 

YellowSocks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

Hi... sorry coming in late on this one.

Before we settled in Ashland we gave serious consideration to moving to the Erie, PA area.  We had done some research on B&B's, were strongly leaning toward opening one, and had somewhat narrowed down what we were looking for. 

We booked a stay at a B&B in the region, and I was up front about the reason for our visit on the phone.  We stayed three nights (I think) and spent almost all day out with a realtor and simply driving around the area.  Had we bought there, we would have ended up at least a half an hour from the inn we were staying at.

I would never have dreamt of asking them about occupancy rates!  We did discuss the area in general, and a little bit about their history and why they opened a B&B (which I'm sure they've told a million times anyway).  They wondered about a couple they'd met who were going to build a B&B from scratch down south... they hadn't heard if it was opened or not.

In addition to talking with them, I also interviewed several innkeepers in Maryland.  In each case I made an appointment and basically had a tour in the afternoon.  The innkeepers were beyond gracious... it's fun to talk about your business, to explain why you do things the way you do, especially if the recipient is attentive and gracious.

So, we ended up in Ohio instead.  We didn't talk to any of the other innkeepers before we bought, but I called and introduced myself even before we opened.  I am fortunate to be in a place with wonderful B&B's and innkeepers.  I wouldn't call them my competition, though.  Each of us is so different from the others... I take kids, another is historic, another is romantic.  And when there are races at Mid-Ohio, or conferences at the seminary, there are plenty of bookings for us all to be full.

=)
Kk.

JunieBJones (JBJ)'s picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

KP Wrote: Your comments raise another point for me:  Is the life of B&B ownership really so short that I should not expect these owners to be the same 7 years down the road?  Is that because of how demanding the job is?  Or because people move on to bigger B&Bs?  Or because people retire?

Yes, Yes, NO and Yes.  ha ha

Add other variables into that as well.   Burn out rate is high.  Having people in your home day after day, drains you. Imagine having relatives stay with you? When they leave do you sigh?  Oddly enough when the guests are not here we miss them.  But it is a lot of work. Always being dressed with shoes on, lawns manicured, heating or a/c set just right, living under a magnifying glass or in a fish bowl.

For those who RETIRE and do this my hat is off to you.  There is no way I could be more aged than I am (howz that for being coy) and do this.

You basically get your fill of it, this adventure called innkeeping and move on.

VERY VERY FEW (and this is what our guests are MOST shocked at my revealing)...VERY VERY FEW INNKEEPERS ever have a second inn.  They do it, day in day out, they are done.  Ask Catlady for some examples, she is Inn-Retirement so to speak. 

It is a lot of fun, don't get me wrong.  We run the show, but we are TIED TO THESE places.  When someone gets married you typically can't go, it is on a busy weekend.  Kids soccer games - if you have kids you become a single parent as one parent needs to be here to check in guests who end up showing at 10pm and not calling, and you could have gone!  Now you resent them.

If someone wants you to attend something you need MUCH notice.  You usually don't get it and cannot make it.  Events happen on weekends, grandkids bday parties, all of that is out of reach for you.  So that wears thin and you want to be back with your family, friends, life.  You give IT ALL UP to run an INN.  That is the truest statement I can make.

Catlady mentioned not very many geusts on Sundays, that was her no guests day.  We ALWAYS have guests on Sundays checking in.  A ton check out, a couple check in and so we have to clean rooms for that check in when we really want to just go to church, have sunday chicken and watch football or Nascar as a family. 

DH works outside the B&B and weekends and evenings he works IN the B&B.  Weekdays he is let off for the most part, but tonight he must mow the lawns. 

JunieBJones (JBJ)'s picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

Bree, that was what I asked that couple here.  Apparently I was only to provide them with info, not the other way round.  The sister mentioned her sharing a bath with the second floor rooms. I asked if she was renovaing and adding private baths, and has the sister made sure that is legal in this state - Innkeepers sharing a bathroom with guests?

 

Offline
Joined:
09/10/2008

Thanks, all. I'm happy to see that this industry views itself this way and that innkeepers are generally forthcoming with information. 

I was planning to be very up front about our thoughts and ideas and to email the innkeepers ahead of time to see if they would even be interested in sitting down and talking with us.  I would never ask personal questions re: occupancy, but only generally about the area and B&B life:  is tourism up (or at least consistent with what I've gathered from my research)? do they see it increasing or decreasing down the road?  do they have other jobs? what do they like/hate about being B&B owners?

Of course, I recognize that we may not do this for seven years or so and things could change, but information is information!

Your comments raise another point for me:  Is the life of B&B ownership really so short that I should not expect these owners to be the same 7 years down the road?  Is that because of how demanding the job is?  Or because people move on to bigger B&Bs?  Or because people retire?

Oh, and Gillum:  My parents would die if we moved up to WV and did this! (They're in MD)  But, we're pretty set on the area for other reasons (my husband's family, potential side job for me, etc.)  Thanks for the offer though! Smiling

egoodell's picture
Offline
Joined:
06/01/2008

 I would rather than plan to sit down with them do this - I would find out their "slow season" and book a weekend. Then you could ask them some questions. You are asking them to give you their time and expertise for nothing. I don't know of any consultants that work for nothing. Their expertise is of value

Riki

__________________

Riki Goodell
Arcady Vineyard Bed & Breakfast
Arcady Vineyard Wine Tours
www.arcadyvineyard.com
Come! Let us show you the beautiful Monticello Appellation!

 

Morticia's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

kris_pip wrote:

Your comments raise another point for me:  Is the life of B&B ownership really so short that I should not expect these owners to be the same 7 years down the road?  Is that because of how demanding the job is?  Or because people move on to bigger B&Bs?  Or because people retire?

 

I would ask how open the innkeepers feel they can be with you and don't table any questions until you know the answer to that. SOme innkeepers have found that the town they moved to is unwelcoming, or the town is welcoming but the other inns are not.

As to the questions above: if you are in the middle of the young family life, this is brutal. You can do it, but you need a lot of reliable outside help so you can have a family life. If you are retired/retiring, it is not as difficult but be aware that family events may not be a big part of your life. My daughter just called about the new g-baby on the way. I need to know TODAY when that baby is due because she's coming into peak season. Last year we took off in Sept- 3 days- to see another new g-baby. Baby arrived in Aug. Too bad. We went in Sept. I have friends whose daughter is getting married this month. It is costing them around $8000 in lost bookings to host the wedding at their inn. The daughter couldn't get married 2 weeks later, when it's slow? NO. She wants to get married on the date she wants, no regard for the parents' livelihood.

Yes, the job is demanding. Just read some of the PITA threads where you are going 16 hours/day and then someone wants to be fed at 4 AM so they can go out with a hunting guide and when you decline, they trash your kitchen in retaliation. Just the sheer amount of laundry in a day can drag you down.

And, yes, some go on to bigger or smaller places because they love this career!

__________________

Never judge a person's story by the chapter you walked in on.

 

Morticia's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

In that case, where it was strictly 'get the goods, don't give away anything,' I would have been a bit more aggressive in the responses to them. More like, 'Has she done ANY research? Does she know the state regs?' Like you said, tell them she needs a class. Most of the guests here who have asked generic questions have also volunteered a lot more info about their plans, they haven't been card players at all. (Card Players- guests who try to find out all the inside details of how to run a B&B, for their own information, without revealing anything.)

 

Morticia's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

If you are going to stay someplace and expect to ask the innkeepers some questions you need to be upfront with them on that. When you call, explain why you are going to be in the area, ask if they would be willing to talk with you, is there a 'slow' time you could make your reservation. I have had aspiring innkeepers stay with me in the past. As long as I know they are coming, I don't mind talking to them in depth. If the topic comes up in conversation at breakfast, I give a short version.

If I were to share info with you that you, in turn, used in some manner against me, say goodbye to any help once you open.

Be up front and you'll get further in the long run. If the innkeeper does not want to help in any manner, thank them for their time up to that point and try another B&B.

Want to make some points? You are 6-7 years down the road, right? GIVE some info as well as asking for it. Got a plan for bringing in guests? Give it away. It'll be passé in 6 years anyway.

Morticia's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

Wanted to add that you would get more detail from me if you showed you knew what you were talking about. That amorphous, 'I want to open a B&B, what's it like?' will get you a very general question. I WOULD answer questions on occupancy and seasonal trends. I don't want someone buying into the neighborhood who thinks occ is 50% year round and bases their goals on something that isn't true. I don't want you failing. Because if you fail, you're gonna take some of the industry with you when you go beause your level of service will drop.

We've had too much of that here already. Folks basing their plans on high occ only to find the guests aren't there and they don't have a fallback plan.

JunieBJones (JBJ)'s picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

KP Wrote: But I don't want to seem like a potential threat to anybody.  I'd like to know how business is, how difficult it was to open in the area, and how we could possibly work together down the road.

See these are actually the things I think you will NOT get answers to.  This is what I mean.   Work together? in t 5o 7 years?  That is a lifetime away, no point even discussing that. 

Work together means:  YOU OPEN, you introduce yourself and are cordial and then you refer guests when you can and have a working relationship.  There are fairly new owners to a B&B about 45 minutes from here and we have yet to meet FACE TO FACE, but have a respectful working relationship.  Because of this, and looking at their website, I will always recommend them.

Offline
Joined:
08/04/2008

JunieBJones (JBJ) wrote:

There are fairly new owners to a B&B about 45 minutes from here and we have yet to meet FACE TO FACE, but have a respectful working relationship. 

Kind of like Socks and her innkeeper acquaintance in Amherst.

JunieBJones (JBJ)'s picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

Yeah see the title of this thread makes it defensive automatically to the current inn you wish to speak to.  Other than a couple innkeepers I know here who have inns on eiterh side or across the street, most of us are unique enough to not have actual "competitors."

When someone new opens an inn and jumps onto what we have worked so hard to build.  Marketing and advertising etc to promote our areas and does not get on board of give of their own resources, then that could be looked down upon.

There are plenty of B&B's/Innkeepers who never even get a chance to meet yet send referrals, I do when I can.  ONCE you are open - is when I will quote "We are all in this together" before you open, it is not the case.  For every 10 aspirings there is only 1 who opens and inn.  (theoretically speaking, I am sure others have the stats)

Then there are what I will call substandard B&B's who operate differently, perhaps under the radar or do things of which you yourself do not do or approve, or even simplt find foolish.  They are there and guests think all innkeepers work for the same boss, so we all know each other.  So guests call and take your time asking about them, and you know very clearly you would not stay there yourself, nor send any one to them.

I am an open book and love to share about this business.  BUT - when I am approached and told like by the lady RIGHT NEXT DOOR "I am going to come over so you can tell me how to run a B&B."  Oh you are?  What the!   Good luck with that.  and oh, btw GET A CLUE!

So let's face it, not all aspiring innkeepers aspire at the same level.  Not all innkeepers do what we do either.  An owner of a B&B will likely not be the same owner in 5 to 7 years. 

seashanty's picture
Offline
Joined:
06/02/2008

5-7 years down the road is quite a ways off.  your plans could change, the area could change ... but if you are scouting out a property, i see nothing wrong with booking a room at a place and letting them know your future plans and asking if they have a little time to talk.  just for general information, not specifics of their occupancy or revenue ... that is very private info. 

when my boss/partner bought this property, i booked a room at the hotel across the road and told him exactly who i was and why i was coming to stay up here.  i asked if he had time to talk to me and he did.  mind you, the deal was already in the works which he knew.  i was asking to meet him ahead of time.  

gillumhouse's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

Kris, come to my town. I will be happy (estatic) to be able to help you open a B & B in my City!! I am offering over 12 years of paid advertising and marketing - free of charge as I have already paid it! You opening in my City will help both of us increase occupancy - the perception as I see it, is that one can be anywhere but two or more means there is something there to go see and do!

Especially if you are coming as a paying guest in the winter when I am less likely to have other guests to tend to. I DO answer questions on the phone when State agencies tell people to contact me to ask about B & B. BUT I AM A SMALL INN - I do not have 6 or more rooms to flip, fluff, or see to.

My City is worried what will happen to my inn when I go ga-ga or croak. I really hope to see another in place here before that happens. My 3 rooms does make a difference! So come on down and find the best place on Earth - to me anyway.

Edited to say I realize I am a whacko and not the norm. There will be many who would have appoplexy at the thought of another B & B anywhere near. Look at how many are in that area before you consider it a viable area. There IS a saturation point.

Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

Yes indeed ...I hate the word competitor!!!  We are all in this together and there are enough guests in this world to go aroundSmiling 

Unfortunately.... not everyone feels that way.

I would certainly say something to the innkeeper...but  not when they are busy doing breakfast, or cleaning or  at a time when it is inconvenient for them. As we all know...innkeeper's personalities are VERY Different. While I could spend hours sitting down and chatting with an aspiring innkeeper..other may not be so inclined to do so.

If you have some really legitimate questions about innkeeping...and not just asking about occupancy like JBJ said, email the innkeeper ahead of time and tell them of your interest and ask if they might be willing to sit down say for an hour sometime during your stay...at their convenience..to chat about it just a bit.

Then wait and see what they say. There is no way I would plan a visit to an inn and then corner an innkeeper with tons of questions. That is just not good form.

IF they see you are up front and really do want some information, then they may be willing to share with you.

egoodell's picture
Offline
Joined:
06/01/2008

 I would not take their time as mentioned here, but we spoke with other B&B owners when we ran into them here before we opened and they were all very nice and answered our questions. 

We didn't ask them about their occupancy, more like if they had any advice on how to deal with our County as they are stinkers. Right now we are going round and round just to get the okay to put up our sign. On our own property!

One B&B here gives a class at the university on how to run a B&B and I went to that as well. It was good. 

Check and see what your state does. Is there a B&B association in your state? You can often join as an aspiring owner for not much money and then can ask away, and go to the yearly convention. We have one here in Virginia in January, with an aspiring class where you could ask all kinds of questions. 

Riki

Offline
Joined:
08/04/2008

Heck, I work for someone who might potentially be a competitor one day. I think, for the most part, "competition" is an ugly word. I think it might have been Catlady who told me that a few months ago.

In my experience of talking with owners and researching, I've found most owners to be very upfront people. Most of them had to get their knowledge of the industry before they started from somewhere. The most recent former innkeeper I spoke with says she has a "pay it forward" attitude. She loves to talk with aspirings because she was one a long time ago, too. She claims she drove those innkeepers NUTS with questions and concerns and more questions. She says that the decent, gentle way they dealt with her remains the model for how she deals with aspirings.

However, I am not sure how I would handle talking with owners on a peer level as opposed to a mentor/student level. I would suggest paying them for their time or offering to take them out to dinner or cofffee of something. Sometimes, it is a way to ease discomfort. They can tell if you are asking "potential innkeeper" questions or just shooting the breeze with them. No one likes to be taken advantage of.

JunieBJones (JBJ)'s picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

You better pay them for their time.

I have calls and even a few who stop by and want to TAKE MY TIME so I can tell them how to open, how to operate a B&B and it ticks me off.  DO SOME BLOODY HOMEWORK (I am saying this to them, not you, I know you have and are which is why you are here).

When I ask them to please call for an appt as I have rooms to clean they act all put out and don't call back.  Gee sorry!!!

You might have some very uncomfortable innkeepers if you just drop it on them while you are staying.

I have guests ALL THE TIME ask me about this business.  I can tell if they are serious or just curious.  Big difference in the type of questions.  Again, it is VERY personal.

I wouldn't do it.  That is just me coming from this side of the table.  Guests last weekend whose sister is not too far from here renovating an old boys school into a B&B.  They were asking me questions FOR HER.  I asked THEM a couple questions, and they had no answers.  I suggested she take some classes and get some info on this state here.

First thing aspirings ask an Innkeeper is basically about occupancy.  That is the one question and innkeeper will not answer. That is like asking someone how much money they make.  Just an fyi.  That is something you will want to know, right?  I would.    Let us know how it turns out KP.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.