JOINING THE INN CROWD

By Emily Grey, contributing writer

Thinking about becoming an innkeeper?

Are you seriously considering owning and operating a small inn? If so, you should consider attending Bed and Breakfast Association of Virginia (BBA V) annual conference. Each January, veteran innkeepers and travel professionals share invaluable information at an all-day Aspiring Innkeepers Seminar.

Renowned guest speakers discuss marketing trends, record keeping, cuisine, advertising, and other useful topics on subsequent days.

Resort hosts make their work look easy. Their warm smiles, impeccable appearances, and immaculate, well kept properties suggest that running a bed and breakfast is a breeze.

There is, in fact, a lot more involvement than meets an outsider’s eye. Phil and Lynne Blakter, owners of Prospect’s Brooklyn B&B, continue to relocate and hand-somely restore aged buildings. Additionally, this husband-wife team respectively teaches and tends a spacious garden, a source of fresh breakfast ingredients. The owners of nearby Appomattox’s Babcock B&B performed much of the original labor, from drywalling to painting.

Careful planning will enhance the smooth operation and success of any establishment. Whether buying a turnkey operation (an established B&B) or renovating a home, there is a vital checklist.

  • Location is everything. Whether cradled in the lush Blue Ridge or on the historical Northern Neck riverfront, your area must draw visitors. Your inn may be the fairest in the land; however, without a local attraction it will likely be ignored.
    Clearly, the popular City of Williamsburg’s Applewood Colonial is a calling card. Providence Forge’s lovely Jasmine Plantation offers a secluded getaway halfway between Richmond and the aforesaid tourist mecca.
  • Know what you are buying. Be realistic Will this building convey your particular lifestyle? Will its structure easily support fireplaces, Jacuzzi tubs, and other amenities you desire?
    What theme will your occupancy project? Decide what furnishings and designs complement a Victorian domicile or a one story ranch-style home.
    Create a smart business plan and attain an affordable mortgage. Determine what work must be done and set target dates.
  • Research local ordinances, zoning, taxes, permits, licenses, and other legal requirements. Significant time and monetary investments are obligatory to launch an inn. It is quintessential to Clearly define your goals. According to Norm and Becky Lindway of Inn at Monticello, usually one partner is money and the other is muffin. In other words, one person manages the business while the other prepares breakfasts and greets the guests. Sometimes, these roles are interchangeable. “Know your strengths,” advises Becky. “What are you and your partner going to bring to this venture?”
  • Set-up a well-designed Web site. Over 50 percent of innkeepers’ bookings begin with the Internet. You may be allowed to hyperlink your Web site with certain travel-related agencies and organizations. List a regional calendar of events. Attract visitors during off-seasons with “bargain” weekends and special packages. What distinguishes your place from all others? Highlight your particular niche such as working farm, terrific hiking, or historical setting.
  • Be active in your community. Teach a cooking class at your local community college. Showcase your special place as part of a Christmas or garden tour. Be a sponsor at different worthwhile events.
  • Finally, a B&B is a reflection of your personality.
    To be in the hospitality business, it is necessary to like people. “You must be able to share your space and time with your guests and not become indifferent or let it bother you,” says Bruce Evans of the Eastern Shore’s Cape Charles House. “If you’re serious about growing your business, requests, conversations and inquires from your guests should not be considered an annoyance but are the reason you are there.”

Important characteristics for innkeepers are a genuine fondness for a diversity of people, flexibility, stamina, a commitment in every situation to win the war even if it means losing the battle (a guest is never wrong), making a consistent effort to get the job done regardless of who appears to get the credit, and forgetting about pride and role playing,” he adds.

“The people in this business are the greatest in the world,” opines Cliff Braun, owner of Stanardsville’s South River Cottage. “Your competitors are your greatest source of revenue.”

Other innkeepers often refer people to other inns. They also trade recipes and insightful housekeeping points. “Another B&B host and I pool resources,” adds Judy Braun, Cliffs wife. “Together we buy sugar and other supplies.”

Community support from tourism bureaus and chambers of commerce can also be helpful. And, various publications can provide insightful housekeeping points.

Numerous conservative strategies can accentuate your country inn. Purchase a vanity license plate. Enlist a student volunteer who can earn college credits while learning on the job and helping you considerably. Welcome the media for a magazine or news release and photo shoot. This is a judicious way to achieve “free” advertising.

The travel industry is the world’s second largest employer. Bed and breakfast lodgings may be the most sought after accommodations of the future. Each one has its own ambiance and creative mystique. They are considerably safer, quieter, and generally much cleaner than large inns. The operators are usually very amicable and dispense directions and useful information about where to dine and what to do in their locale. Staying at a B&B is almost like being at home.

If you are truly an aspiring innkeeper, learn all you can about this demanding yet rewarding business. Visit B&Bs, ask questions, and firmly know what you and your partner want and what is and is not negotiable.

INN LINGO

To help clarify differences among lodges, PAII, a national innkeepers’ organization, offers the following concise, paraphrased definitions:

  • B&B: This owner-occupied dwelling with about two to 12 rooms is used as a home and primarily as a lodging. It is situated in a legally zoned area and complies with all pertinent health, fire, building and tax requirements.
  • B&B Inn: Four to 30 rooms are available In this usually owner-occupied business. The inn may host weddings, small business meetings, etc., and breakfast is the only meal served. It must meet certain ordinances and possess a business license.
  • Country Inn: These lodges are B&B inns that serve other meals besides breakfast.
  • B&B Self-Contained Cottage: A detached building that offers greater seclusion to guests. Breakfast is delivered to the room or served in a central dining room.
  • Homestay/Host Home: Lodging is secondary in this private residence. Hosts are mainly interested in meeting new people and supplementing their income. Guests usually register through a local reservation agency.
  • Hotel (B&B): These 30+ rooms are historic properties that offer breakfast and a B&B atmosphere. What type of clientele do you want? Are children and pets acceptable?
  • Some B&B inns cater weddings, reunions, parties, smaIl corporate meetings, and other occasions. Are you prepared to deal with crowds and the aftermath?

Contacts

Membership in the BBAV provides essential networking and allows innkeepers to keep up with the latest trends. Certain criteria are necessary to belong to this prestigious and beneficial organization. To learn more, contact:

Susie Blanchard,
BBA V President
Inn at Meander Plantation
HCR 5 Box 460A
Locust Dale, VA 22948
Phone: (800) 385-4936 or
(540) 672-4912
Fax: (540) 672-0405
E-mail: inn@meander.net
Web site: www.meander.net
Check B&B online: www.bbonline.com/va/bbav

For a gratis copy of Virginia’s Inns & Bed & Breakfasts, call (888) 660-BBA V and call the Virginia Tourism Corporation at (800) BNB-1293 for the latest BBA V Guidebook.  For further on-line information, click: www.paii.org

Recent Publications:

Innkeeping Unlimited by Ellen Ryan (practical, inexpensive ways to improve your B&B and win repeat business)

Reprinted Courtesy, Cooperative Living, Feb. 2001.

Bruce & Carol Evans, Innkeepers
Cape Charles House Bed & Breakfast
645 Tazewell Avenue
Cape Charles, Virginia
757-331-4920      Fax 757-331-4960
stay@capecharleshouse.com
www.capecharleshouse.com

Featured on Home & Garden TV,” If Walls Could Talk”
Recipient of 2000 Governor’s Award, Bed & Breakfast Hospitality