Getting Inn on the Action A B&B OF ONE'S OWN

Article excerpt

You're yearning for a change. You enjoy staying in inns and have a knack for cooking, interior decorating, and striking up conversations with strangers. Suddenly the idea hits you: Quit your job and start up a bed-and-breakfast.

For many, opening a country inn is an exciting prospect. Some seek a focus for retirement, others are looking for an escape from the corporate world, and still others want to try their hand at a second or third career.

For those who are considering the idea but have no clue how to begin, help is at hand. Enter David Caples, a 25-year veteran of the hospitality business and itinerant innkeeper instructor. Mr. Caples' Lodging Resources Workshop based in Amelia Island, Fla., teaches neophytes the basics of the trade. Put simply, Mr. Caples runs a school on the ABCs of B&Bs. First off, advises Caples, be forewarned: The financial rewards of B&B ownership can be uncertain, and the hours long. "B&Bs are not normally the highest return on your investment," he says. "An inn is pretty much 50-50 an investment decision and a lifestyle decision." Successful inns put 75 percent of their weight in staff and 25 percent in the building, says Caples. So warm hospitality and a sunny disposition figure in strongly - way ahead of the prize antiques and frilly curtains. "You've got to ask yourself: 'Golly, is this me? Can I do this? Can I be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed every morning {for the guests}?' " says Caples, who runs his workshop with business partner Helen Cook. Clearly, not everyone is cut out for the job. In fact, only 40 percent of those who take Caples's one-day seminar actually pursue the idea. Joseph Fischer and his wife, Ann, of Kingston, N.Y., are in Waltham, Mass., attending a Lodging Workshops one-day seminar. They are hoping to open an inn during their retirement years. "We've done a fair amount of research, and we're looking into a home stay - no more than three rooms - and maybe combining it with a mini-farm," says Mr. Fischer, a systems analyst at IBM. Others are seeking an outlet for creative talents. "I like doing decoration. I like doing artwork, painting, batiking, cooking, baking - everything artsy," says Marie Crockett, a commercial artist. "I just want to get out of the commercial environment." For Barbara Campagna, a graphic designer from Davenport, Iowa, the reason is simple: "You're going to meet a lot of people, and that's what I really enjoy most." Whatever the reason, prospective innkeepers should do some research and careful thinking before they forge ahead, Caples says. For a quick look at the ins and outs of inns, he offers these tips: * Have the concept in mind first. Know what type of B&B you want before finding the building. Decide on something that matches your interests and would attract the kind of guests you would like. * Do a competitive analysis. Inventory the lodging in your area. Don't be afraid to cold-call area hoteliers and other B&B owners to get information. …