Insufficient research is one major contributor to business failure. Your B&B dream is only the first step toward your business. You need to conduct lots of research before putting any significant money into a B&B. The information you learn will help you understand the ups and downs, see what government regulations will apply, understand your customers’ profile, find professionals and suppliers, and spark marketing ideas. Conduct your research near and far. I have seen many innkeepers go bankrupt, losing their inns and retirement nest eggs, because of their failure to do adequate research before diving into the business.
Incorporate your market niche and target audience into your research so you can determine if your idea is a solid one and satisfies a need -— or if it’s an illusion (an idea whose time isn’t now). Also accommodate your personal needs in your B&B concept. Analyze what you need in a community in the way of grocery stores, schools, theaters (movie and other), bowling alleys, discount stores, population. What keeps you ticking? Answers to these questions shape your location options. Analyze uncontrollable environmental factors which include:
- culture (what societal or cultural characteristics of the market will affect you)
- economy (what national, state, and local conditions will affect you)
- politics (what federal, state and local restrictions/trends will affect you)
- technology (what changes and innovations will impact you)
- competition (what’s your market share in relation to them)
The purpose of doing market research before buying your B&B is to learn the pros and cons of a particular location and even bed and breakfast. Interview questions for your bed and breakfast research will cover business issues, guest profile, guest origins, marketing, income sources, regulations, expenses, maintenance, and innkeeper satisfaction. I’m going to provide sample questions from each area for the purpose of this article. The ebook Planning Your Business — Getting a Handle On The Nuances of Implementing Your Idea — has a longer list of suggested questions.
Some questions you are going to ask will be just of the selling innkeeper. Others, on the other hand, can be asked of a variety of people in the community. Here are some of the questions to ask in a broader scope than just the inn. Of course asking the innkeeper these questions will provide valuable information too.
- When is your busy season/time of day/time of the week?
- Is the B&B market saturated here?
- What is the Inn’s reputation?
- Where would you best like to see a B&B in this area?
- Does this B&B offer services that you like — special events, meetings, tea, gift shop?
- Why do visitors come to this town?
- What is there to do here for tourists?
Questions that are generally able to be answered only by the selling innkeeper are more B&B specific. Here are some sample questions for that line of questioning.
- What is your customer profile — age, gender, education level, income?
- Do you have any corporate accounts? What terms?
- What kind of breakfast do you serve? What would you change?
- Did you have any start-up problems?
- Which government regulations were toughest to satisfy?
- Do you keep a “green inn”?
- What would you do differently if you were starting over?
- How would you describe your market niche?
Questions to ask of the local regulators, inspectors, and of course the innkeeper, include:
- What is this property zoned for?
- Is this property in compliance with all zoning requirements?
- Are there other inspections to run that I haven’t thought of yet?
- Do you know of issues coming up that will impact this property?
Strive to develop questions that are open-ended to illicit long, informative answers. Often there’s more to the answer than just the words too, so pay attention as the answer is given. Utilize close-ended questions to get facts answered, and consider asking the same question in different formats to see what you can learn.
Always ask the person you are talking to when the best time to interview them is. Offer to take them out for coffee or lunch. Be sensitive to office hours and any conflict of interest your interview might have. Ask if you can record the interview; don’t just assume it’s ok. Stay focused, but don’t forget the human interaction and have fun.
Your questions can get answers from people, but also resources. The library and internet are two good sources, but don’t stop there. Talk to B&B associations, hospitality research firms, and other lodging properties.
Conducting research and asking lots of questions will contribute to the success of your bed and breakfast. Learn to ask not only the easy questions, but difficult interview questions ones too. You may be glad you did.