While sitting in church this morning, I listened to the minister quoting an article in the New York Times about how small businesses were coping with the recession. The author broke them into two camps, those who “hunkered down” and tried to ride out the recession by cutting costs, delaying expenditures of any kind, and just waiting for things to improve, and secondly, those who continued to market and spend, although cutting costs where practical. As you can imagine, the second group, those who continued to market themselves, were the ones doing better during the recession.
This is the point where my concentration left the pulpit and wandered the two blocks back to the Inn…
How were we coping? Were we in the first group, hunkering down, or were we with the forward thinkers, marching ahead with guns ablazing in spite of reduced income? I had to answer, we are closer to the first “hunkerers” than the “blazers.” This recession has hit us hard. Our volume (occupancy) took a dive in July of 2008 and hasn’t recovered yet. Our average room cost (ADR) is down too, so not only do we have fewer guests, but those staying are spending less. I certainly don’t blame the guests. They are just reacting to their own financial situations, by coming less often, staying in less expensive rooms, or not coming at all.
We, as consumers, are doing the same thing. We have cut out wedding showcases, website listings that were weaker performers, dropped our membership in the Chamber of Commerce, have one fewer amenity in each room (now 4 bottles of bathroom supplies, not 5) and have limited the variety of cookies we place in guests’ rooms every night. To keep the pay to our employees up to acceptable level, we have had to cut our staff to the bone, and those remaining have had to step up and, through cross training, do more than one job.
Are we still marketing as strongly as in the past? Are we still innovators, trying new ways to reach the traveling public? Well, I can’t name one new innovation or one new marketing campaign that I have instigated during the past two years, so I would have to say we are “hunkerers” not “blazers.”
Speaking of burn-out (and unconsciously at least, I think I was), it seems to be rampant in the B&B industry right now, as well as many areas of small business and society. We (the collective we) have been through the toughest times most of us can remember. I do think there is a “new normal” that we all will have to adjust to. The freewheeling days of fast money and easy credit are gone. Small businesses, if they are still alive, are gasping for air and ready for a recovery; even a slow, minor one will be greatly appreciated.
As for my own burn-out, I don’t think I’m there yet (although my wife disagrees and mentioned it this morning as I left for work). Sometimes I feel like chucking it all, buying a trailer and living down by the river. Other times, after sitting on the back porch, talking to amazing guests that have incredible insight to so many things, I think, “This job is the best ever. Don’t tell anyone about it or everyone will want to do it!”
So what has this little aside into Sunday thought brought to me? A plethora of new exciting ideas? Courage to borrow tons of money and invest in growth? No, but it has awakened a desire to try new marketing campaigns this next year. I’ve got a few ideas, simmering on the back-burner. Maybe now is the time to turn up the heat, find the funds, and blaze into the new year, leading the charge into financial growth, storehouses be damned!
Gary at Walnut Street Inn900 E Walnut StreetSpringfield, MO 65806Info: 417-864-6346Reservations: 800-593-6346