Bed and Breakfast Association of Kentucky
Keynote Speech/Opening Banquet
PAII Chairman of the Board
Maintaining Your Momentum, While Exceeding Expectations
Good evening and welcome to the 2004 Bed and Breakfast Association of Kentucky's (BBAK) 2004 Annual Meeting, Maintaining Your Momentum, While Exceeding Expectations. My name is Hugh Daniels and on behalf of your conference committee I am excited to have been invited to participate in several of your programs over the next few days. It is a treat to return to Louisville; it has been over eight years since I had the opportunity to enjoy a truly wonderful and historic community.
I am the current Chairman of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII) Board of Directors. I have been on the Board for about three and a half years and am just starting my third and final one-year term as Board Chairman. I am also one of the former owners and innkeepers of the Old Miners' Lodge in Park City, Utah. I started and ran the inn for 21 years and just recently sold it two months ago. I am hoping my final profession will be with my consulting company called "Ask Hugh," no relation to the now fading "Ask Jeeves." My wife picked the name actually based on the fact that when there was a question at the inn the regular response was go "Ask Hugh." I have had the pleasure of working primarily with innkeepers but with other small businesses and organizations over the last four years as part of my consulting practice.
It is exciting to see all of you here at your association's annual meeting. Without the participation of you the members and your volunteer leaders, you would not have the opportunities for education, socialization and interaction of the next few days. I was the founding President of Bed and Breakfast Inns of Utah and I know how important your state association is to your industry. It doesn't always show up on a day-to-day basis, but your commitment to professionalism in the industry is tied to not only your state membership, but your national association membership as well.
You have a great theme for this year's event, "Maintaining your Momentum, While Exceeding Expectations." Both components are important in your success and I am going to reverse them and talk a little about Exceeding Expectations first.
Research has shown that the three primary reasons that guests chose a bed and breakfast or country Inn over other lodging options are 1) a unique experience, 2) getting to know the innkeeper and their story and 3) breakfast. We are poised to exceed their expectations at every turn just because of those three items.
What is it to exceed? Well, Webster's says "more than, greater than, surpass, out do, be outstanding!" Inns as we know, are pretty much all different. Even those multiple inns owned by a single company are different. We provide a unique experience just because we are unique to start with. Now that doesn't mean we can't ignore what the consumer wants in the way of bath rooms, technology and amenities, but right out of the box we are unique and that is key to who we are.
Why the innkeeper(s) and their story? I think there are a couple of reasons. First in our current lifestyles we are constantly on the go, its work, it's the kids, it social functions and its easy to sit at the impersonal computer and type away. When at your inn they get to meet you the entrepreneur and to hear your story. How many hundreds of your guests have said I would really like to do this, to open an inn. We all make it look easy and romantic, even though it is probably one of the hardest jobs in a small business. But none the less they want to know your story. And we all have one. I came from being a third generation Southern Californian, with a degree in accounting and masters in business, that I hadn't used much and was the Chief Paramedic for the City of Pasadena. But then there was the smog and the traffic and the millions of people, so myself along with a fellow Paramedic decided after being one of those guests who thought innkeeping might be fun, left to move to Park City Utah, then a little known ski town carved out of an old silver mining town with a population of 1,700. Enter a broken down 1889 boarding house; mix with a dream and some tenacity and you get an innkeeper and a story. The stories are different, but they show the guests that dreams do come true. It is important to interact with your guests tell them your story and allow them to experience the uniqueness of your inn. That doesn't mean smothering them. I remember spending hours and hours with guests, but over time came to realize that guests also need their space and the key times to be available were morning and afternoon.
Now breakfast is in our name. It is often referred to as the most important meal of the day and the favorite meal of the day. But in today's fast paced world, who has time for much more than cereal? And where else can you meet such a group of other interesting people? People from your own home town across the country that ended up at the same place at the same time; The film critic from the LA Times, A movie star, A writer, A plumber who is about as funny as anyone you have ever met, Another family that just clicks with yours and becomes long time friends. It doesn't happen at the Hampton Inn or even the Four Seasons.
With a little work and already being primed to exceed expectations we can amaze our guests and keep them coming back along with their friends. Something's we do just because of the type of business we are in. We remember people's names and use them. We make notes for their next visit so the humidifier is in the room on arrival or the down pillows have been replaced with polyester. It's that human touch that is so hard to find these days. Often it is a small thing that exceeds someone's expectations; warm cookies, hot beverages whenever they want them or getting that reservation to a hard to get into restaurant. Sometimes it's a big thing, like driving a guest to the airport who has missed their shuttle, with no expectation of anything in return.
Probably the most known person in the area of exceeding expectations is a gentleman named T.Scott Gross. Those of you that were able to make it to PAII's conference in Providence, RI may have heard him speak and he was also at the PAII San Antonio Conference in 1998. His book on Positively Outrageous Service is just, well, wonderful. As I was preparing for this evening I started re-reading the book and was drawn in once again by his humor and insight. This is what T. Scott Gross says is Positively Outrageous Service "Random and unexpected, out of proportion to the circumstance, invites the customer to play or become otherwise highly involved and creates compelling, positive word of mouth. And we might add, creates an incredible sense of loyalty." I highly recommend his book! It's sensible, personal and funny.
After hearing Scott speak in San Antonio I went back to the inn ready to work the magic of POS or Exceeding Expectations. I kept up with the little things and a few big things that we always did, but also regularly thought of how I could come up with unique marketing ideas that were random and unexpected, how I could get our guests to play when at the inn and tell others. One of the most fun was having all the guests at the breakfast table pull an envelope from a bag and one contained a free nights stay, simple as that. Guests talked to each other about it and to friends and we continued to do it randomly, along with a bunch of other wacko ideas (some better than others) [some examples - pay by the inch, upgrades, first come first serve/your choice].
The flip side is not caring for your guests and not living up to your reputation, because it is true that many more people are told about unresolved problems than those that are satisfied customers. I still talk about the renowned hotel chain Ritz Carlton that handled a complaint of mine so badly that I use it as an example five years later.
Keep looking for those ways to exceed expectations, they are not hard to do and you and your inn will reap the rewards. T. Scott Gross always ends with "Work Hard, Serve Hard, Play Hard and don't forget to love one another," a good saying to live by.
But what about that "Play Hard" How do we Maintain our Momentum?
I can hear the wheels turning, how in the world do you expect me to play hard, up at 5:30 to get the muffins in and get breakfast going, guests, housekeeping, telephones, check-ins, laundry, evening social times, book work, family, staff and on and on and on. It's all true, I know because I have been doing that for the majority of my working years. I have also learned that if you are to succeed in any profession you have to take care of yourself and remain engaged in your industry. When I left emergency medicine, everyone was saying it was because I was burned out. It was a big topic at the time. I was working about a third of the time and seeing about 3,000 patients a year. Actually I loved it, I just needed to be in a different locale and it was time for a new challenge. The same was true when we sold our inn. Are you burned out, they asked? No, I love the people and running the inn, but we're pretty good at this and yes we would like a few shorter work weeks, but I have an idea to help small businesses using what I have learned in school and as an innkeeper and I have a long list of places to travel while I can.
Another thing I learned is you must plan some time away. Granted not always easy, but you need to rejuvenate, recreate, escape and play. For some it is as easy as having a few hours off to volunteer, hike, get together with friends or take a nap. For others, it is a planned vacation away by your self (ves) or with family. Regardless it is as important to plan, as your marketing and cooking efforts.
Depending on your situation, it may mean closing for a period of time, hiring staff to cover in your absence or hiring an innsitter/interim innkeeper. Regardless, in order to stay fresh and be able to continue to exceed expectations you must care for yourself. Plan those getaways in advance so you have something to look forward to as well as taking advantage of any last minute chances to spoil yourself. You say you can't afford it? You cannot afford not to. I am not telling you to close on the busy weekend of the year, but when there is a lull, its is worth missing a few stays to improve your health and well being.
Maintaining your Momentum is not just a little down time. You must stay involved in your industry and continue to look for new ideas. I am a big proponent of not re-inventing the wheel and stealing from the best. You can only do that if you get outside your inn and see what others are doing and what is happening in your industry. Our industry has continued to change over the last 25 years and if you don't interact with your fellow innkeepers or attend educational opportunities, you will be left behind. While we all make it look simple, there is a lot going on behind the scenes, When I started in 1983, there were shared baths, no fax machine, no internet or computer for that matter, no 800 number, no cordless phones, no cell phones, and no trade association to name a few. We must take advantage of technology and new ideas to exceed guest's expectations while making our jobs easier.
Potentially even more important, is the interaction and camaraderie of your fellow innkeepers. No one knows what it's like to walk in your shoes like a fellow innkeeper. And that is also where problem solving comes from, new ideas blossom and you know you are not alone. Your participation with BBAK, PAII and your local and regional associations will help you keep energized. Also take some time now and then to read those entries in your guest books. Your guests also help energize you and can be profoundly important to your well being. We often forget just what joy and what importance we are to our guests. That became potently obvious for us after the fact. Of course we know that a number of our long time return guests have become friends and were a welcome sight on their next visit. When we sold our inn it was sold as a residence, albeit a big one, 7, 000 square feet, 12 guest rooms, 14 baths and a studio apartment, but the Old Miners' Lodge was coming to an end. In our newsletter to past guests telling of the change, we explained the sudden turn of events, thanked them for their loyalty and referred them on to the other inns in the community. The surprise was the response, in phone calls, letters and emails of the profound influence we had on lives and individuals and families and couples. They were sad to see us go (and in all honesty a few rather angry about it - how dare we take their favorite place away), but we had been a part of their lives and they were better for it. You as innkeepers make a difference every day and often don't know it, but it's true and it is one of the wonderful things about our industry.
Lastly, let me say a few things about our industry. It is changing and you are part of that change. Your presence here shows that you take your businesses seriously and wish to succeed. BBAK is a partner with you and so is PAII. If you are not a member of PAII you should be. While BBAK can do some things for you locally and regionally, PAII has the ability to do things in education, research, public relations and legislation nationally. For most inns the cost is a room night or two a year. We have made some huge changes in PAII in the last year. After Pat Hardy and Jo Ann Bell's retirement we established a 7 member Board of Directors who directs the President and CEO and sets policy for the organization. We hired a very competent new President/CEO named Pam Horovitz who has been on the job a little over a year and is doing great things. We expanded our Advisory Council to 15 members. We have a number of new staff members both from the industry and from without. We moved our offices from the West Coast to the East Coast. We have done a number of surveys within the membership, vendors and non-members and will continue to industry and consumer research. We have new association software, discussion group and are redoing our website. We are continuing our focus on education with our National Convention (coming up in Phoenix in March of 2006) and with regional conferences, plus beginning online education programs and are working on a "Master Innkeeper" educational program, similar to Certified Hotel Administrator designation given by the American Hotel and Lodging Association. There is a lot happening and I would hope you would join us as your national trade association, if you are not only already a member. This is a partnership of organizations to provide you help in all areas of your business.
Let me leave you with this: Our industry has seen many changes over the years and someone at the local motel can provide all the continental breakfasts they want, the little boxes of cereal, the infamous make your own waffles from batter in a Dixie cup, the little cartons of milk and the brown bananas. They can try to train their staff to the "nth" degree, but they will never, ever be a Bed and Breakfast or Country Inn. You care for your guests like family and even the occasional stinker. You have pride in your business, your food, your service and your hospitality. I am proud to have been an innkeeper and to continue to work in this industry, plus be with you at this important event. Thank you, have a good evening and a great meeting!