To introduce you to innkeepers across America, this recurring column reveals how ordinary people turned their dream into a reality; how the innkeepers' lifestyle compares with their fantasies; and what they do to make their inn so special. In this feature you’ll meet Rick Litchfield who, with his wife Bev, owns and operates the Captain Lord Mansion in Kennebunkport, Maine.
What sparked your interest in running a bed and breakfast?
We had never stayed at a B&B and we didn’t even know what B&Bs were. At first we were looking to get into a restaurant and found ones that were flaming out because of divorce. Then we came upon the Captain Lord Mansion which had location, location, location and we both felt this could be a business that could be successful. We found it on St. Patrick’s Day 1978 and at the time it was primarily a boarding house for seven ladies over the age of 80 as well as transient guests who would occupy a few rooms.
What did you do prior to becoming an innkeeper?
We both came out of marketing and advertising, but we both also have what I would consider a “servant’s heart.” We have a willingness to do whatever it takes to make guests happy, and I think that’s critical.
How did the fantasy compare with the reality?
Really, we were young and naïve. We were making it up as we went along. At first Bev did the cooking and cleaning and I ran office. But 34 ago there was a different perspective about B&Bs. Back then shared baths were still de rigueur so as long as the room was clean and comfortable, guests were happy. Most of our rooms had a water closet, not a full bath, so one of the first things we did was to change over and create full private baths. So 34 years and several million dollars of upgrades later…
What is the most pleasing aspect of running a bed and breakfast?
Fulfilling guest expectations is one -- and many of our longtime friends were our guests originally. Also, being involved in the community. We’ve been really involved in Kennebunkport through the Chamber of Commerce, the arts, and social activities.
What do you find most challenging?
The first thing is the physical maintenance. Because of the high occupancy we run, the house takes a tremendous beating. There’s wear and tear on furniture and paint with luggage banging against it and we replace mattresses and linens often and since this is a 20,000 square foot mansion, we can’t afford to paint it every year so we just paint one side per year.
The other challenge is the changing marketing world. Years ago if you were in the inn books, you were home free. Today you have to be on facebook and have a great website and be on trip advisor with good reviews. Plus you have to have a new website every two to three years. You have to stay current, and that also means staying current with guest expectations as far as the amenities in your rooms.
With all of the demands on your time, how do you find time for yourself?
You don’t need to sell, you just need a vacation. We just got back from a week in the Grand Caymans. What allows us to do that is that we have a good staff. We have 20 rooms and a high occupancy so we can afford a staff of about 15 employees who do cooking, cleaning, and maintenance so neither my wife or I have to be here 24/7.
This is no mom and pop. This is big business.
Where do you focus your efforts when it comes to marketing and advertising?
We hired a company to design our website and they do all the SEO marketing, Google Adwords, placement and all of that. I do the blogs and facebook posting and create the packages. And our new website is done in WordPress so I can I add and remove packages very quickly.
One other thing. I still use direct mail and e-mail newsletters. There are those who won’t use direct mail anymore, but I think they’re crazy. I still use it because people pay attention to a direct mail piece.
What do you do to make your bed and breakfast different from others?
Hmmm…. One is the level of opulence and luxury in the guest rooms. For instance, very few inns in the U.S. have heated marble floors in every bath. The other is the personal attention with a well-trained staff that makes people feel truly welcome. That’s critical.
What qualities should aspiring innkeepers have?
Today, lots of money! I’m serious! If I were trying to get into the business today, I don’t know if I could do it. But going back to what I said about the servant’s heart, if you aren’t willing to sacrifice some of your personal time to make a guest feel special, a bed and breakfast is not for you.
The Captain Lord Mansion Inn is a AAA 4-Diamond Award-Winning property in Kennbunkport, Maine. Selected among the top 50 Small Hotels in America by Conde Nast Traveler, the inn is located at the head of a sloping village green, overlooking the Kennebunk River and is within blocks from the shops and restaurants of Port’s Dock Square.