Open Only 5 Weeks and Busy Since Day 1! How Highland Garden House Did It
Today we’re joined by Dennis George, owner of Highland Garden House in Mt. Vernon, Washington to hear about what he’s learned from running his Bed and Breakfast. They opened only 5 weeks ago and they’ve been ‘busy enough’ since the start!
This is the first interview in our Hotelier Interviews series, where we’re inviting Hotel, B and B, and Resort operators on to tell their story of how they run and sustain their business. If you’re interested in being interviewed, submit your request here.
Welcome, Dennis George…
Can you briefly introduce your hotel, where it’s located, the local attractions, etc.?
We are in the middle of Skagit County, WA, the tag line is we are “Washington’s Backyard.” Skagit is almost the last county in Washington before Canada. 10 miles from the salt water and a few more in the other direction to the North Cascade Range. The mighty Skagit River flows right through our town. Highland Garden House is located in an older residential neighborhood in Mt. Vernon. We are well served by I-5, a transit center with long and local distance bus service and Amtrak. HGH is a 5 minute drive to Skagit Station, so I market our ability to pick you up or drop you off for free.
We have only two private rooms available in a vintage 1930 home. I keep my rates low enough to garner interest to generate the Reviews that I will need for future business.
How long have you been in operation? What led you to the decision to start your hotel?
Highland Garden House began business on June 1, 2012. I did not start out to open a B and B. I needed a way to generate additional income and to more fully utilize this grand old house. Getting full time renters was out. The location, the extra rooms, my ability to serve as host and chef, my past experience in commercial kitchens and in the hospitality industry, my technological acumen, my love of gardening, the need for a part time job, my need to be able to take blocks of time away from here all contributed to the logical choice to open this Guest House.
It just was so perfect in so many ways. My first customer was on June 4, 2012 and we have been ‘busy enough’ since then. I have low overhead and do not have to be full all the time. If one of my rooms is occupied, that is fine.
“I take all the Reviews I get, no matter where, and post them to my own web site… You have to keep pounding away at getting your name out there in an interesting way. Not just, ‘we have rooms available tonight.'”
What has been your most effective method of marketing your hotel and attracting guests?
I have used AirBnb from the first day. I did not know about them before, but most of my first time business is now generated through them. I do not take credit cards, so AirBnb is my fall back to take cards. They only take 3% off the top from me, and charge the guest an additional 10% from my listed rates. No one seems to bat an eye at this. I also have my own free WordPress web site that has a reservation calendar, lots of pictures, descriptions, etc. I only keep two calendars synchronized: my own site calendar using a linked Google Calendar and the AirBnb calendar for each room. This WordPress site is also my blog. I have taken the time to get Highland Garden House as a business listing on all the major search engines: Google, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, etc. We are now showing up on TripAdvisor. I think the more you get free advertising and are showing up in searches, the better.
How have you used the web and social media to promote your hotel?
With the connection between my WordPress site and my Facebook page and my Twitter feed, I can make posts in my blog and they are automatically posted on my business Facebook page and in my Twitter feed. The less you have to repeat things in different platforms, the better.
I take all the Reviews I get, no matter where, and post them to my own web site, citing the first name of the Reviewer and the original posting source of the Review. I then post as a Facebook newsfeed post, for my business page, the Review in quotes. I think you have to keep pounding away at getting your name out there in an interesting way. Not just, “we have rooms available tonight.” Little Reviews; pictures of the cat sleeping, exhausted from serving as the petting zoo; a sunset from the North Room, etc. Your Facebook posts may be getting Shared around the world every day, in this manner.
It would have been impossible to start this business without the web, I would have not even tried.
What is the most challenging aspect of running your hotel business? How do you overcome this?
I like a neat and tidy house and grounds, being always ready to receive guests with very little warning is a little foreign to me. Since we are not found by walk or drive bys, all my guests have reservations, this is good.
What was one thing you learned from your experience operating your hotel, that you didn’t know or expect before starting out in the hospitality business?
People eat a lot less for breakfast than I thought. People give you an arrival time that really means “That is the time I would LIKE to arrive.”
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