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 makes they do to make their inn so special. In this feature you’ll meet Donald Jones who, with his partner Andrew Kohn, owns and operates the Orchard House of Granville, Ohio.
What sparked your interest in running a bed and breakfast?
My partner Andrew had wanted a farm, and I had lived in Washington, D.C. for thirteen years and we were talking about a B&B and thought that was kind of a neat thing to do. We found an old 1850s farmhouse outside of Granville that had been a B&B back in the ‘90s and we decided to move out here so I could be close to my folks who live in Cincinnati and Andrew could live his dream of having a farm and a beautiful house and a place to decorate and to cook and to share with interesting people and have them stay with us.
What did you do prior to becoming an innkeeper?
My current career, and also what I was doing prior to the B&B, is that I consult to federal government clients on strategic communications, Web strategy and social media. Andrew worked at the White House as a writer and appraiser.
How did you envision life as an innkeeper?
Well, one thing we didn’t anticipate was the amount of laundry and cleaning and all of that. And some of the start-up costs like the cost of insurance, we didn’t completely think through some of those things.
How did the fantasy compare with the reality?
Well, it’s not just sitting and chit-chatting with guests -- there’s a lot of work involved. It’s great to know that guests are coming, but there’s a whole lot that has to happen between that phone call and them coming over to make sure everything’s ready for them. In some ways, we’re still figuring it out.
Publicity is also expensive. Getting advertisements and brochures and being on all the different websites and certain websites that will go unnamed take a big cut off the top… There were a lot of expenses and up-front costs. Plus when we go out to eat at night, you have to have the phone because you are on call all the time. You always have to be ready to respond.
What is the most pleasing aspect of running a bed and breakfast?
The thing that is really pleasing is meeting a lot of different people. We’ve gotten a great variety of guests from all over the country -- editors to writers to doctors, mayors, and people who run non-profits, so meeting all of those interesting people and talking to them about their lives is a great part of it.
What do you find most challenging?
I think certainly being in our first year, the big challenge is all the things to start up with in terms of having to buy twelve sets of sheets so you're not always doing the wash and figuring as you go exactly what you need. You want to do it all perfectly but you also have to ask 'What is the cost of that?' and 'How do I keep my rates reasonable enough to function?' We had to figure all of that out and do it right from the beginning. That’s been a big challenge.
With all of the demands on your time, how do you find time for yourself?
I travel some for work, so I do get away, and we blocked out two weeks in the summer to go to a beach house and just get away for awhile. An innkeeper said that at least once a quarter you should block out a weekend for yourself so that’s what we did on Labor Day weekend. And I think Andrew takes trips to Home Depot more often than he needs to just to get out of the house.
Where do you focus your attention when marketing and advertising?
In terms of travel deals, Groupon’s not a bad investment, but they do take a lot off the top. Then again, as a start-up business people all over the state of Ohio knew about us through 'Ohio Travel Deals' which is similar to Groupon but not as huge. That actually was a good thing because we were able to limit the number of deals to a certain number so it didn't blow our budget. I also called a magazine in Columbus to ask about advertising, but I found it was very expensive. But after I talked about our story, two hours later a writer called us and did an article about the inn.
In addition, we try to be visible in community. We're on Facebook and Andrew has a funny blog and I’m surprised at how many people in the village get a kick out of it and tell their friends. And we’re active in Chamber and help man the booths at events. We try to get ourselves out there as much as possible. In our second year we’ll evaluate what’s most valuable because when you’re getting started you want to get all over the place -- but you can’t sustain that over time.
What qualities should aspiring innkeepers have?
A lot of people say “Our dream is to have a B&B someday,” but they need to know that it is a business, and a business with relatively thin margins. There’s a lot of upkeep, and because it’s a small business you have to be a jack of all trades to do it right. You should have a desire to meet and interact with people, have patience, and have an understanding of marketing or know some people who can get you good advice. You obviously have to enjoy cooking and not mind cleaning and having a little obsessive-compulsive personality may not be a bad thing.
What do you do to make your bed and breakfast different from others?
One is the way we’ve decorated. We call it ‘farm style modern comfort’ which is a mix of modern with kind of a farm motif. We tend to attract people who are B&B neophytes and younger and when they see something different they get a kick out of that.
Then we have our llamas and sheep and pigs, goats, alpacas, rabbits and ducks and guests get to go out and enjoy 12 acres of farmland. We started an ‘experience package’ and guests pay us to help clean the barnyard and feed animals. We give them boots to wear and then send them pictures of their experience.
And we also started a side business called the Orchard House Jammery and we make homemade jams. We submitted one for the Ohio State Fair, which didn’t cost much, and we ended up winning Best of Show. So we try to do things differently, and we have a lot of ideas and plans for the future.
But we’ve done enough the first year.
Located outside Granville, Ohio, the Orchard House merges farm style with modern comforts, continuing a bed and breakfast tradition which began in the 1990s. The restored and revitalized inn is highlighted by natural surroundings populated by white-tailed deer and other indigenous wildlife as well as the innkeepers’ collection of dogs, cats, finches, fish, rabbits, chickens, llamas, sheep, and ducks.