Like many of you, the phone calls started to ring off the hook a month ago with cancellations and we realized within a day or two that every call over the following weeks would be the same. It’s still amazing to us how quickly things changed, and while we opened in 2008 and weathered the recession, this has become a completely different animal.
My husband Tony and I own a boutique bed and breakfast near San Luis Obispo set on seven acres with four individual lodging houses, or Casitas—as it is a Spanish styled estate. Seven years ago, I was able to ‘retire’ from corporate life (my sales job at Dun & Bradstreet), because of the incremental business we built hosting weddings. So, double whammy—as the calls started to come in, we knew we needed to take action to bring in cash flow quickly.
I was asked to write this article as we successfully launched a quick campaign to former guests in late March and, within 48 hours, successfully brought in $8K to help pay some of our bills. We also helped a couple of other vendors in our area at the same time. I think this is something repeatable that many of your lodging places could also implement.
Developing a Plan
We knew we couldn’t sell rooms now, but we brainstormed on what we could offer now for a special experience in the future. We came up with five good ideas, but decided to start with one that carried a higher dollar value initially, knowing we could offer more ideas later. During the third week of March, we launched an email appeal, offering a win-win package to former guests who also wanted to help us out as a small business. Our package included lodging, cheese fondue that we make for our guests, a bottle of wine from our vineyard not sold to the public, and two massages during a future stay. We then reached out to other ‘friendors’ (vendors that are also friends) knowing they were also hit hard. We asked a local wine tour company and a local farm-to-table restaurant if they wanted to discount for the future, for money in hand today. I was specific and asked for a 2-for-1 deal or ½-off value gift certificate. They agreed immediately, but we did limit the sale to ten VIP packages.
The value of this package retailed at $1,700 and we sold each for $995 with an expiration of December 2021—offering plenty of time for guests to redeem. We then launched other offers and re-packaged the VIP offer to drive cash flow again. We sold another four this past week with a less discounted offer. I also googled how to write a press release, wrote one, and sent it to three local media outlets, two of which picked up the feel good story.
I’d encourage you to look at what you can offer within your own establishment that has a good profit margin and package from there. Our massage therapist charges us $70 for a 90-minute massage but our published rate is $130 and she has business waiting for her when guests return. Having our wine tour partner ‘sell us’ a $250 wine tour for $125 and the half-off dinner certificate made the overall package really attractive to guests.
Admittedly, I did try two other restaurants who didn’t return my call, but the third agreed instantly and they are now doing a huge carry out business locally through their own marketing and social media efforts. Some partners who are savvy and know their own profit margins are obviously the best to target. Don’t be discouraged if you need to ask a few different places if they want to team up, or maybe your hotel has enough to offer in house without teaming up elsewhere.
We are now working on a wedding package with many more vendors to offer engaged couples a highly discounted turnkey wedding, if they are willing to marry midweek next year. With all of the unemployment numbers today, we feel our bookings will be down and couples wanting to marry post pandemic might see “Wedding Wednesdays” as a great way to have a beautiful wedding at half the cost. We plan to launch this right when there is a noticeable turn for the better, as we know current couples first need to mentally get past shelter in place, and we also understand that! But, we want to be ready to launch another fabulous offer. If you need a brainstorming partner, I’m happy to help you get started. We really are all in this together. Keeping busy with revenue generating ideas along with projects we never had the time for has also kept us focused and positive. Be safe, and get creative!
To contact Pat for help brainstorming programs, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 805.710.1587.