Have You Renovated a Bed and Breakfast?

Like many American couples, the Bed and Brunch PR team enjoys sitting down once a week during TV season and watching Chip and Joanna Gaines work their magic on their hit reality show Fixer Upper. Several months back, they did something that hit a little more close to home for us; they renovated a property with the intent of opening a bed and breakfast.

I am sure that it goes without saying, but I will say it here anyway, we have an interest and excitement in the what, when, why, where and how of all things B&B. Watching the always delightful Chip and Joanna create this B&B, we couldn’t help but watch it from the perspective of a current B&B owner updating their property or the prospective B&B owner looking for a new business opportunity. Our first thought was 'Wow…the press interest in Chip and Joanna would make this a home run on the PR side of things.' Our second thought had to do with what was real and what was done specifically for the sake of the show.

Much of the conversation on the periphery, and conversation worth having, of renovations have to do with the revenue that will come from the rehab, the type of guests one hopes to attract, and location from which guests could be coming from. Does the local economy support the room rates I will require to meet my expenses? Will there be pushback from the community? What kind of renovations will appeal to the kind of guests I want to have at my inn? The list of these thoughts and conversations is nearly endless and all come before the work begins. These are individual choices and/or are unique to each location. I would never dare to tell you what kind of guests you should want to have at your inn. I am happy to suggest that you should have clarity on that for yourself before you start renovations on your existing or newly purchased inn.

Lyon Porter, who has two iterations of his Urban Cowboy B&B (Brooklyn and Nashville), was generous to accept my invitation to speak about his experiences renovating the Nashville property. “In a nutshell, be prepared for anything and everything. If you have a budget – double it. If you have a time frame – double it.”

On the front line of managing the renovation comes the contractor. “A good contractor is worth their weight in gold,” says Lyon, when reflecting on the endeavor. The choice of a contractor would seem to have two very important elements; 1) the quality of the work being done 2) what did it take to get that work done. Lyon eloquently speaks of the importance of talking with people that have worked with the contractor you are considering and hearing about the experience they had with the contractor, as well as seeing the work the contractor did.  Doing this kind of research doesn’t stop with one former client, but three or even four others that have worked with the contractor in the past. The idea is, the greater the pool of information, the higher the chance you’ll receive a more well-rounded representation of what you can expect your experience with the contractor to be like.

Even with the most experienced and honest contractor, still be prepared for things to come up and to have to adjust your expectations. There will be change orders as the renovation moves forward. Watching Chip and Joanna find an unexpected problem (with Chip’s experience and knowledge as an anchor) and costing extra money just adds drama to the well produced reality show experience. When it’s your own money at stake and (assuming you are not yourself an expert renovator or contractor) you are in a position of weakness needing to get the job done, within the proposed time frame, and close to projected budget, it will put your mind at ease to have multiple accounts that the contractor you have hired is not taking advantage of you.

When speaking with Lyon about the Urban Cowboy renovations in Nashville, what struck me the most was his clarity of vision. A number of guests at the Brooklyn Urban Cowboy said that Nashville was a place where a similar aesthetic would be embraced. When Lyon and his partner Jersey took a trip to Nashville something magical happened when they found the property that was to become Urban Cowboy Nashville. It was the confluence of timing, both for Lyon, and for the area of East Nashville, and the opportunity to take a property that was ready for a transformation into a business venture that would benefit all. Urban Cowboy Nashville is almost done with the construction of a bar (open to the public as well as guests) in the back of the property. While a bar might not be the way to go for many bed and breakfasts, it fits right into the vision of what the Urban Cowboy Nashville has in mind. Plus, from a business standpoint, it adds a welcome revenue stream.
Each B&B is as different as the owners and innkeepers that run them. That is a beautiful part of the guest experience. So often, it is easy for a guest to forget the blood, sweat, and (unfortunately) tears that go into making that experience happen. The renovations of a property are step one in the journey that makes the guest experience happen.

Thanks to Lyon Porter for giving me the time to ask him about what the process was like for him. I look forward to seeing how Chip and Joanna run their inn as the renovation of their inn was right in their wheelhouse.

This piece was not meant to be comprehensive but more the start of a conversation.  Please feel free to share with us things you learned when renovating. Lessons, ideas and victories are welcome to be shared. We want everybody who is going renovate to learn from everybody that has renovated. The B&B community is full of warm and kind people and it is an honor for us at Bed and Brunch PR to be a part of it.