Running a B&B is rewarding, but nobody said it would be easy! Blaise Bahara and Bess Giannakakis are the innkeepers of Gateway Guesthouse, a hip B&B located in Austin, Texas. Blaise combines her business background with Bess's professional chef experience to run a popular B&B that offers a wide variety of gourmet cooking classes. In today's post, Blaise shares the challenges they overcame and offers advice to those hoping to open the inn of their dreams. Thanks to Blaise for providing these expert tips!
I think the first step to starting a B&B is deciding what your BRAND will be, for lack of a better term. This is just marketing jargon for finding and fixating on what it is that you love to do, and that will make your B&B special. We love food, and it’s a huge part of our brand. In addition, we love luxury and over-the-top customer service, so these round out our brand. I think that deciding what you will love to deliver, to do, to provide, day-in-and-day-out, is the key.
Side note: I think there are far too many B&Bs out there whose owners just want to keep their house, so they decide to make it a B&B. Paying your mortgage is not a ‘brand;’ it’s a result of delivering your brand well.
You should then consider where your brand is needed. Where is the market that suits what want you want to do and where is it not oversaturated? If you’d like to have a B&B that encourages hiking, you’ll need to be near trails. Or it might make sense to open a B&B that focuses on wine in Napa, but really....is there room for another one of those?
Now, you look for a space (or in some instances, you build a space), and you make sure that space supports your brand. For instance, we would never have purchased a home with a tiny galley kitchen and no space to expand. Our kitchen supports our brand. We also wanted to make sure that our common spaces were large enough for people to not feel cramped. I thought about a day when it might be raining and everyone would decide to ‘hang out’ at the inn. We wanted people to feel like they had privacy but also like they could be around the house and not feel like they were on top of one another. There was so much more we thought about, but that is an entire post unto itself!
All of this sounds hard, but it’s not. It’s just trusting what makes your heart sing.
At this point, you have two choices:
1. Buy an existing B&B
2. Create a B&B
My experience is creating a B&B, which has its unique challenges. First, in terms of licensing, get to know people in the city government. Try to find out if there are guidelines or rules or anything that can help you navigate creating a B&B. And get ready for the fact that no government agency can decide what we are: residential or commercial. We confound them because we live in our businesses. I’m sure the time and effort involved in getting your license will vary based on place. However, just be prepared for it to take about 16 times longer than you think! Get to know your neighbors; they can help or hurt you.
Bottom line: You will eventually get approval and your license. So, all the while you are working with the governmental agencies and wanting to pull out your hair, you also need to be creating your inn. Perhaps this involves huge building and/or landscaping projects. Get on them. It will MOST CERTAINLY involve massive amounts of shopping. Get ready to give Bed, Bath and Beyond, Overstock.com, Macy’s, Best Buy, etc. some hugely significant amounts of money. Sometimes we laugh when we actually count and realize we own nine TVs!
Create rooms that make you happy, but that also leave room for the guest. There is nothing worse than walking into a room you’ve booked and feeling like the owners’ taste is overwhelming you. There is a happy medium between the entirely non-descript Hilton room and the overly, crazily, cloyingly decorated rooms of many B&Bs. LEAVE ROOM FOR THE GUEST IN THE ROOM! This is both mental (don’t club your guests with your taste) and physical (leave them space to put out THEIR things on the tables, the dressers, the bathroom counters).
In terms of room amenities, I like to stock the room with everything I think a guest could need or want, within reason. That includes pool towels, slippers, and robes in addition to the normal bath towels. We have what I call a dry bar in each room; glassware, including wine glasses, corkscrew, napkins, mini-coffee pot, coffee, tea, and mini-fridge. In addition to the flat screen TVs, we have shelf stereos that play radio, CDs, and pods. And just in case, each room has umbrellas, pens, paper, and a lint brush! I just about burst with joy one morning when a guest said to me “everything I thought of needing was right where I hoped to find it."
So now, you have your brand, your space, you license, and your rooms all set. Time to open your doors and enjoy!