B&B location tips for future innkeepers

And three tales of “What were they thinking?”

For people who dream of owning a bed and breakfast, choosing a B&B location is the critical first choice. Innkeepers can change a lot of things after they select and buy a property, from room configuration to decor to breakfast menu. But they can’t change the B&B’s location.

Cheap sign advertises vacancy at a B&B
Are there signs that some B&B locations won’t be successful? At least one veteran innkeeper says yes.

One #MichBnB innkeeper advised succinctly: “‘Build it and they will come’ only works in the movies.” Even if that’s not the exact quote from “Field of Dreams,” the takeaway for an aspiring innkeeper is: Keep the emotion out of choosing a location. Don’t think how much you want to live way out in the country. Don’t focus on how inexpensive the property might be. Don’t romanticize reviving an old house. Instead, ask:  Will sufficient numbers of guests want to pay to stay in that house in that setting and with the attractions nearby (or not)?

MBBA’s aspiring innkeeper education program includes many tips on choosing a B&B location with an excellent chance of success. Click here for more info.

While you’re in click mode, check out the four thriving B&Bs mentioned by name below.

B&B location strategies to consider

A former innkeeper at Saravilla Bed and Breakfast in Alma said: “College towns, particularly those with private colleges, are really good for the inn business. Except for perhaps a few slow summer weeks, colleges and universities are always bringing visitors to campus who need a place to stay, and many come back again and again.”

He noted one downside to the college-town B&B location strategy: “Don’t plan on a long Florida vacation in January and February because you’ll be busy.”

Remember, too, that although you are serving breakfast, guests also need other meals. You may want to live in the woods, but, another innkeeper pointed out that the availability of good restaurants nearby is one of the greatest amenities guests enjoy.

B&B location also could affect an innkeeper’s personal job satisfaction. The former owner of a Pentwater B&B  asked: “Do family and friends live near you? With elderly parents, siblings, and grown children, it’s tough to maintain relationships and attend personal functions if your extended family is not in the area of your bed and breakfast. It’s been one of our toughest challenges.”

A Fennville inn owner reported that he and his wife had conducted extensive demographics research and chose Southwest Michigan because of the age, affluence, and education levels of people in nearby population centers. Only then did he start looking at B&Bs for sale in the region.

Three B&Bs doomed from the start, and why

As an owner of the Glen Arbor Bed & Breakfast, Patricia Widmayer often drives between Chicago and Glen Arbor via US 31. Over the years, Widmayer observed the birth and slow deaths of three B&Bs that popped up along that highway in the 60 miles between Ludington and Benzonia.

What primary flaw did all three have in common? Bad location. “I felt so sad for these folks who invested hopes and dreams and money,” Widmayer said.

Widmayer took photos of all three in case she ever had the opportunity to advise an aspiring innkeeper.

Nice log home in the middle of nowhere
The attractiveness of a home is not enough to make it a successful B&B.

Mistake #1: A log home built to be a B&B

Major flaw: Five or six miles west, Ludington offers wonderful Victorian B&Bs with nearby experiences, and places to dine, so why would someone stay in a field along the highway two miles north of the turnoff from US 10, and near to nothing?

Wrong thinking: With all the lovely lakes in Northwest Michigan, did the owners really think the pond behind the house would be a draw?

Kiss of death: The portable, lighted-arrow sign at the road.

Big home with stone pillars
Location too remote for most travelers.

Mistake #2: Expensive home with stone pillars

Major flaw: A roadside location one mile north of Manistee’s Little River Casino and several miles north of town.

Wrong thinking: Why would travelers prefer this isolated, though lovely, home over casino resort excitement or the charms of waterfront condos, B&Bs, and other accommodations in Manistee?

Kiss of death: Traffic whizzing by at 60 mph.

Ranch house in a field
Motel-like building in the country. No nearby restaurants.

Mistake #3: A ranch house on a rise

Major flaws: Bleak views of U.S. 31, treeless fields, and a long-abandoned gas station where semis park. Also, to find a restaurant, guests would have to drive a number of miles to Bear Lake or back to Manistee.

Wrong thinking: Who wants to stay at a place reminiscent of a motel, absent any other attractions?

In conclusion, aspiring B&B innkeepers will learn B&B location tips and more by joining MBBA as aspiring members. If you know someone who dreams of owning a B&B, please share this post and also make sure they also know about our Inns for Sale page.