Life Changing Decision

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inndecision

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Hi everyone! I've been a fly on the wall for a while and have enjoyed the forum immensely. I am about to make the life changing decision to take over my aunts inn and am hoping for some sage advice as well as some answers to questions I still have. My aunt and uncle (deceased for 15 years) started the inn 30 years ago. It is in a wonderful locale here in California and for many years it thrived. In the last couple of years my aunt has been unable to tend to the inn. Inn occupancy has suffered significantly, in part because of her lack of presence and largely because the inn has zero web presence. She has always relied on a strong repeat business, word-of-mouth and referals. This worked well for them in the good ol days, however, as everyone here seems to know, there isn't much chance for an inn in a competitive market without the marketing and promotion through the internet.
Bottom-line is that, without my help, the inn is likely to fold. I'm willing and able to make the commitment to the inn (always wanted to be able to do it), but I'm still trying to determine the financial viability of trying to turn it around. Right now occupancy is down below 20% and her revenue is not keeping pace with expenses. I figured that I must get the average occupancy to exceed 44% for the year in order to show profitability.
Questions: I can't get a handle on the occupancy norm for a northern California, wine country inn (4 rooms). Where would I find some data on this? Also, I am inclined to think that, by developing a web presence, much as has been discussed here, we could siginificantly impact traffic. My question, is how quickly? There are many other marketing and promotion tactics that can be employed (lot's of great ideas in this forum) that will have an impact over the intermediate term.
Just trying to determine whether this warrants a big life change and commitment on my part. Very much appreciate your take on this.
Thanks!

Inndecision
 

JBloggs

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Welcome aboard!
PAII can help you out.
 

Joey Camb

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Hello I am not sure about the USA but I got a friend of mine to sign up with laterooms and booking.com and she increased her occupancy rate by 3 times what she was doing in a week it was that immediate. There are so many things you can do to improve occupancy that are free for example I know Joey will agree with me get a blog started, get a facebook page, get on twitter and build a good web site. I don't know what sort of state your Aunts inn is in (pardon the pun) but be aware it is a case of constant maintenance to keep it the standard guests expect. I would ask other US B&B's where the majority of their bookings online come from ie is it one specific webiste ie webreservations etc and get signed up. You also want to take a look in the local yellow pages are there any local companies who may need places for their employees to stay? (ie ones that have various locations like walmart etc) get on the phone and offer them a local corporate rate. Do market reasearch what are other inns doing? are they busy? ring up and ask pick dates and do a poll ask friends to help. what other competition is there in the area? are there events that draw people in? could you pay to be in their advertising as a place to stay while attending? We are all here to help.
 

seashanty

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if you're going to do it, start the web presence RIGHT AWAY. yes, to the blog, to a facebook fan page, a website ... even a basic one to start ... get yourself on there and get noticed. i turned around a wreck with a bad rep that had been vacant for years but it took a while to be FOUND ... still, we were self sustaining after that first season.
i had to work so hard to get us right on google maps, list with the local chamber of commerce, any local groups, gear up for publicity ... sending off blurbs about the place, the people ... if there is any data base at all (even a written ledger) i'd send out notes to all the old faithful that you are re-energizing aunt's place. i did a google search of the area to see what came up in different searches and did my dardnest to get links there. bbonline was huge for me ... the biggest draw of online bookings. free directories were helpful. pillows and pancakes gave me the best online map showing exactly the right location. there are so many options for being seen online now ... including twittering now. i had links incoming and outgoing all over the place to get us seen. even a listing for places offering free wifi ... just to get us noticed. and then i was able to whittle them down some.
if you want to do it, it is SO WORTH A TRY. rewarding, exhausting, frustrating, exhilerating. i say ... JUMP IN! with eyes wide open. stars in your eyes help get you started, but you have to be realistic and maybe you are just a little skeptical underneath ... seeing hard numbers isn't really possible because you are guessing and estimating .... but don't lose your momentum.
if the location is great and the place has great bones, and it was successful before, then why shouldn't it work for you?
keep us posted!
 

Breakfast Diva

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Welcome aboard!
PAII can help you out..
Also your local CVB (convention visitors bureau)...they should have info for all lodging occupancy rates. If al else fails, you can get the public info from your state/county of what the other properties paid in lodging tax and figure it out that way.
 

Emily Spiers

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Yes, as JB said, PAII can help you out.
It seems like you are going into this venture for different reasons than most others. I know the heart and the mind have to be together on this concept for it to work...
I also think it's more than desire. It's more than determination. It's more than anything else you'll ever do. It has to be done in a way that you can stay true to yourself. But, the good news is: it can be done.
Best of luck to you!
 

Innkeeper To Go

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inndecison, how quickly a web presence makes a difference to your aunt's inn depends on a great number of factors.
California wine country can be a lot of different regions/counties/locales. Some of them could use some revamped B&Bs. Some are overloaded to the hilt with B&Bs now. In some areas, the competition is fierce. Take a look at tripAdvisor for Napa, for instance. See all those 5-star inns? And then you get to the 4.5 star inns which is, in any other area of the country, pretty damn good. If your aunt's inn is in Napa, for instance, you've got an awful lot of folks vying for the same guests.
On the other hand, Sonoma County still has some areas that could stand a few more well-managed B&Bs.
So beyond the average occupancy level, you'll need to look at who the prospective guests for your aunt's inn a might be and how you're going to attract those guests. What makes this inn special and stand out from the rest.
But back to your question. How soon can you reasonably expect to turn an underperforming inn around?
With the right focus and the right team, six months is enough time to see a significant difference.
Will that be enough of a difference to sustain you and your aunt's inn? That's the question you really need to pursue.
 

Breakfast Diva

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Do you have enough cash reserves to turn the inn around? What sort of amenities are the nearby b&bs offering? Alot has changed in the industry the last 10 years and CA wine country is pretty upscale. Does this b&b come up to the standard of a modern property? I know you stated that the b&b was thriving 15 or more years ago, but it's important to make sure that time hasn't passed it by too much. How much money will it take to not only market the property, but to bring it up to a standard that will bring in the business.
 

inndecision

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Hello I am not sure about the USA but I got a friend of mine to sign up with laterooms and booking.com and she increased her occupancy rate by 3 times what she was doing in a week it was that immediate. There are so many things you can do to improve occupancy that are free for example I know Joey will agree with me get a blog started, get a facebook page, get on twitter and build a good web site. I don't know what sort of state your Aunts inn is in (pardon the pun) but be aware it is a case of constant maintenance to keep it the standard guests expect. I would ask other US B&B's where the majority of their bookings online come from ie is it one specific webiste ie webreservations etc and get signed up. You also want to take a look in the local yellow pages are there any local companies who may need places for their employees to stay? (ie ones that have various locations like walmart etc) get on the phone and offer them a local corporate rate. Do market reasearch what are other inns doing? are they busy? ring up and ask pick dates and do a poll ask friends to help. what other competition is there in the area? are there events that draw people in? could you pay to be in their advertising as a place to stay while attending? We are all here to help..
There are some short term upgrades (low cost) and then some long term upgrades (paid out of future profits) but it wouldn't take much to take the quality up a couple of notches. Appreciate each piece of advice and will follow up.
Thanks!
 

inndecision

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Yes, as JB said, PAII can help you out.
It seems like you are going into this venture for different reasons than most others. I know the heart and the mind have to be together on this concept for it to work...
I also think it's more than desire. It's more than determination. It's more than anything else you'll ever do. It has to be done in a way that you can stay true to yourself. But, the good news is: it can be done.
Best of luck to you!.
Interestingly, it has been a long time desire to run this inn. I guess it takes the incapacitation of my aunt to realize the dream. Seems to be coming at the right time in my life so it may be kismet. Thanks for your help.
 

inndecision

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if you're going to do it, start the web presence RIGHT AWAY. yes, to the blog, to a facebook fan page, a website ... even a basic one to start ... get yourself on there and get noticed. i turned around a wreck with a bad rep that had been vacant for years but it took a while to be FOUND ... still, we were self sustaining after that first season.
i had to work so hard to get us right on google maps, list with the local chamber of commerce, any local groups, gear up for publicity ... sending off blurbs about the place, the people ... if there is any data base at all (even a written ledger) i'd send out notes to all the old faithful that you are re-energizing aunt's place. i did a google search of the area to see what came up in different searches and did my dardnest to get links there. bbonline was huge for me ... the biggest draw of online bookings. free directories were helpful. pillows and pancakes gave me the best online map showing exactly the right location. there are so many options for being seen online now ... including twittering now. i had links incoming and outgoing all over the place to get us seen. even a listing for places offering free wifi ... just to get us noticed. and then i was able to whittle them down some.
if you want to do it, it is SO WORTH A TRY. rewarding, exhausting, frustrating, exhilerating. i say ... JUMP IN! with eyes wide open. stars in your eyes help get you started, but you have to be realistic and maybe you are just a little skeptical underneath ... seeing hard numbers isn't really possible because you are guessing and estimating .... but don't lose your momentum.
if the location is great and the place has great bones, and it was successful before, then why shouldn't it work for you?
keep us posted!.
Great ideas. Working on the web presence now. Have some background with that because of my previous biz. Thanks for your great ideas. Building my to do list.
 

inndecision

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inndecison, how quickly a web presence makes a difference to your aunt's inn depends on a great number of factors.
California wine country can be a lot of different regions/counties/locales. Some of them could use some revamped B&Bs. Some are overloaded to the hilt with B&Bs now. In some areas, the competition is fierce. Take a look at tripAdvisor for Napa, for instance. See all those 5-star inns? And then you get to the 4.5 star inns which is, in any other area of the country, pretty damn good. If your aunt's inn is in Napa, for instance, you've got an awful lot of folks vying for the same guests.
On the other hand, Sonoma County still has some areas that could stand a few more well-managed B&Bs.
So beyond the average occupancy level, you'll need to look at who the prospective guests for your aunt's inn a might be and how you're going to attract those guests. What makes this inn special and stand out from the rest.
But back to your question. How soon can you reasonably expect to turn an underperforming inn around?
With the right focus and the right team, six months is enough time to see a significant difference.
Will that be enough of a difference to sustain you and your aunt's inn? That's the question you really need to pursue..
Yes, you're right To Go. Luckily we're nicely located in the "other wine country" between the coast and the vineyards. I think everything is there - the problem has been the neglect of "the list" and any current marketing tactics. I hope to get the traffic up quickly enough to catch up with the expenses - maybe a 2 to 3 month target.
Appreciate your input!
 

muirford

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inndecison, how quickly a web presence makes a difference to your aunt's inn depends on a great number of factors.
California wine country can be a lot of different regions/counties/locales. Some of them could use some revamped B&Bs. Some are overloaded to the hilt with B&Bs now. In some areas, the competition is fierce. Take a look at tripAdvisor for Napa, for instance. See all those 5-star inns? And then you get to the 4.5 star inns which is, in any other area of the country, pretty damn good. If your aunt's inn is in Napa, for instance, you've got an awful lot of folks vying for the same guests.
On the other hand, Sonoma County still has some areas that could stand a few more well-managed B&Bs.
So beyond the average occupancy level, you'll need to look at who the prospective guests for your aunt's inn a might be and how you're going to attract those guests. What makes this inn special and stand out from the rest.
But back to your question. How soon can you reasonably expect to turn an underperforming inn around?
With the right focus and the right team, six months is enough time to see a significant difference.
Will that be enough of a difference to sustain you and your aunt's inn? That's the question you really need to pursue..
Yes, you're right To Go. Luckily we're nicely located in the "other wine country" between the coast and the vineyards. I think everything is there - the problem has been the neglect of "the list" and any current marketing tactics. I hope to get the traffic up quickly enough to catch up with the expenses - maybe a 2 to 3 month target.
Appreciate your input!
.
Someone did mention PAII - there is also CABBI, the CA state association for B&Bs. Someone from California could certainly speak more to it but they seem to have a lot of stuff going on.
 

inndecision

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Do you have enough cash reserves to turn the inn around? What sort of amenities are the nearby b&bs offering? Alot has changed in the industry the last 10 years and CA wine country is pretty upscale. Does this b&b come up to the standard of a modern property? I know you stated that the b&b was thriving 15 or more years ago, but it's important to make sure that time hasn't passed it by too much. How much money will it take to not only market the property, but to bring it up to a standard that will bring in the business..
Very good points Diva. This inn will never be a 4 or 5 star but it was never meant to be that way. Tucked away in a very bucolic little valley just on the fringe of wine country with fairly close access to the coast, the location is ideal and a great alternative to the glossy and over-the-top elegance of some of these 4.5 and 5 star $200+ inns. The main selling point of the inn, as I see it, is that it is a place you can go to where time has passed it by.
It would require some upgrades in amenities, however, and I have that built in to a start-up budget. I know that these minimal amenities need to be a part of the offering as advertised on the web.
Your help is appreciated.
Thanks
 

gillumhouse

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if you're going to do it, start the web presence RIGHT AWAY. yes, to the blog, to a facebook fan page, a website ... even a basic one to start ... get yourself on there and get noticed. i turned around a wreck with a bad rep that had been vacant for years but it took a while to be FOUND ... still, we were self sustaining after that first season.
i had to work so hard to get us right on google maps, list with the local chamber of commerce, any local groups, gear up for publicity ... sending off blurbs about the place, the people ... if there is any data base at all (even a written ledger) i'd send out notes to all the old faithful that you are re-energizing aunt's place. i did a google search of the area to see what came up in different searches and did my dardnest to get links there. bbonline was huge for me ... the biggest draw of online bookings. free directories were helpful. pillows and pancakes gave me the best online map showing exactly the right location. there are so many options for being seen online now ... including twittering now. i had links incoming and outgoing all over the place to get us seen. even a listing for places offering free wifi ... just to get us noticed. and then i was able to whittle them down some.
if you want to do it, it is SO WORTH A TRY. rewarding, exhausting, frustrating, exhilerating. i say ... JUMP IN! with eyes wide open. stars in your eyes help get you started, but you have to be realistic and maybe you are just a little skeptical underneath ... seeing hard numbers isn't really possible because you are guessing and estimating .... but don't lose your momentum.
if the location is great and the place has great bones, and it was successful before, then why shouldn't it work for you?
keep us posted!.
Great ideas. Working on the web presence now. Have some background with that because of my previous biz. Thanks for your great ideas. Building my to do list.
.
Also consider some "target" type web sites for listings - specific interest sites that would fit your target guests. They are usually a lot less expensive than the Directories that go after everyone. Exchange links with local attractions (or wineries) - but ONLY with those that are compatible with who you are and what you have/do. Link for links sake will hurt.
 

Copperhead

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There has been a lot of good sound advice here, so I only have a couple of things to add at this point. -
1 - Even after you have your website up and running, it will take time to get it ranked. In order to make it work for you during this 'waiting period', you may want to invest in Google's sponsored listings. With the use of the right keywords, this could help to bring some traffic to your site and hopefully some paying guests to your inn.
2. Make sure that the rates have not sat idle during this time... and make sure they are increased as you add the needed amenities. CABBI may also shed some light on this matter as well.
Much luck with this venture. Remember, we are here to offer help and support.
 

Joey Camb

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if you're going to do it, start the web presence RIGHT AWAY. yes, to the blog, to a facebook fan page, a website ... even a basic one to start ... get yourself on there and get noticed. i turned around a wreck with a bad rep that had been vacant for years but it took a while to be FOUND ... still, we were self sustaining after that first season.
i had to work so hard to get us right on google maps, list with the local chamber of commerce, any local groups, gear up for publicity ... sending off blurbs about the place, the people ... if there is any data base at all (even a written ledger) i'd send out notes to all the old faithful that you are re-energizing aunt's place. i did a google search of the area to see what came up in different searches and did my dardnest to get links there. bbonline was huge for me ... the biggest draw of online bookings. free directories were helpful. pillows and pancakes gave me the best online map showing exactly the right location. there are so many options for being seen online now ... including twittering now. i had links incoming and outgoing all over the place to get us seen. even a listing for places offering free wifi ... just to get us noticed. and then i was able to whittle them down some.
if you want to do it, it is SO WORTH A TRY. rewarding, exhausting, frustrating, exhilerating. i say ... JUMP IN! with eyes wide open. stars in your eyes help get you started, but you have to be realistic and maybe you are just a little skeptical underneath ... seeing hard numbers isn't really possible because you are guessing and estimating .... but don't lose your momentum.
if the location is great and the place has great bones, and it was successful before, then why shouldn't it work for you?
keep us posted!.
Great ideas. Working on the web presence now. Have some background with that because of my previous biz. Thanks for your great ideas. Building my to do list.
.
Also consider some "target" type web sites for listings - specific interest sites that would fit your target guests. They are usually a lot less expensive than the Directories that go after everyone. Exchange links with local attractions (or wineries) - but ONLY with those that are compatible with who you are and what you have/do. Link for links sake will hurt.
.
I completely agree you will be battered with people who are trying to get you to sign up for advertising a lot of this is rubbish or trying to make you pay for something you can do yourself for free. What kind of place is it? ie very romantic think about bridal adverts or working with bridal shops? is it near a lake or river could you work with water sports people?
 

inndecision

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if you're going to do it, start the web presence RIGHT AWAY. yes, to the blog, to a facebook fan page, a website ... even a basic one to start ... get yourself on there and get noticed. i turned around a wreck with a bad rep that had been vacant for years but it took a while to be FOUND ... still, we were self sustaining after that first season.
i had to work so hard to get us right on google maps, list with the local chamber of commerce, any local groups, gear up for publicity ... sending off blurbs about the place, the people ... if there is any data base at all (even a written ledger) i'd send out notes to all the old faithful that you are re-energizing aunt's place. i did a google search of the area to see what came up in different searches and did my dardnest to get links there. bbonline was huge for me ... the biggest draw of online bookings. free directories were helpful. pillows and pancakes gave me the best online map showing exactly the right location. there are so many options for being seen online now ... including twittering now. i had links incoming and outgoing all over the place to get us seen. even a listing for places offering free wifi ... just to get us noticed. and then i was able to whittle them down some.
if you want to do it, it is SO WORTH A TRY. rewarding, exhausting, frustrating, exhilerating. i say ... JUMP IN! with eyes wide open. stars in your eyes help get you started, but you have to be realistic and maybe you are just a little skeptical underneath ... seeing hard numbers isn't really possible because you are guessing and estimating .... but don't lose your momentum.
if the location is great and the place has great bones, and it was successful before, then why shouldn't it work for you?
keep us posted!.
Great ideas. Working on the web presence now. Have some background with that because of my previous biz. Thanks for your great ideas. Building my to do list.
.
Also consider some "target" type web sites for listings - specific interest sites that would fit your target guests. They are usually a lot less expensive than the Directories that go after everyone. Exchange links with local attractions (or wineries) - but ONLY with those that are compatible with who you are and what you have/do. Link for links sake will hurt.
.
Thanks! Been making a list.
 

inndecision

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There has been a lot of good sound advice here, so I only have a couple of things to add at this point. -
1 - Even after you have your website up and running, it will take time to get it ranked. In order to make it work for you during this 'waiting period', you may want to invest in Google's sponsored listings. With the use of the right keywords, this could help to bring some traffic to your site and hopefully some paying guests to your inn.
2. Make sure that the rates have not sat idle during this time... and make sure they are increased as you add the needed amenities. CABBI may also shed some light on this matter as well.
Much luck with this venture. Remember, we are here to offer help and support..
Your right. I have a little background in SEO and hope to accelerate the ranking. I'm doing a lot of competition analysis to pin down rates. I know that she dropped rates quite a bit, perhaps to reflect economic conditions and less demand. But I'm also convinced that demand has dropped due to lack of marketing.
Greatly appreciate your support.
 
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