So You Want to Run a B&B?
The strength of their partnership relies heavily on the fact that Dan and Penny aren’t clones of each other. Dan is more pragmatic—cautious and careful about every decision he makes. Penny, by her own admission, loves to think big, damn the details.
“I’m the one who runs around and goes, ‘Oh, this would be great,’ but Dan can implement it in steps,” she says. “I just say, ‘Bite the elephant. And chew it and swallow it. Don’t take it in little pieces.’ He’s the fine-details person. You don’t want to be around me when I’m cooking, because there’s stuff everywhere.”
But in transforming their lives to become B&B owners, both Dan and Penny have had to be meticulous. Prior to buying the Inn Victoria, the couple steeped themselves in the business of running an inn. They hired a buying broker, consulted a lawyer on their business plan, and connected with an accountant who specializes in B&Bs. A design firm revamped the inn’s Web site (innvictoria.com), and the Cotes overhauled the inn’s marketing materials. Before the Cotes had spent a second as owners of the Inn Victoria, they’d paid $20,000 to firm up their dream. “We wanted to get it right the first time,” says Dan, who has an MBA. “We did our homework.” The couple also attended a weekend-long innkeeping school to learn the intricate details of the business, specifically good guest relations. (Important lesson: If someone forgets something at the inn, never call up to see whether they’d like it back. “Why?” I ask. Dan smiles. “Because they may not have come with their actual wife or husband,” he explains.)
The investment the Cotes made in the business after the closing was even more substantial. In all, they’ve spent close to $200,000 in upgrades, everything from new linens and beds to renovated bathrooms and a redesigned backyard porch.
“You have to come in capitalized and be able to run it,” Dan says. “It allowed us to go beyond what the business could support initially and get things for the business, like signs on the car and a better Web site. Brochures. We hired Jessica. Now the business supports all of that, but there’s no way we could have grown as fast without that outside capital.”
But for all their planning, all their research, all their due diligence, the Cotes still had to adjust to their new reality. In their previous life the couple never looked at what something cost. If they needed it, they bought it, whether it was a gallon of milk, a case of wine, or a piece of furniture.
“We’d owned the inn for just a couple of weeks, and I remember we went to a dollar store to pick up some things,” Dan recalls. “I was walking down the aisles, saying to myself, ‘Two weeks ago I was an executive. I never would have been caught dead in a store like this.’ I was embarrassed by that thought. I got over it, but it was an odd experience for me. Suddenly there was a budget. When we were thinking about doing this, it never dawned on me that I’d have to change my shopping habits.”
“We’re hiding!” says Penny, with a big laugh.
As her guests wind down on their steak dinner with homemade apple pie, Penny has slipped upstairs and plunked herself in a cushy loveseat in the upstairs apartment. She’s forgone supper and gone straight for dessert, and, as her two cats parade around her, she throws occasional glances up at a big TV, showing an episode of Law & Order, and then at her laptop in front of her. There’s still a pile of paperwork to get through.
“I don’t think anyone’s checked into Alice,” she tells Dan, as he walks through the door.
“That’s fine,” he says.
“Should I call?” she asks. “What time is it?”
“It’s 7:00,” he says. “It’s not late.”
Penny picks up the phone and gets ahold of one of the guests. It turns out that there’s been a mix-up. The party thinks they’re booked for tomorrow night and will be arriving sometime in the afternoon. Penny is polite and accommodating, crossing the names off one box on a piece of paper and writing them down in another. When she hangs up, she lets out a big sigh.