This week I’m answering your innkeeper and career related questions.
Honestly, I posted this Ask Me idea to answer your questions, but this has been such a great experience for me too. I’ve been able to collect my thoughts and was forced to think about a lot of things I haven’t or avoided. So, thank you for that!
Now, onto the answers.
Questions One, Two & Three:
I’d love more deets about how you ended up where you are. Was it your dream for a while or did it just happen?
I’d like to know what made you decide to take on owning an Inn in the first place??
How did you know how to buy/run an inn at such a young age?
Owning a Bed and Breakfast has been a dream of mine for quite some time. In fact, I can remember when I first posted on Facebook that I bought my little inn, a couple people from high school and college commented on how awesome it was that I actually achieved my dream. That was very surreal.
After college I worked in Philadelphia at the Four Seasons Hotel. I started off in the Swann Lounge as a Manager in Training and worked my way up fairly quickly. After that I became an Assistant Manager, then moved to the Fountain Restaurant as the same. Following that I was promoted to Senior Assistant Manager. Then I moved back to the Swann Lounge as Department Head. This final move was the beginning of the end.
I really didn’t like working in the lounge. It was a monster. I was slightly pushed to apply for the position of Department Head. I didn’t listen to my gut and heart. Big mistake. I worked insane hours with little appreciation. The staff was wonderful, but comfortable. Change wasn’t easy. I did have a great team of managers and was so thankful for that. To be honest, I was just overwhelmed and felt like I never had the support I needed. I was being pushed too hard and probably wasn’t ready for the position. I was miserable. I woke up every day hoping I was sick so I didn’t have to go to work. Unfortunately, I rarely got sick so that wish never came true. I took all of this as a sign that it was time to go. I made the incredibly tough decision to quit. This was around Thanksgiving. I would finish out the year and that would be it.
I had no plan for my next step. I considered returning to school for Interior Design. I looked for other jobs in the Philadelphia area. I just didn’t know. While all of this was happening my mom told me that the Bed and Breakfast in my hometown, St. Marys, was for sale. I’m fairly certain that as soon as I heard those words come out of her mouth, my mind was made up. I didn’t know how it would happen, but I was bound and determined … I would buy this bed and breakfast.
After I finished my time at the Four Seasons I came home to St. Marys for about three weeks. During this time I went and visited the Bed and Breakfast with a realtor. My mom and I walked through the back door with of this charming little inn and butterflies flapped in my stomach. I was filled with hope. This was one of those profound moments where I just knew that this is what I was supposed to do. No questions asked. I really didn’t say much as we walked around the house. My mind moved about a million miles per hour. I can change this. I can remove this wall. I can put a gift shop here. I can live here. This is IT!
I spent about four months developing a business plan. The previous Innkeeper really didn’t have her ducks in a row, so it took that long to get all the information I needed to complete my plan. During this time, I was back in Philadelphia and working at a flower shop (the florist who did the flowers for the Four Seasons) so I could pay bills and such.
I worked with several small business loan funds in the area to find money. I also worked closely with one of the banks in town. I had a very small amount of money that I received from my great uncle who passed away a couple years previous. That was it. Certainly not enough to allow a 20-something to buy a business. Finally, through some small miracle and lots of work, I figured out a way to make everything work. I submitted my business plan to the bank. It was accepted. After offers and counter offers, I officially bought a bed and breakfast.
Finding the funds and making all these pieces fit wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Even the day before I signed the papers there were issues with where the money was actually coming from. Thankfully St. Marys is a small town where people know and trust each other. Had I attempted this same processes in a bigger town or city where I was just a number, I’m 98% positive I would have received the big red ‘denied’ stamp.
I’m not sure how all of this sounds as you read this. I tend to sugar coat things quite a bit. I’m happy that I took this risk and made this huge career change, but it hasn’t always been roses and pancakes. Shortly after I bought my little inn, the country when into a recession and my town was hit pretty hard. There were nights I didn’t sleep worrying how I was going to pay bills. Even now, there are days I barely have two nickels to rub together. Stress and worry are my closest friends these days. Thankfully I’ve been able to pull through. Some days are harder than others, but there is still a light shining in the distance.
No job is perfect. At least I don’t think so. You just have to follow your heart, work hard, take risks and live a life that makes you happy. Easier said than done I suppose.
When you became an innkeeper, did you (do you) have a mentor? Someone with experience that could give you direction and happily watch you succeed? Would you be willing to be that person for someone just starting out?
No, not really. Through the process I gathered information wherever I could. Some of my loans forced me to work with local small business development centers. They were somewhat helpful, but eventually they told me I had no chance of buying this business and that I was crazy. Obviously they were wrong.
My family was very supportive and still are. I also made some connections on the internet through a couple bed and breakfast forums that provided some good and bad advice. Honestly, I really just dove in and learned through trail and error. That works for me.
Yes, I would be willing to offer advice for someone starting out. Though, I would prefer to do it over the phone or in person. Writing a detailed ‘how-to’ just isn’t going to happen.
Do you do all the cooking/cleaning in the Inn or so you have staff??
I’ve always wondered if you have a staff to help you with your inn or your gift shoppe, or do you do everything by yourself?
I did touch on this a little bit in my last set of answers, but yes, I do it all. No staff. My mom and/or dad will help on occasion (maybe once a month) but it’s typically not for daily operation type things.
Doing this on my own makes time management extremely important. I have certain hours I do breakfast, certain hours the gift shoppe is open, certain hours for check-in and check-out. I am flexible with these hours when I can be, but sometimes it creates a challenge.
For example when someone check-ins in after 10PM and another guest wants breakfast at 6AM. That cuts my sleep time down to about 5 hours. Another area of concern is when the all the rooms checkout and a whole new group of people checks in on the same day. These are my worst days. When this happens I may only have four hours to turn five rooms over and my gift shoppe is open for three of those hours! I have yet to not have a room ready on time, but I’m sweating bullets by the time it is done. And, in most cases, I have to close the gift shoppe. But it gets done.
My guests come first. I will make the sacrifices necessary to make their stay comfortable, easy and enjoyable.
As an innkeeper I’m sure you have to keep long (crazy?) hours. Do you ever get a day off?
I think about this question almost everyday. The short answer is yes. As an innkeeper with no staff, I keep long and crazy hours. My phone rings constantly. People call in the middle of the night looking for rooms or wanting to make a reservation. People show up at my house at all hours of the day. They especially like to show up at the most inconvenient of times. Some folks just don’t pay attention to times and show up late or early. It gets tough.
I will admit though that I do have flexibility when I need it. If I need a day off I just have to plan ahead and not take reservations for that day. And, since most of my family is in town, I can sneak away for an hour when I need to for a family dinner or to go swimming at my dads. Also, I never have to ‘go to work’. That’s awesome.
So yes, I work more now than I ever have in my life. And if I actually calculated it, I would probably be doing the job of two to three people. But in some weird way. it works. For now.
What would you say is the best thing about your little town of St. Mary? What draws people there?
What’s there to do in St. Mary’s? I am outside of Philadelphia, and I confess, I had never before heard of your town before I started reading this charming blog.
For me, St. Marys is home. It will always have a special place in my heart. I think this is a feeling a lot of people have about this little town. The summers are always busy here with reunions, weddings and other family gathering.s St. Marys is friendly, relaxed, quite and cozy.
If you want to visit a place with fantastic shopping and gourmet meals, then St. Marys isn’t you ideal destination. This is one big thing I miss about living in Philadelphia. When visiting the area though, I’d recommending checking out the local wineries and antique shops. A visit to the neighboring town of Ridgway is also a common recommendation. They have a cute little downtown with a day spa, cute shoppes and good places to grab lunch. Fun stuff.
If you are an outdoors enthusiast you can visit the Alleghany National Forest or canoe down the Clarion River. Another draw to the area is the natural roaming elk heard. They were introduced to Pennsylvania back in the 1910’s. The elk are about 30 minutes south of St. Marys in a small town called Benezette. Last year the Elk Country Visitors Center was built in the hub of the public viewing area. There’s a little shop there, information about the elk and the area, and they show a 4-D movie.
St. Marys is definitely off the map, but it’s worth a visit and you’ll always have a place to stay. *wink wink*
What’s next? Do you plan on staying in St. Marys and being an innkeeper forever. I know you mentioned you have some other life goals.
When I first bought my little inn I roughly planned a 10 year commitment. This was sightly based on when I’d have some of my loans paid. The end of May this year is my four year anniversary. Do I still plan on staying here 10 years? No.
I really don’t have a solid plan for what I want to do next. In 2013, I will be turing the big 3-0. At 30, I really want to have a solid action plan of what I want to do, where I want to go and how/when I’m going to get there. I have a feeling this year will help to shape those goals. Ultimately before I turn 31 I’d like to be somewhere else and doing something different. That’s about as clear as I can be at this point, but I’m working on it.
And who knows, maybe opportunity will knock on my door tomorrow. Maybe Nate Berkus will call looking for an assistant to start tomorrow. You can bet I’ll have my bags packed an in my car by supper. Nate, are you even reading this?
I am putting my sails up. Over the next couple years I will be adjusting them so that when the right gust of wind comes along, i’ll be ready. And if that gust doesn’t come, I have a damn good engine ready to take me where I want to go.
I’d love for you to do a post about the day in the life of an innkeeper. I love reading those kinds of posts and innkeeper is such a unique job, that I know it would be really interesting!
Yes, I will do this. Pinky swear. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while and your encouragement has given me the little push I needed.
And, that wraps up Part two! Are you feeling more enlightened?
In other news, I wanted to point out a couple changes I made to my blog layout. You’ll notice I’m now part of the BlogHer network. A HUGE thanks to them for allowing me to join their community. It’s an honor.
I also added some navigation buttons under my header to make things easier to find. They may change slightly, but in general I hope it makes things more convenient.
And finally, I adjusted the way you leave comments. You will now stay in the same window when entering comments. This feature will allow me to reply to your comments in the actual post. Some of your user preferences are set so that a return email address is not provided for a reply. Therefore, I had no way to respond. Now, I can easily respond to you comments in the actual comment section.
Hope you’re having a fab Thursday!