This is from an email conversation with the Gillum House B&B, started by the Market Niche article published in Arrington’s Bed & Breakfast Journal:
An article by Kit Cassingham in the May issue stated that one should find their niche in the bed & breakfast industry and hone in on it. Concentrating on the narrow niche that interests the innkeeper will make them more successful.
I acknowledge that if your inn is in an area that draws people so easily that it can support 10 B&Bs, you do need a niche to make you different.
However, many of the inns in this country do not have that. Also, if the “in” thing is the environment and you specialize in environmental guests, you may find yourself empty when the new “in” thing becomes popular. I believe in diversity for longevity.
It should not be done all at once. Take stock of your area and your interests, which one hopes will be more than one thing. What do you have to offer? Then, advertise to one segment of your area at a time until you are known to a few segments of the population and have a diverse guest register.
Here is what I did.
First of all, let me explain that I started my bed & breakfast from a residence in 1996 in a small city (population 2,300) and a city that said almost unanimously when I opened, “Who is going to come to Shinnston?” I also have the old-fashioned type bed & breakfast—three guest rooms with a shared bath. No Jacuzzi or spa and no private baths.
First, I got my Web site—a no brainer. I have a 17-mile rail-trail that was four blocks from my inn and has been lengthened so it is now 50 feet from my door. I spent the first few years advertising to the bike and hike folks in trail publications. I also was able to put together an inn-to-inn trail package with a bed & breakfast in the town at the other end of the trail and get an article in a big city newspaper about the package. That brought people for a few years, but I could see that it was not going to be a sustaining heads in beds by itself.
So, when a local man told me his son was trying to start a stable, I started advertising on horse Web directories and bought a few well-placed ads in horse publications. I put a link on my Web site to the WV Horse Council and let them know I had put the link up. They returned the favor. My clientele now includes equestrian rail-trail and overnight stabling.
West Virginia has great roads for motorcycling, and my husband and I are former bikers. I started a See West Virginia—Inn to Inn for motorcycles, joined a motorcycle club in a neighboring state and started advertising in motorcycle publications.
As the years have passed, I have been able to determine which Web sites or publications have brought me business and retain a few producers in each area. I also promote the history and culture available nearby with specials on my Web site such as my Covered Bridges and Glass Package and my Bike & Berry Package.
The covered bridge tour takes them to see covered bridges but also has stops at a local craft shop and a hand-blown glass factory that has free tours and a showroom. I give my guests an opportunity to leave some of their money in my state, and since the package includes a packed lunch for the tour and a dinner that evening, I also have an opportunity to increase revenue. The Bike & Berry Package has my guests take a bike ride on the rail-trail after breakfast while I pack them a lunch to take to the berry farm. Neither of these packages cost me anything, but they do bring in business. It also gets me promoted by these businesses because I promote them.
Niche is not bad, but do not hang your hat on one niche market, or you may have empty beds down the road.
Diversity is good, but it must be a considered diversity of what is in your area and what you are knowledgeable in. If you are not, study it. Kit Cassingham is correct in saying you cannot corner every market, but you should consider more than one.