knowing what you want to do, and learning how to get there.
July 16, 2010 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Did you start your own bed & breakfast, small inn, or vacation home with rooms to rent out? How did you do this?

Starting my own vacation lodging of sorts is something I've always wanted to do, and after dabbling in this and that and not being wholly content, I'm ready to get serious about learning the ropes of how to do this, and investing the time, energy, and money into such a project.

I might be able to do this with one or more siblings, who have backgrounds in finance and architecture, which I hope will help. But none of us have ever done anything like this before!

What resources can you recommend to get grounded in the in's and how's of beginning such a project? Books or web resources? In the US vs. abroad? Suggestions from your personal experience?
posted by raztaj to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I have cousins who are doing this now, in Illinois. The first thing they did was figure out what certifications they'd need (since they're opening a B&B, they'll be serving food) and start taking the necessary courses. actually has a pretty good basic guide that can point you to the things you'll need to consider.

If I were you, I'd get in touch with an innkeeper in your area to ask them about how they did it.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:35 AM on July 16, 2010

I've owned a small retail business. Find the Small Business Administration's presence in your area; they provided me with good technical help. A small business with employees is a lot of work. I've known B&B-keepers; it's a ton of work, and very restrictive of your schedule. The people who liked it were very extroverted.

A good accountant is not that easy to find. It also helps if you can take care of minor handyperson tasks. There will be snow shoveling, sweeping, cleaning, raking, electrical and plumbing maintenance, carpentry and general fixing stuff that gets broke. And cooking the muffins, making the coffee and juice, washing the sheets & towels and making the beds. You'll have staff, but they'll have sick days, child care emergencies and hangovers. And then you have to make it all look easy to the guests.

I loved owning my business, and I learned more than I would have learned in an MBA program. I recommend it, if you really do your research.
posted by theora55 at 9:47 AM on July 16, 2010

Several members of my husband's family operate B&Bs in historic houses. In my state, you have to get licensed. Check and see if your state has a B&B association. They can probably give you specific information about what you need to do. I know that different states and cities can have wildly varying laws and rules about what you can and can't do. For instance, the city I live in has strict regulations about fire suppression systems, handicap accessibility, parking and food preparation. Both of the B&B owners I know are not allowed legally to serve food unless they have a kitchen separate from the one the family uses. They can serve muffins, coffee, juice, stuff like that. Otherwise they have food catered in. I'm betting this varies from state to state.

You are going to want to make sure you have full insurance coverage for your house and guests. If a guest falls down the stairs or hurts themselves in your house, insurance can be a lifesaver. Your B&B association can give you specifics about policies.

Other stuff that I've observed: Guests like having their own bathrooms. Unless you hire help, you will spend a lot of time on your hands and knees scrubbing bathtubs. My in-laws frequently have bridal shower parties, meetings, retreats at their inns. It is a nice way to add some extra income without having overnight guests. Also, the busy times for the B&Bs tend to be during the holidays (including Xmas & thanksgiving). So you'll want to plan out your own personal holidays and vacations way in advance to determine if you want to be open to guests.
posted by pluckysparrow at 10:26 AM on July 16, 2010

Have a plan for what you will do when someone throws up all over your carpet in the middle of the night and expects you to deal with it. Similarly, what to do about blokes who get drunk and piss themselves in their sleep. Both of these things have happened to my friend who runs a small and beautiful B&B.

I have found a used sanitary towel in a bedside cabinet while cleaning in a (somewhat less beautiful) B&B, and also encountered a kettle half full of urine. People are strange. Cleaning is your friend. LOTS of cleaning. And some food safety, which involves more cleaning. If you employ a good cleaner, pay them well and do whatever it takes to keep them.
posted by Lebannen at 5:51 PM on July 16, 2010

I have two vacation rental suites in my house and friends of mine have five. It's worked out really nicely in that we are close enough geographically that we can babysit each others business when someone needs to leave town.

All of our suites are "self-catering" so we don't need to get up at the crack of dawn every day to make breakfast or to be licensed as a B & B. However, the city zoning is for multi-family dwellings, for example a house split into three suites, so we're okay legally speaking.

It was really helpful to us to ask an established person in our area for tips and advice. She had tons of helpful information and more clientele than she could accommodate so she sent a lot of business our way as a bonus.

We have been lucky enough to screen out most "problem" people, and most of our guests are in town on business or are couples and families on vacation. I have had to clean up one unpleasant mess though, and not everyone is considerate, but mostly our guests have treated our homes as they would their own.

All in all it's been a really positive experience. The house and yard need to look fab all the time but I like to spend time on those things anyway. Building the business was a lot of work but the payoffs have been that I get to work from home, I make a decent living (not grand by any means), and I've met lovely people from all over the world.
posted by lunaazul at 7:25 PM on July 16, 2010

My partner and I run tourist accommodation on a rural farm/wildlife refuge in Australia. We launched our first cottage last July and second larger venue in December. This time next year we hope to have another cottage-like venue. Each is self contained and out of sight of each other. We build everything we can ourselves including the furniture.

Ocherdraco's link is a good one and will lead you to other resources. I used the resources of this Oz site and my state tourist office. I also browse other accommodation venue websites, check their bookings, see what makes them special or not. Quite often I've seen what they've done and do the opposite.

We came to the business with tourist lodge cleaning as our only accommodation operation experience, but had lots of customer service, marketing and business knowledge. We did ensure we had adequate liability insurance, adhered to fire code, and had the right licences etc.

As Lebbanen said, cleaning is your friend. We frequently spend two hours cleaning and preparing our cottage after each stay, and up to three hours in the larger venue. Plus time spent collecting and chopping firewood, maintenance, managing our water resources, marketing and laundry. Lots of laundry.

The answers in these two threads on making our cottage nice and pricing our larger venue gave as a great deal of good advice on making an appealing accommodation venue.

Judging by our occupancy rates we must be doing a lot of things right. We're enjoying it. The commute is great, the dress code is easy - flannies & blunnies - and we like providing for our guests and making them feel comfortable and welcome. But it's not for slackers. Keeping up standards takes care and time. Once we have our third venue, managing the three will take two people 3-8 hours per day... plus laundry.

How are you on laundry?
posted by Kerasia at 3:45 AM on July 17, 2010

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