How can you run a successful bed and breakfast?National SCORE award winner in Lancaster County shares tips for running a B&B
From loads of laundry to local networking, Lynne Griffin knows the ins and outs of operating a successful bed and breakfast.
Last week, the Lancaster County business that Griffin co-owns with her husband Bob, Australian Walkabout Inn Bed and Breakfast, was one of only two Pennsylvania businesses to win an award in a national competition, SCORE’s American Small Business Championship.
In between refinishing hardwood floors and cleaning one of the bathrooms at the inn, Lynne Griffin shared her tips to running a successful bed and breakfast.
Connections are everything
Connections are very important when it comes to operating a bed and breakfast.
“In this business, you really gotta surround yourself with good people,” Griffin said. “Be it the lady who delivers your eggs on Thursdays or the guy who roasts your coffee just up the street.”
You can’t do it by yourself, according to Griffin.
Aside from partners that help her business operate day to day, her biggest source of assistance is the Authentic Bed and Breakfasts of Lancaster County.
The association functions as a network of inns in the area, and it also acts as a referral source – when one inn is booked, it can direct potential guests to another inn with rooms available.
Don't let the laundry pile up
You do a lot of laundry in the bed-and-breakfast business, and it is one example Griffin gave for why good systems are important.
You have to have a system in place for storing and processing laundry. She has big bins in the basement to separate sheets, towels and kitchen laundry. She also has two washing machines and two dryers.
When the Griffins want to go on vacation, they hire an inn sitter.
Inn sitters are professionals who come and take over the inn, handling everything from reservations to laundry to breakfast in the morning, while the inn keeper is away.
Offer the unexpected
It is important to have a niche, or something that sets your bed and breakfast apart. For the Griffins, it is their Australian theme in the heart of Amish country. The inn also has hot tubs, serves local food whenever it's possible and offers in-house massages.
Some of the inn's rooms are named for different regions of Australia, which also happen to be ones where a lot of wines come from.
Collecting and learning about wine is one of Bob Griffin's hobbies, Lynne Griffin said.
Pull your resources
Like any industry, running a bed and breakfast comes with its own set of challenges.
A big one right now is California-based Airbnb, Inc.
Airbnb is a website for people to find and rent lodging, sometimes in private homes, and it is impacting the tourism industry around the world.
Pulling resources from a larger organization gives inn keepers more power in fighting the company at a legislative level.
“You can’t fight that by yourself, but you can with an association,” Griffin said, noting she sits on the board of directors for the Pennsylvania Association of Bed and Breakfast Inns.
The industry's criticism of Airbnb is that, unlike Griffin and her peers, those renting space through Airbnb don’t have to be licensed or have commercial insurance.
“It’s not a level playing field,” Griffin said.
"That's a lot of eggs and coffee"
The Australian Walkabout Inn Bed and Breakfast is a five bedroom bed-and-breakfast located at 837 Village Road in West Lampeter Township. It has been operating since 1986. The Griffins took it over in 2007.
The inn sees a steady flow of customers, booking about 700 rooms on average each season.
Lynne Griffin started working with a mentor through SCORE about a year ago, and some initiatives that stemmed from that experience included having professional photos taken of the Inn, building a new website and focusing on a more targeted market.
Since then, she's seen growth. The inn is finishing out the first quarter of 2016 up 25 percent in revenue from 2015, according to Griffin.
Griffin’s goal is to grow the business this year to 770 booked rooms.
“That is lots of eggs and coffee,” Griffin said.
Lancaster County has the second largest concentration of bed and breakfasts of any county east of the Mississippi, according to Griffin.
There are an estimated 160 bed and breakfasts in Lancaster County, and they range from private cottage to historic Victorians to working farms, according to Joel Cliff, director of communications and advocacy for Discover Lancaster.
The Australian Walkabout was one of 103 winners nationwide in SCORE’s American Small Business Championship.
SCORE is a large network of free business mentors, and the Small Business Championship was created to award businesses from throughout the U.S. for the sacrifices they have made to make their businesses successful, according to SCORE’s website.
As a winning business, Inn owners’ Lynne and Bob Griffin will receive a $1,000 Sam’s Club gift card, a free trip to a SCORE training event and SCORE mentoring for one year.
Now, they have the opportunity to advance to the finals, and could potentially win a $25,000 prize.
Winners of the finals will be announced in September.
At the local level, the Lancaster-Lebanon chapter of SCORE is hosting its own small business championship.
A total of six organizations, three small businesses and three nonprofits, will be recognized at a ceremony on April 20, including the Inn, according to Tom Burgum, vice president of client services for SCORE Lancaster-Lebanon.