One year of business in a small town under my belt! At the beginning of last summer we made the big switch to being innkeepers in outport Newfoundland when we officially took over ownership of the Anchor Inn Hotel in Twillingate.
This life came with significant perks:
- amazing sunsets;
- oceanfront views;
- on-site chefs;
- small-town hospitality, and
- interesting and delightful guests from all over the world.
I can hear you thinking: “Sounds like the life of Oprah Winfrey!”
After 13 years of starting and running Internet marketing company Applecore Interactive this was a rather significant change. Now doing much of Applecore’s business remotely, life quickly turned into a new “routine” not that different to the early days of Applecore when four hands had to stretch very far.
Like every fairly tale, there is of course the other side of the story and this quickly taught me a few valuable new business lessons:
1. Every Problem Has A Solution
Running a tourism operation is all about creating a magical visitor experience. Very soon we learned that it takes attention to detail, thinking on your feet and superb problem solving skills to make this happen. Things happen at breakneck speed and each day’s challenges have been multiple and varied:
“We are out of eggs…” (at 6:45 am);
“There is a leak downstairs” (just as the show is about to start)
“The lady in Room 14 cannot find her luggage!” or
“I locked myself out of my room (at 3:00 am).
Despite the range of problems each one of them had its solution. Many of these were part of a learning curve and finally got resolved as we implemented new systems. No need to panic because there was always someone who could help, and when all else failed, there was Google and the Sears Catalogue.
2. At the End of the Road there is no Costco
With an hour and a half to Gander, two hours to Grand Falls Windsor and 5 and a half to St. John’s planning for supplies can be an issue. A cash register with no paper is of no value. It took all my resourcefulness to find suppliers online, collect catalogues and find representatives of companies that would visit the town from time to time to locate what we needed and get it here in time. Needless to say, I missed the days where I could roll out of bed, get ready and be in time for an NLOWE workshop at 9. Now it required a long drive and depending on the weather, a Plan B in case an overnight stay may be needed. (Just saying….)
3. Keep a Paperclip in Your Pocket
A second important lesson: When a toilet cistern malfunctions it is important to have a paper clip in your pocket. Likewise, it is always good to know where the flashlight, keys and the electrical breakers are. Thinking ahead and being prepared took on a whole new meaning in my new world!
4. Because you have never done it before, it does not mean you cannot do it.
Each one of us has many explored and unexplored talents. At the Anchor Inn I had to draw on many of the latter in times of need, like the day a tour group arrived early:
It was rainy and 40 guests were waiting in the lobby. In the blink of an eye we grabbed an ugly stick and without much ado, launched into “I’se the gal that catches the fish…”
Writing funding proposals, making dessert, checking in guests, playing concierge and picking a lock can all be part of one day’s work!
5. Magic Presents itself in the Most Unexpected Moments
Work hours this past year have been long… but most days there is an unexpected nugget of gold that makes the day special.
- Such as the early morning’s golden sunrise over the harbour in the quiet hour before breakfast guests arrive
- Such as doctor and Mrs. Kaplan, our kindest guests who arrived back at the hotel with a freshly brewed cappuccino for each of us
- Such as 94-year old Mrs Arnold that checked in and before we gave her key, said” “Wait my Dear, I have the key to room 9 for you here in my purse from last year.”
- Or seeing diamond sparkles on the ocean, and witnessing the power of an iceberg breaking apart
6. It is Just Business
Taking over a business that was new to us seemed daunting at first. Soon I knew the thread count of our linens, the length of our tablecloths, the difference between a local and domestic beer and what “see ya da once” meant.
Soon I realized that business was business and it boiled down to the old familiar things:
- Setting goals and measuring results
- Quality of our products and service
- Sourcing the best products from the most reasonable suppliers
- Building solid business relationships
- Implementing simple systems
- Communicating clearly with staff
- Hiring for attitude and training skills
- Making every customer feel special
- Using the power of the Internet and Social Media to engage customers
7. A Whole New World
On a more serious note, doing business in an outport community has had its challenges and its blessings. During our first year in Twillingate we have had the most incredible support from the community. At the same time we had to adjust to a world where roles are still traditional, life seasonal and winters harsh. Everything comes in on a “freight truck” and on most days the bank closes at 3 pm.
8. Make Time for Things You Like
It has been a busy year in which we upgraded the hotel’s star rating, renovated accommodations, built a deck as large as a house, improved infrastructure and revamped a restaurant that consistently gets rather lovely feedback.
The key to my sanity has been making time for things I enjoy.
Sometimes it is baking my favourite cheesecake for dessert and sometimes it is picking berries for the chefs. I have invited my favourite musicians to perform – not caring whether I make a dime or not. Some days I take the time to have tea with a wise and interesting person in our new community… and some days I volunteer to write a blog post such as this one…
In 15 years Wilma Hartmann immigrated to Canada from South Africa, raised four children; started a successful marketing company with partner Deborah Bourden; started a social media consulting company; and moved to Twillingate where they co-own and operate the Anchor Inn Hotel, Georgie’s Restaurant and Captain’s Pub. Feel free to follow on Facebook to see the story unfold!