Every once in a while you come across a really great idea, though it may not be at a really great time.
Back in 2012, Bill and Mary Kendrick were looking to retire from innkeeping, sell their bed and breakfast in Prince Edward Island, and continue to build their experiential tourism business, which was growing by leaps and bounds. They put their three-acre, five-guestroom inn, on the market for $399,000 and waited. Then waited some more. That's when their daughter stepped in to help, creating a social media campaign called "Help My Parents Retire (and Win a Trip to Prince Edward Island)."
"They didn't want to go into another season running the B&B because they knew they'd be locked in and they'd have to wait another year to try to sell the house," explained daughter, Ainsley Kendrick. "I work in marketing communications and thought 'Maybe there's some sort of unique way we can get it out there;' eyes weren't getting onto the listing."
Ainsley created a video, Tumblr account, and Facebook page that explained who her parents were and that they were trying to sell the house and business. Her hope was that through social sharing, the inn would sell by her parents' 40th wedding anniversary in 2013. To up the ante, she offered a lucrative incentive. If you referred the person who bought the inn, you would receive an all expenses paid vacation for two to Prince Edward Island or $5,000.
"People shared the information, they definitely shared it. I can't remember the statistics on it now but it got surprisingly high, in the 20,000 impressions range. People really liked the concept. The Star picked up on it. It was really great but in the end it didn't end up working," Ainsley said; though the inn did ultimately sell in 2014.
"I thought it was successful in regards to getting us out there into a medium we wouldn't have been able to get into ourselves," explained mom, Mary. "We had people that would contact us and they'd comment and how beautiful the inn was and that they loved the story, but then they'd say they weren't in the market for an inn but 'I've got friends that might want to buy an inn,' that type of thing."
While the Facebook and Tumblr pages have since been deleted, the view the video that Ainsely is still online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92NZrZDA71M
It turns out, Ainsley had a great idea, it's just in one way the timing was off. Back in 2012, before websites like GoFundMe had the popularity they do today, Ainsley's approach was novel -- so in this way the timing was perfect, since her idea was new, and likely to garner press for her parents, which would then (depending on those press placements) yield much more interest in the inn. The hitch was that in 2012 older Generation Xers and Baby Boomers weren't on Facebook in the way they are today -- which means by happenstance Ainsley was predominantly targeting Millennials, those born between the early 1980s and 2000, nearly all of which were unlikely to be thinking about buying a house, let alone the innkeeping business.
According to the PewResearch data from August 2015, 82% of online adults ages 18 to 29 use Facebook, along with 79% of those ages 30 to 49, 64% of those ages 50 to 64, and 48% of those 65 and older. Compare that to 2010, the year before Ainsley began her social media campaign, when only 11% of people ages 65 and up were using social media and you can start to get a better picture of the social landscape.
Ainsley discovered it's not always easy to sell a B&B. "We didn't hold a lot of expectations for it. It was a unique concept at the time but there could've been a variety of things that affected it, like the location, plus it’s a business, it's a big house. A lot of factors would have to align for someone," she said, though she also described the experience as fun and rewarding.
"I think it's great to try to do things creatively and the fact that I could do something to support my parents to achieve a goal for themselves and not the other way around was special to me," she added.
The couple who bought Briarcliffe Inn had heard of Ainsley's campaign, though it wasn't their reason for buying the inn.
Malcolm Hiseman and Carrie Caunce were looking to return to Canada -- Carrie is Canadian and her husband, Malcom, is British. Carrie told us the MarketPlace - Inns for Sale" on the BBCanada web site, was her best resource. She noted several of the inns for sale had extra links and publicity, including some press clippings on Ainsley's campaign though they were most taken with the HGTV special showcasing the renovations done on the house by the Kendricks (you may view that video here: http://www.briarcliffeinn.com/gallery).
Now that the Malcom and Carrie have purchased and run the Briarcliffe Inn, the Kendrick's have been able to focus their energy on their experiential tourism company, Experience PEI. "This is actually our 10th anniversary and we've grown from being a sub-industry of the B&B to its own business. Five years ago we joined the cruise ship lines to provide excursions for the cruise ships that was part of the reason we decided to sell. We had two businesses and both very labor intensive," said Mary Kendrick, who also cites achy joints and flights of stairs among the reasons for her departure.
Still, she remembers her guests and innkeeping days quite fondly. She even credits the impetus to start her current business on the many interactions she had with guests over the years. "They would ask questions in the morning. We'd give them maps and show them where they'd go and there was one recurring question: 'What are those men doing in wooden boat with wooden long sticks?' 'They're oyster fishers,' we'd tell them." The Kendrick's talked with the fishermen and struck a deal so that guests could go on oyster fishing adventures and interact with the locals one-on-one. "It turned out to be our first of 24 different experiences we offer through Experience PEI," said Mary.
Other experiences include starfish hunting, fun with falcons, digging for dinner, and much more. Mary said she's always trying to find new things to interest people -- which is very similar to her innkeeping philosophy. "When we ran the inn every year we would introduce something new, one year we turned totally organic and had an organic garden, free range pigs in back yard… you do it for the guests and also to not be static.
To learn more about Experience PEI visit: http://www.experiencepei.ca