Photo by Jonathan Bell on Unsplash

Whether you are a seasoned lodging professional trying to emerge from the ruins of the COVID pandemic or recently starting out as a new innkeeper, success can seem nearly unachievable.  And while the journey may be long and daunting, the good news is that you’re not the first to go down that road.

You can learn, if not be inspired from those who have faced some incredible challenges and emerged with successful lodging businesses.  Take the case of Wendy Kelly, who we recently interviewed for our Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series

Through uncharacteristic circumstances, Wendy and her husband became the owners of the Agate Beach Motel in 1990 with absolutely no experience in hospitality.  They soon found themselves faced with one of the biggest challenges of their lives.

At the time, the property was far from being operational, with broken windows in the units, and yellow tape across some of the rooms because of previous drug activity.  Through a vision of what she wanted the motel to be and pure perseverance, Wendy was able to turn Agate Beach Motel into an award-winning property.  She has since purchased and renovated the Wall Street Suites, a top-rated boutique property in Bend, Oregon.

There are several lessons that we took away from our discussion with Wendy and the story she told us.  Here are some that we hope will help and inspire you on your journey toward lodging success:

  • A vision is essential: Before you take any journey, you have to know where you want to go.  You don’t have to have all of the details but you have to have a vision of what you want your property to be in the future.  Without it, you won’t know how to get there or be able to persevere when you face the many challenges along the way.
  • Where do you start?: I remember seeing a business documentary where Wally Amos, the founder of Famous Amos cookies, was being interviewed about his entrepreneurial success.  The interviewer wanted to get his advice for people starting out with a new business idea, so he was asked “Where do you start?” and I thought his reply was brilliantly simple: “You start from where you are.  You start from right here, right now.” In other words, the current situation is what it is, so get with it and work with what you have.  It’s the only way to determine how to overcome the obstacles in the way of executing your vision.
  • Process makes perfect: You can’t do it all yourself and the only way you can have others do things the way you want them to be done is to create processes and make them an integral part of your business.  In talking with Wendy, it became apparent that she is very process-oriented and that mindset has contributed greatly to her ability to build a successful organization.
  • Make incremental changes: You want to create a property fitting of your own unique vision but you don’t need to reinvent the lodging industry.  As you “start from where you are”, make incremental changes and keep improving over time.  Start with industry norms and tweak them according to your vision of how you want to manage your property.
  • Pay attention to the details: You have to prioritize and work on what’s most important first, rather than getting weighed down by the details of insignificant things.  As the “7 Habits” author, Stephen R. Covey, once suggested, don’t get  mired “in the thick of thin things.”  On the other hand, you can’t forget the old adage that “the devil is in the details.” If you implement processes that fit your vision, paying attention to the details allows you to incrementally improve them and get you closer to your vision.
  • Hire people based upon “soft skills”: Many of the people working for Wendy’s properties were like her – they started without any experience in the hospitality industry.  While experience is sometimes necessary based upon the position, a service-oriented and wanting-to-learn mindset is essential.  When hiring at my organization, we call these “soft skills” and have found them to be one of the most important factors in hiring successful people.
  • Keep the faith and persevere: Nothing of any real value in life comes easily.  But if you stay faithful to your vision, you’ll be willing to persevere when the challenges sometimes seem insurmountable. 

Wherever you are in your journey to make your vision a reality, learning the stories of people like Wendy Kelly can help inspire you during the toughest of times.  Have a vision, start from where you are NOW, build detailed processes, hire caring people, and keep the faith.

Good luck!

Thanks to Wendy Kelly, the owner of the Wall Street Suites and the Agate Beach Motel – two independent/boutique properties in Oregon – for contributing to this Frictionless Innkeeper TIP during a Frictionless Innkeeper podcast.