(63) Start a Bed and Breakfast Business
While a bed and breakfast is by definition a lodging that serves breakfast as part of the room rate, there are several different types of B&B properties ranging from intimate family homes with less than a handful of guest rooms to full-fledged country inns with a dozen or more rooms. Part of the charm of B&Bs is that each is a bit different, but they all fall somewhere within five basic categories. A homestay, also called a host home, is a private home with one to four guest rooms that are used to bring in supplemental rather than primary income. Homestays don't typically post signs on their property or advertise, relying instead on reservations services. A bed a breakfast is a step up from the homestay, typically consisting of four to five (but as many as eight) guest rooms and a live-in owner or host family. Bed and breakfasts typically have a sign out front, advertise and conform to zoning, health and other government regulations. Bed and breakfast inns are full-fledged lodging establishments rather than a family home with rooms to rent. With six or more guest rooms and a live-in host, the B&B inn has a well-posted sign, does lots of advertising and adheres to all government regulations. Bed and breakfast hotels are really B&Bs but instead are hotels with 30 or more rooms in a historic building. Breakfast is offered as part of the room rate. Unhosted apartments or cottages are sort of a cross between a vacation rental and a B&B, a self-contained lodging that is completely separate from the host's home.
Do research in your area to see if your B&B should be targeting tourists, business travelers or couples. Is there a hospital or university nearby? Family and friends of students and patients could be a target audience. Your B&B could also be a destination for events like weddings and meetings.People operating a bed and breakfast should enjoy their guests. It is not uncommon for lasting friendships to form between hosts and guests, and this type of guest usually becomes a frequent repeat visitor and serves as a major source of referrals for other guests.
People who stay at bed and breakfasts are not ordinary travelers. They are looking for quality lodging and service, as well as the uniqueness of each B&B and each innkeeper.
B&B guests generally are not looking for a bargain. In fact, they are often willing to pay more for something different and out of the ordinary. (Which doesn't necessarily mean that discounts aren't an effective way of marketing bed and breakfasts.)
As you plan for the startup of your bed and breakfast, you will need to make some decisions in order for the experience to be both profitable for you and enjoyable for your guests. Do not take these decisions lightly. Taking care of these items before a situation occurs can save you money, worry and grief in the long run.
Guest Rooms / Beds
Try to look at your home objectively.
- Are your furnishings in good condition?
- What type of beds do your rooms have? Twin, double, queen, king, waterbed, etc.?
- Is there enough closet space?
- Do the beds sag? It may be time to purchase a new mattress and box spring.
- Are the pillows in good condition? What type of pillows do you have? Some guests are allergic to down filling.
- Is there adequate light in the bedroom both for dressing and reading?
- Is the floor cold when one gets out of the bed? If so, consider adding a small rug.
- Do you need to get out the oil can for some of the squeaky doors?
Sharing a Bath
The definite trend in B&Bs is to provide a private bath, most often en suite, with each room. ("En suite" means that the private bath is located in such a way that a guest doesn't have to walk through any shared space to get to the bath. Some private baths are located outside the guest's room or suite.)
Many guests now expect private baths, but you may not be able to provide a private bath for each room. In many cases a guest won't object to this as long as you've made adequate arrangements for sharing of a bathroom. But remember that if you wind up sharing a bathroom with strangers, you'll be losing some privacy in your own home and may even have to wait in line at some time. The best solution is to, at a minimum, make sure the innkeeper, family and any staff have a private bathroom not used by any guests.
Special care must be taken to assure that bathrooms are scrupulously clean before, during and after a guest's stay. A small basket of cleaning supplies in a convenient location may help others realize that they need to keep the bathroom in good condition for others. Of course, be sure to include plenty of toilet paper in each bathroom. If you have one or more shared baths, a "clever" sign can be hung in the bathroom as a reminder to slowpokes. Keep any reading material in other rooms.
Security and Keys
How will you deal with security in your bed and breakfast? Many hosts give guests a key at no cost. Others charge a refundable "key fee" of up to $10 (refunded when the guest returns the key).
For your own security, you may give guests a key for their room and a regular front door lock but not to the deadbolt security lock. Other hosts give guests a key to their room and then set specific hours that the front door is kept open. Many innkeepers provide a combination lockbox to give guests access to the inn after hours.
Make Decisions Carefully
A bed and breakfast traditionally provides a comfortable night's lodging and a good breakfast in a private home. Guests choose this type of accomodation because they enjoy the personal contact that a bed and breakfast host gives to their guests.
Hosting a B&B often brings many new friendships and guest who will return again and again. However, before you start your business, take a long hard look at yourself and your lifestyle. Innkeeping may seem like a glamorous and interesting opportunity, but it is also one which will require many long hours and lots of hard work.
- Business Plan
- 1 Evaluate whether you have the personality and interest to host guests in your house night and day, season after season. Being outgoing and friendly is part of the job whether or not you feel like it. Interview B&B owners and learn about their lives--and whether that's the life you really want.
- 2 Decide where you'd like to live and work. Locations close to tourist draws are generally the most popular, although out-of-theway accommodations can be just as popular if there is something distinctive and alluring about the place or its surroundings.
- 3 Check local zoning codes by calling the zoning board at your town hall to ask about the process for getting approval for a B&B. Be aware that some areas prohibit them. If you plan to renovate an existing building, have a contractor confirm compliance with local building codes. Find out whether there are any restrictions on the types of food that can be served, such as a full breakfast versus just coffee and muffins.
- 4 Draw up a business plan. Work your numbers carefully. The profit margin for many B&Bs is modest at best. Contact national trade associations such as the American Bed and Breakfast Association (abba.com) for guidelines about setting up a B&B. Also, talk to other B&B owners; some might share financial information. See How to Finance Your Business Idea.
- 5 Determine how many guests you can and want to accommodate. Some B&Bs limit themselves to just a few guests, others take in 20 and more. Investigate how this will be impacted by the building codes; B&Bs with more than five rooms must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.gov).
- 6 Survey local competitors' prices. You'll want to be competitive with others in the area.
- 7 Develop an effective yet realistic marketing plan and budget. How will people hear about your B&B? Effective advertising can be expensive and high-income customers may be difficult to reach. Free ink is terrific marketing, and cheaper than advertising, so explore getting editorial coverage in local papers, regional publications and national travel magazines. A good PR consultant may be worth the cost if you get the right coverage.
- 8 Compile an e-mail list of past guests to take advantage of cheap and effective outreach. Make sure you are listed in all relevant B&B guides and directories, and both printed publications and online resources. Pay attention to your competition's advertising: What works and what doesn't? Remember that marketing can seem like a financial black hole, so spend for maximum measurable impact. Put up a Web site to attract customers from all over (see How to Hire Someone to Design and Build Your Web Site).
- 9 Hire qualified staff to keep things running smoothly. A housecleaner is vital; a cook, dishwasher, bartender, waiter and groundskeeper may be helpful additions during the high season and as the business grows.
- 10 Subscribe to a reservation service agency in order to reach a broader market, reduce your workload, and turn over the financial dealings to the experts. Turning over reservation and payment arrangements may negate the need for a merchant credit card account, too. However, there is an annual fee and a commission to be paid for each reservation handled. B&B Midwest Reservations (bandbmidwest.com), for example, charges a $75 setup fee and takes 25 percent of each reservation made on a member's behalf.
- 11 Set guest policies and house rules regarding check-in and -out schedules, cancellations and late arrivals, as well as whether pets, children and smoking are permitted.
- 12 Cater to your guests by making their experience as wonderful as possible. Serve excellent food and build a good wine list. Make sure the rooms are spotless, cozy and inviting. Remember that it's the little things that will keep guests coming back, such as the homemade muffins, the twilight kayak paddle or the tour of the gardens.
- 13 Network with fellow B&B owners, visitors bureaus, tourism offices and chambers of commerce to increase awareness of your business. Join national trade associations like ABBA.