Let’s rewind five years to the summer of 2003. I, like so many of the guests who envy my lifestyle, was working in corporate America. I was in administration at a consulting firm in downtown Boston, the latest of several jobs I had held over the last five years or so out of college. I should digress a moment and point out that we are young innkeepers. That’s why you will see phrases on this blog like, “I came home after a rough day at work and pounded down a bottle of Chardonnay,” as opposed to, “I decided to blow off some steam after a long day by finishing the sweater I’ve been knitting my grandson.”
Anyway, I couldn’t stand working for someone else and hopped from company to company hoping to find a job I felt passionate about. Finally, one particularly depressing day when I was feeling restless once again, I made my way down the elevator of the high rise office complex where I worked to the Barnes and Noble below. Impulsively, I bought a copy of Running a Bed and Breakfast for Dummies. I distinctly remember the cashier asking if I owned a B&B to which I responded, “not yet.” I flipped through the book in the confines of my cubicle and noted a website the authors had created – http://www.bedandbreakfast.com/. Perfect…I could pretend to do work while perusing the site. I found a link on the site to “inns for sale” and immediately did a search for properties on Cape Cod. My husband, James, who worked at a prestigious downtown Boston hotel, and I had fantasized about owning a B&B in Chatham – where he had vacationed as a kid – when we retired thirty years down the road. But we had never even broached the idea of doing it any sooner. My search generated a list of three B&B’s on the Cape, one of which – the Carriage House Inn – looked just like the dream inn we had envisioned. I spontaneously emailed the link to James at work and got back to alphabetizing files or whatever I was supposed to be doing.
For the next three days or so, I put my little fantasy out of my mind. I didn’t even mention it to James at home and completely forgot that I had emailed him the listing. Then, on a Friday afternoon, a response from James appeared in my inbox. As is typical of my fiscally responsible husband, his reply was a preliminary hypothetical profit and loss statement based on current interest rates, a rough estimate on occupancy rates, and the average daily rate provided on the sales specs. His analysis? Maybe this could work! Now, I should point out that in our relationship, I am the idealist and James is the realist. The fact that James was fueling my enthusiasm meant something here. We had plans to spend the weekend with his parents at their vacation home on the Cape that weekend so I printed the listing and stuffed it in my suitcase.
Turned out, my enthusiasm was contagious. Over dinner that night, we showed the listing to James’ parents who encouraged us to call the realtor. To me, this was even more huge than James’ optimistic spreadsheet. His parents are conservative by nature. For them to encourage even the possibility of us uprooting our stable (though in my case, fickle) careers, complete with health insurance and 401k plans to embark on a business that could sink or swim, was the push we needed to call the realtor. I was already deciding what coffee to serve for breakfasts at the inn as I dialed the number, but my bubble burst when I was informed that there was a bid on the inn which had been accepted. Other offers were being entertained, though, as there was a home sale contingency on the contract and the sellers were eager to sell. We set up an appointment to view the property, but with an overwhelming sense that we were wasting the realtor’s time – the likelihood of being able to counter the offer if we even liked the property was slim.
The cards were in our favor though. The inn was in fantastic condition cosmetically with six well appointed rooms and a comfortable apartment for the innkeepers. What was lacking were the essentials of a viable business – occupancy numbers were low, the website was practically non-existent, and it was the middle of summer. We wouldn’t be able to close on the property until fall at the earliest and there were no reservations on the books after mid-October. It would be a rough winter of eating Ramen noodles and leftovers, but we were game. After all, there is a certain romance about scrimping and saving to fulfill your lifelong dream, right?
To make a long and fairly boring story short, we were able to put together a business plan and get backing from a bank to move forward with the sale and outbid the previous offer. This all happened fairly quickly and while we knew we had the business sense and personalities to be innkeepers, those talents couldn’t be put to the test unless we had guests. We would need to figure out a marketing plan – and fast!