The Operations of a Lifestyle Inn…Thinking Big when You are Small

In the last posting, we talked about the definition of a Lifestyle Inn, typically too small or located in a less-than-optimum location to be viable, but which comprise the Backbone of the B&B industry.   The smaller inn has some advantages and some disadvantages over their bigger brothers when it comes to the operations side of inn ownership.

Being smaller usually limits the amount of help the inn can afford.  3-5 rooms often means doing it all yourself.  6-8 rooms may allow for some part-time help with housekeeping and laundry or sitting the desk.  Such intense and time-consuming involvement by the owners in a 24/7 environment can take its toll.  Taking care of yourself to prevent burnout is a topic at nearly every convention.  I received a call yesterday from some lifestyle innkeepers in Kentucky who are nearing the end of their toleration rope.  Advice in this situation?

  • Find that “rhythm” of the inn…the daily routine that manages your time for you.  If housekeeping after breakfast and check-outs is done by 1 pm, take a nap, or sit and read, or enjoy a hobby until the check-ins start strolling in that evening.
  • Force yourself into days off.  It is an easy temptation to take your “day off” and catch up on emails, or paying the bills, or shopping.  Before you know it, the day is over and it’s time to get back to work!  Get off for the whole day…play golf, visit the museum you send your guests to, or catch a movie with friends.
  • Alternate time off. If you are a couple, plan time for one person covering the inn while the other takes some time off.

Answering the phone is not only interrupts your work, it is too important to ignore!  Having a message that promises you will return the call between certain hours not only has the likelihood of NOT losing the reservation, it allows you to exercise good time management in order to get things done.  Some phone services can be engaged who will answer for you and are professional allies in the battle against interruptions.  Dave Balderson, owner of  the 6 room Wayside Inn in Ellicott City, MD., is a strong believer, and user!, of such a service to allow for evenings off.  He’s a believer, and is now way past the average innkeeper turnover rate of 7 years.  Answering 24/7, even if it is not YOU, makes you look big in a small lifestyle world.

Smaller inns may not have the conference room space or facility for corporate retreats and meetings as do the larger inns.  But marketing to the smaller groups, the birders, quilters, scrap-bookers, local garden club, or the Red Hat Ladies offers these smaller groups a venue they cannot afford (or that the larger inns even want) elsewhere.  And it’s a great way to get the big-time exposure in the community of your presence as a lodging alternative for visitors.

The website of the small inn can level the playing field even against the Big Guys.  The Chocolate Turtle in Corrales, NM, a 4 guest room Lifestyle Inn owned by Dallas and Nancy Renner, won the Best Website competition in all of New Mexico…even beating out the Marriott and other mega-names in the lodging industry.  This is a primary contributor to their incredibly high occupancy rate.  A small inn’s website needs to “think big” in its style, its format, its functionality, its photography and its Search Engine Optimization effectiveness.  Gone are the days of having your website, designed by your high school daughter, with photos of the bed in each room (guests want to see MORE than just a bed), with backgrounds of mauve, harvest gold, and avocado.  Think Big, and up-to-date, with your website.

Lifestyle Inns, and there are about 15,000 of them in the US, have a predominant role in the lodging segment that we all enjoy.  Their success as a smaller inn can depend on them thinking like the big guys!      Scott

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