So You Want to Run a B&B?
“Let me show you something,” Dan says, motioning me to the kitchen. He points to the counter and a big bag of ice with a hole ripped into the side. “Most people, if they did this, would do something about it, but not Penny.”Just then his wife walks into the kitchen and intervenes: “It’s not right or wrong, it just is what it is.” Then she flashes a big smile: “Besides, this wouldn’t happen if you’d bought me an ice maker.”
“Well, you’re not going to get an ice maker,” answers Dan, who begins scooping the ice out and putting it into smaller plastic bags.
“Not my bread bags!” Penny exclaims.
“That’s all I could find,” Dan counters, moving over slightly so that his wife can help him.
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.”