Questions for Innkeeper when purchasing an inn

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Lisa1958's picture
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First, thanks everyone for all the great info. I have been lurking for awhile. I am considering buying an existing b&b. I have a meeting set up with a inn for sale on Monday. I have my own list of questions from all the things I have read on the forums and in books. If you could do it again what questions would you ask at the initial meeting?

thanks!

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Concerning the sewer line going through Gillium's yard. "Forget" it is there. Never speak of it again.... We had a big ol' one going under the corner of our Inn #1 in Downtown Atlanta.... and we feel we would NEVER have been able to sell that house--not ever--IF anyone actually knew exactly where the line was. People are so nervous these days. Never give them something else to worry about (probably won't collapse and if it does, well, innkeepers "deal with things")

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gillumhouse's picture
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It really is not a "worry"as it runs along the property line between us and next door (physical therapy business. It is not under the house or anything like that. Is totally enclosed and buried. We just know where it is and so does everyone else - ours exits into it also.

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gillumhouse wrote:

It really is not a "worry"as it runs along the property line between us and next door (physical therapy business. It is not under the house or anything like that. Is totally enclosed and buried. We just know where it is and so does everyone else - ours exits into it also.

My town has no idea where the plumbing goes. Because of trees and roots constantly clogging the line we wanted to run it a different way. No one could tell us if there was a line we could hook into going in the opposite direction from all the trees. So we spend a lot of money on having the line reamed out every once in awhile.

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OnTheShore's picture
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In an ideal world, the neighbor whose sewer line crosses your property should have an easement recorded at the registry of deeds, meaning that there should already be a record on file (which would likely be discovered when a prospective buyer's agent, or their mortgage company, does a title search). The existence of the sewer line (easement) would also likely be covered by disclosure laws, meaning that since you know about it, you are required to let prospective buyers know about it.

I agree that it is just one more thing for somebody to worry about, and while one can certainly choose not advertise these things widely, one cannot hide them.

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In OUR (Inn #1) case, the CITY owned the line--it was a main feeder for a block of houses nearby: made of brick about 3-4 feet tall, a few feet wide and freely flowing. One could see it free flowing down a grate in the back yard (of our residence but NOT our inn!) . And we knew to unstop it when it rained (an unfortunate combo of sewer and rain water run off piping; Atlanta had 23 miles of it with no funding to fix it. We never  thought about WHERE it went until what I describe below was a topic of neighborhood news:

Truth be told, city had NO IDEA where their lines were! Maps were in accurate or non-existent. As a brick structure they were hard to trace after the fact...  Developers in the late 1800s through about 1935 just put things in when/where they needed them, making all the pipes run downhill toward the river. This came to light when one collapsed somewhere between a small shopping area and a park, resulting in the corner of a grocery store falling in about 1.5 miles away ....Then we began to wonder...

We always thought the pipe either ran under the house OR just next to the foundation but outside the inn-house footprint.... the direction of the main sewer in the street was generally that way. One could only guess. Since nobody asked our Realtor or us about it we figured they had all the info they needed from us. Any written info is available at City Hall. In fact, aside from demanding some electric box work, they never asked anything of us.

As they say: answer the questions and don't offer anything not asked.

OnTheShore's picture
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Mountain City host wrote:

As they say: answer the questions and don't offer anything not asked.

yes

seashanty's picture
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Update since this thread has resurfaced - I see that it looks like one can make a rez at the place in France in limited timeframes. Very curious! Hope all is okay there ... 

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You wouldn't buy a car without test driving it.

Ask if you can stay there for a week and work for them in exchange for a free room.  

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 I hope not!  Before I buy someone's product (book, consulting service, webinars, etc) to help me improve my business, I look at that person's original business to see if it's doing great, website appealing etc.  

She put a lot of thought into referring people elsewhere ...  but if her b&b is thriving, being managed by the team she mentions in her webinars and books, so that it hums along while she concentrates on other revenue streams, why no updates to the blog?  Can all rooms be booked for the year?  Like I said, worrisome.  Unless it's just changing hands.

Can certainly learn a lot from her approach but now my curiosity is high ... 

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You know, I read what you wrote and clicked over, and thought "boy has time passed" I better be careful when I say something, like I do. I say things about places and then realize, it has been FIVE YEARS since I have been there! How in the world has that happened. So, for my prev comments, it has been a few years since I read what was written, and so my comments were from back then. If a person is a social media person and doesn't update anything, then that is not on.  I don't know or understand any of the video letting people know of another place, other than she is closing down or sold, or personal reasons. In any event, I hope it is a good reason!

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seashanty's picture
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I am familiar with the Yvonne Halling webinars and her consulting service.  

Being reminded of her, I went to her website  http://bedandbreakfastinchampagne.com/book-online-now    and ... 

would like to know why they are not accepting any reservations for the remainder of 2015 at her b&b in Champagne.  Illness? If they were full, I'd expect more recent postings than the last Blog post on her website that was Happy Christmas 2014.  Worrisome. 

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Maybe she's making so much with her book she doesn't need the B & B LOL!  Her blog hasn't been done in ages.

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I don't think anyone comes into innkeeping with those concepts Unders, unfortunately, they think it is baking muffins and entertaining...and I agree it can make or break you. I think Yvonne has nailed it and I love reading her pov too.

Thanks for the insight into her book and recommending it.

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I saw tonight my goal clearly. In the movie ratatouille, the tough critic Ego is served "ratatouille" - a peasant food. He is rude and doubtful, until he is takes a bite. Suddenly, he is transported back to his childhood with his mom, remembering his poor upbringing. He is stunned.

Years ago, I spent 5 weeks traveling in Alaska. My first ever flight was around Mt McKinley/denali. I was stunned. Their tourism ad was "once you go to Alaska, you never come all the way home.

Nice breakfast and clean room is noise. Will your guests remember you 10 years later? Will you stun them?

A vacation is nice. But how will you change their existence?

I do not expect a serious response. But this is my set direction.

Halling is a sizable step in that direction, but not the whole path

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happykeeper's picture
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undersea wrote:

I do not expect a serious response. But this is my set direction. Halling is a sizable step in that direction, but not the whole path

Okay, I had to look it up. It certainly sounds like an amazing dance. Will it rock me? Maybe so. Is it something that is super big in your area? 

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OnTheShore's picture
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Joey Bloggs wrote:

I don't think anyone comes into innkeeping with those concepts Unders, unfortunately, they think it is baking muffins and entertaining...

I have encountered an innkeeper that was still (or back) under that delusion after more than 10 years on the job! In this case, she had already moved on (especially in her attentions), leaving her partner to be the boots on the ground, and she was imagining friends of theirs taking over for them -- "he can play guitar on the porch to entertain the guests, and she can bake muffins!" (exactly her words). It was definitely not what that inn needed at that transition!

The other couple did go on to open a coffee house (so indeed they are playing guitar and baking muffins...).

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Harborfields wrote:

Joey Bloggs wrote:

I don't think anyone comes into innkeeping with those concepts Unders, unfortunately, they think it is baking muffins and entertaining...

I have encountered an innkeeper that was still (or back) under that delusion after more than 10 years on the job! In this case, she had already moved on (especially in her attentions), leaving her partner to be the boots on the ground, and she was imagining friends of theirs taking over for them -- "he can play guitar on the porch to entertain the guests, and she can bake muffins!" (exactly her words). It was definitely not what that inn needed at that transition!

The other couple did go on to open a coffee house (so indeed they are playing guitar and baking muffins...).

I just commented on a local coffee house owner who is doing the same and her comments were "I am sitting outside the coffee house in warm sunshine enjoying a coffee and where are all of you who said I needed to be open Saturday mornings?"

Baking muffins and playing guitar...if only that could pay the bills.

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Hello, Lisa. My wife and I are finalizing our first B&B purchase on the 1st of June. Our process has been relatively smooth--so smooth, in fact, that I am hoping that I'm not forgetting anything. We have been fortunate enough to have good B&B mentors. We went to the PAII conference and met some really great veteran innkeepers that were great about sharing experiences and advice. 

We found out (and are still finding out) that we just don't know what we don't know. But the more we ask the more we learn what we don't know and what questions we should be asking. I ask the same questions to different people then take the best answer. Taking advice is like taking bids for a job. The cheapest is not always the best, but it doesn't mean that it isn't good. 

Good luck with your venture. 

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Lisa1958's picture
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I know that there is more I don't know than I know!

Good luck! What is your background? Previous life?

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I work as a safety and performance consultant in the oil field and my wife was a medical technologist, but she did a mid-life career change to massage therapist. She has been doing that for 12 years now. I will continue to work for a little while until we get a large chunk paid on the property and some remodels completed. 

Being a massage therapist, Shelley will be able to offer onsite massages. I see that you are a Chef. That seems to fit right in with the B&B business. 

Lisa1958's picture
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Thanks everyone. The inn is in a fairly large city. We got the financials and some response from the owner. It looks good on paper. There is a small staff and good occupancy rate. We have a million questions for them and ourselves. We will find out more this week but you all brought up some great questions.

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I can appreciate holding your cards close to your vest. Perhaps you can share more later. ( or not) Sounds like you are fully financed and trusting the paper they gave you. So if you truly are down to the operations, Small staff? Occupancy rate? 

Best wishes on your adventure, but one last thought from another thread.

What do you want to be? What expertise do you plan to promote? How do you plan on becoming a singular experience? What passion is driving you to own an inn? What's your niche? Why on this green earth would I want to stay with you? Hopefully its not because your a clean comfortable bnb two miles from the world's largest ball of twine. Hopefully its because you have something to offer I can't get anywhere else and I want what that is. 

Lisa1958's picture
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Occupancy is above 50%. There is a small staff in place. Thanks for you thoughts.

happykeeper's picture
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Best wishes on your efforts.

Occupancy is a slippery measure. We don't even look at it anymore.

The EBITAD or the Net Revenue Before Taxes( I think that what it's called) is less slippery.

Occupancy can be manipulated rather easily. How much money was made before you took advantage of your deductions is a little harder to fudge, but even there, you have to be on the look out for if the books are cooked. Were maintenance costs hidden, payments excluded, or owner's salaries manipulated. 

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salaries? Owners have salaries?

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happykeeper wrote:

Occupancy can be manipulated rather easily. How much money was made before you took advantage of your deductions is a little harder to fudge, but even there, you have to be on the look out for if the books are cooked. Were maintenance costs hidden, payments excluded, or owner's salaries manipulated.

 

I've turned my IRS filings over to my inn brokers at www.innpartners.com. who is handling finding me a buyer. There is no fudging that way. The ONLY thing real is what you report (all else is smoke and mirrors or lies).

Occupancy depends on a lot of things. I always tell "newbies" I could have 100% occupancy this year IF I rented for $25/room/night. OR, I could make a $100,000 threshhold IF I could rent to George and Mrs. Clooney for one night. Neither is happening! Reality is somewhere in between. Having had a 70-75% occupancy urban inn and now a rural inn at half that, "it depends."  Historic buildings need care and suffer when in constant use while not carefully kept. Innkeepers suffer from "too many guests at too little room night payments."

Pricing has got to be the most difficult (and important) aspect of any innkeeper's day/week/year.

I caution against buying an inn where the owners have already squeezed very potential dollar out of the market. There is nowhere to go but DOWN.  Instead, find one where--if you add your passion and develop your niche market--the only way to go is UP with the rates and the occupancy!  Look for strong groundwork.

PS If you have very high occupancy your rates are too low! Raise them ASAP. Work smarter not harder.

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true - a perfect example is my neighbour who is trying to sell, they are doing a 12 bed place no staff so as to make profits look as good as possible to sell - anyone taking it on would be crackers to try and do it with not even one chamber maid!

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Joey Camb wrote:

anyone taking it on would be crackers

LOL I haven't heard that forever. 

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Zoning in writing. Just because it is currently operating does not mean it will be legal once sold. My City got zoning AFTER I opened. Existing businesses were "grandfathered". Some may require a variance to continue if passing to a different owner. MY B & B is OK because I am in a mixed use (both residential and commercial). AND since I am on the Zoning Commission, ensured a B & B can be located in ANY district in my City., The Mayor sheepishly said in a Develop,emt Authority meeting (yes, I am on that too) that we need more B & Bs in our City. He was surprised when I said (almost shouted) YES, PLEASE!!!

The suggestion about the "lay of the land" is also excellent. Get the town newspaper - read back issues to see what is happening in the town. Are there empty storefronts? Does the town look like a place people would come to and enjoy enough to return? THIS should be your responsibility to check out.

I also agree with the previous comments about financials - YOURS and theirs. It is not fair to them to go through the answering your questions about THEIR financials if yours are not in order. Questions to ask would depend on the size of the B & B, the laws of the City/County/State regarding its operation (meals permitted, facilities required (remember grandfather), is innkeeper required on-site (will you be living on-site), are there any "grandfather" clauses that die with the sale that will cause more $$$$. Utility costs - what are they.

Good luck to both you and the seller.

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Owners cannot--and should not-- speak to zoning for a number of reasons, the first of which is it is NOT on them as the person leaving. Second, they have no standing and cannot change what is "reality." (3) they might not even know the truth or understand the laws (we are more skilled than most and WE won't speak to it for you). [See below]

Instead, it is up to the buyer to go to town hall or county zoning dept. and find out the truth from the horse's mouth.

Note:  [We went to town hall and ASKED before buying our inn.] My husband was a real estate attorney. I was a reporter covering zoning and such, dealing with the building dept. weekly.  We would NEVER sign a sale contract making the sale contingent on zoning. We aren't hiding the truth--we just aren't taking on YOUR issue. PS my zoning won't change when we sell, "I think."

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at least in the UK the equivalent of Zoning which is planning permission stays with the property ie we have our basement Zoned as a Café from a previous owner, we won't change it in case we ever want to do that will just sit as it is. Also in my town we are very keen to have bedrooms so there is a $20,000 fee to change from bedrooms to house.

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Joey Camb wrote:

there is a $20,000 fee to change from bedrooms to house.

 

That seems like a major rip-off

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You should see the fee around here to divide a house. I think it's 10% of the land value. So in my case, $50K.

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Joey Camb's picture
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its to stop people buying B&B's and turning them into houses - you would have to be super keen to have it as a house to do so.

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Cannot imagine wanting to do that.  It is usually the reverse

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undersea wrote:

Cannot imagine wanting to do that.  It is usually the reverse

 

It is the trend here.  Wealthy families buying the inns and turning them into awesome summer homes.

I don't like it.   Yes, we are getting more business, but the whole personality of the town will change if the B&Bs go away.  

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We always tell the BUYERS to go to the City Hall/Courthouse re zoning/building codes/etc and get it in writing. Being new, you are unaware I am on the Zoning and Planning Commission for my City since we got zoning. That is why I know to say do not take it that since it is an existing B & B that it will be when you buy it. Mine will be because #1 - I am in a mixed use district and #2 - I ensured when we were adopting Codes that a B & B can be in ANY district in our City. Too many have neglected this to their sorrow. What we grandfathered in when enacting our Codes will often NOT transfer to a new owner - ie body shop business.

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Welcome Lisa.  Here's an interesting question to ask yourself before you go forward - is it the cooking that you love or having guests stay in your home and being on for most of the entire day that you'll love?  I just had a guest stay with us this week who owned both a restaurant and then a small inn.  I asked her which she preferred and without hesitation she said the restaurant because "at the end of the dinner service, I could lock the door, finish up and go back to my home until the next day."  I think this is way more important that the operations of the inn and one most of us probably didn't investigate long enough before moving forward.  I would certainly want to know the following:

1.   income after expenses and debt service (will you have money to live on and take your own vacation or will it all be in the business)

2.  how many hours do the innkeepers work a day on average

3.  how much outside help do they have an does their help turn over every year -- very difficult finding good housekeeping help

4.  Is the business very seasonal?  If so, you'll want to be sure to take deposits on reservations so that you have cash flow over the year to survive

5.  as others have said, zoning -- be sure that they've got everything done right or you could find yourself with costly upgrades like sprinklers, etc. if they have recently become mandated; also find out what is going on in the Town.  Is it growing or dwindling?  Any projects like landfills, groups against the Town growing, etc. that could lessen your business in the coming year.  We had originally been going to build in one town and when I bought their local newspapers found out an inn's construction had been halted by a group trying to stop any development in their town.  Cost the innkeeper tons of money.  It's good to know if a town takes favorably to their businesses.  Also, see what the planning board has recently approved - if any other hotels or inns are coming in which could take some of your occupancy away.  We built at the same time that a local inn was selling and we have better occupancy than they do now and they have put all of their rooms on the OTAs.

6.  if you want to do dinner, what is required for you to do so?  You'll probably need a full commercial kitchen (along with fire suppression) so will it be worth it with the expense?  Are you going to do breakfast and dinner?  That's a really long day and why I haven't opened our restaurant yet even though I have the space and a commercial kitchen ready.  I don't want to work 16 hour days.  If you're going to hire help to do either breakfast or dinner, be sure the cost of the chef will leave you with a reasonable ROI.

7.  what will you do about healthcare?  I pay over $800 a month for a plan that only gives our family of 4 one physical a year and my mammogram - basically the only thing affordable to small business owners is what I refer to as a "god forbid policy" - it's in case we get seriously injured or sick and then we also have to cover the high deductible.  A lot different than when I worked in the corporate world and one of the biggest expenses innkeepers have to figure out if they aren't working outside of the inn

8.  after you've answered all of the above, is the scenario at the inn you're considering going to provide you with the life you want?

 

Good luck.

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#2 - reminded me of a pizzeria many years ago we looked into buying.  Working owners said it make $X net profit.  I asked, do you pay under the table?  Seemed the labor $$$ wasn't right for the financials.  Also, I asked, how many hours do you work here weekly?  He said "100"  I asked, "and your wife?"  "100".  Basically, if all the numbers were correct, they each made about $7 an hour, not counting the payments we would have had to make to buy the business.  And of course, self employment tax, the risk, etc,

Net profit is AFTER reasonable owner's salaries.  That is why biz buy sell . com type sites call it "owner benefit" or hint at tax savings.  In other words, the business might be unprofitable and they are trying to spin it.

There is a reason they are selling.  It is rarely because they are full and happy with so much money they just want to move on with their lives.  Watch restaurant or hotel impossible, etc.  The frustration, anger, hostility, heavy debt of the owners will be YOU, if you are not careful!!!

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undersea wrote:

There is a reason they are selling.  It is rarely because they are full and happy with so much money they just want to move on with their lives. 

And sometimes you simply want something else.... I think 23 years (for us) is far more than enough on one job, even a great job!

Also, health. We are 65+.  I can tell you, it is NOT the same at 48 as 64....

Do ask WHY. DO ask to see their tax filings. DO understand that most restaurants seem to cook the books (of the ones where I knew what was going on) and do know there are honest innkeepers out there.

I got Resnexus for reservations and accounting for just that reason.

Also, don't hold it against us IF the housekeepers don't stay for a decade. The kind of people who do housekeeping always move along. It is sometimes a blessing to keep changing them up.

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This is a very good reminder that the failure to account for ALL of the work is the number one reason why innkeepers are unbalanced, burned out, and unhappy. Over and over again this scenario plays out in the bnb industry. 

Undersea, I am increasing sure that won't be you. I like that you are putting your past business experience into play to ensure that whatever you end up doing will have a solid foundation going in. 

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I bought someone else's roofing company many years ago and got badly burned. It LOOKED really good and I did a lot of due diligence.  Spent a fortune on lawyers to qualify for a loan. Would not believe all the judgments and unpaid taxes the man had.  He cheated his church, his brothers and many others.  Lying, conniving person. 

Ran it for 3 years and learned more than I ever imagined.  Now I could tell people what to look for.

I have quietly observed a LOT of the commentaries from some active innkeepers here.  I saw myself, when I finally got out from under that mess.  The mail, the phone calls for money (which I did not have).

I think some forget this is a business.  When an innkeeper takes a bad review or comment personally, that goes with the territory.  If I pay an innkeeper $125 for one night, and they are miffed I don't praise their breakfast, or have a dietary issue and they are unhappy about the inconvenience or a host of other complaints I see here... In what other business model do these attitudes fly?  We can rant here, but some are living in a world that no longer exists.  There is a lot of competition out there.  We have to step up our game.

 

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Well, that is a big topic when you talk about the changes and what is required to be a part of the positive change that is going on in our industry. One thing to consider is that there is going to be less competition for certain markets that are emerging and building brands that bring your perfect guest from those markets to you is important. I have been thinking of starting a thread about it.  

 

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I posted a week or so ago a book that I think nails it. Becoming an expert in something, especially if it is something special in your area.

I don't think it was really grasped. It is a French Bed & Breakfast owner, Yvonne Halling. I didn't go or her course, but her book is a wises read: Bed and Breakfast Magic: How to Transform Your Bed and Breakfast Into A Booming 6 Figure Business.

It is not about having bicycles available, or catering to hikers or bikers or fishermen or skiers or having equipment available.

It is about finding a niche (you enjoy) and becoming an EXPERT in it.

As she describes herself: "I'm currently in the heart of the Champagne region of France, and I welcome people from all over the world, helping them to discover the hidden gems of Champagne."

People come internationally - champagne aficianados - to her B&B, and she connects them with small champagne growers, in the very heart of champagne country.

Essentially, she is not competing with others, asshe is it and people seek her out.

THIS I think is the future. Ask any serious business coach, and they will tell you the value of education, expertise in something that you pass on to others - appealing to hobbyists.

So maybe you are an expert in model rocket, astronomy, the bayous, ghost hunting, antique weapons, the hiddens of a tourist city, coins, mineralogy.

You then set yourself up as the expert, and people at your B&B (themed, classes, displays, whatever) get the deep value of your wisdom, knowledge and connections to excite enthusiasts.

Her theory is, you an charge what you what, since you essentially have no competition.

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undersea wrote:
You then set yourself up as the expert, and people at your B&B (themed, classes, displays, whatever) get the deep value of your wisdom, knowledge and connections to excite enthusiasts.

I think is not so much "the theme B&B" as it is the "experience at a B&B." That experience draws from YOUR expertise and interests.

More an more we are competing with the likes of AirBNB which is always about "the people/the hosts."

And for years now, innkeepers have been REMOVING their profiles from their pages. Wrong move, folks!!!  We should not be the center of the universe at the inn but as owners we are part of the experiential package.

All that being said, my husband and I are RENOVATORS first. So people come to "see the house" and "talk about houses, theirs and ours, techniques, etc."

However, we are also project oriented so, now that the "project" is mostly complete, we want to go do some other building (probably NOT another B&B--done 2; that's enough!)

I am finding my "biggest issue" in selling is that the personality of US looms too big. People with less business experience (aka most aspiring innkeepers) don't really know that they have to take the physical property and make it psychologically their own.  Just because I do weddings, decorate parties, take great photos doesn't mean they have to! MY business plan/process is not THEIRS.  I can hand them a beautifully renovated, functioning building and they need to run with it. I can teach how WE do it but they will have to find out how THEY want to make their money. Following your passion to do so is always the best.

Our bottom line is that once the "fixing" is over, we no longer have passion for the rest of it. Time to sell.  I'll be stepping out of the "showing game" (letting hubby OR a personable friend take care of it). When you sell a house they say "neutralize" the wall and floor color and take down the personal photos. For an inn, perhaps one needs to "take down" the personality which pervades the place, making it a blank slate for the new owners. PS I have a banquet room and there are many many things someone could do with that which is NOT weddings. Take your pick. Just don't ask ME to host a quilting bee or a couples retreat with personal interaction. I'd rather teach you how to sheetrock the ceiling, LOL!!

By the way, MY inn is at the base of a new state park with ATVing, shooting and such. It's going to be great! I'm not going to be the one out there riding/shooting, however!!!

PS I'm a girl.

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05/22/2008

Do you know my friend at Miss Match Rentals in Boone?

Garden_Pix_Inn's picture
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05/28/2015

We've met through the wedding planners group. But I've not used her at my wedding venue because I have my own (white) china.  Genius idea, however!

happykeeper's picture
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12/11/2008

undersea wrote:

Becoming an expert in something, especially if it is something special in your area.

It is essential 

undersea wrote:

It is about finding a niche (you enjoy) and becoming an EXPERT in it. Essentially, she is not competing with others, as she is it and people seek her out. 

Talked about this a lot in the past.   

undersea wrote:

THIS I think is the future. Her theory is, you an charge what you what, since you essentially have no competition.

Been sayin' this for years.

You'll find that there are a couple others on this forum that believe in these concepts and they are successfully operating experiential destination based properties. It is true that many continue to operate mainly as a place to stay that supplements what people come to do in their area, but that type of property is going to feel a lot of pressure in the years to come as the hotel build out continues to expand to meet the demand. 

I'm kind of glad to have a chance to reaffirm all these principles every so often. Thanks.

So...what will your area of expertise be? What niche is yours for the taking? What brand will you build?

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01/19/2015

Dup

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