The ABCs of Starting Up a Good B&B; in California

Jacovitz is a free-lance writer.

If you're a people person, have a knack for decorating and love to show off your gourmet-cooking talents, you're already halfway through the list of essentials for becoming a good bed-and-breakfast (B&B;) innkeeper.

You also need handyman know-how, lots of energy for around-the-clock days and a head for business management.

In the last several years, as more and more people have given bed-and-breakfast entrepreneurship a try, the number of such establishments in California has quintupled.

Terrace Manor, a turn-of-the-century Victorian home and a registered landmark in Downtown Los Angeles, is run by Sandy and Shirley Spillman. Like many other prospective hosts, they went into the venture with no prior innkeeping experience. But Shirley had cooking and decorating skills. Sandy, a magician at the Magic Castle, was an ideal greeter, socializer, party planner. In the interest of their someday retirement, they decided to buy an inn, renovate it, furnish it with antiques and attend seminars given by people in the business.

Liked the Motto

Kathleen and John Wooley first saw the Storybook Inn at Lake Arrowhead in 1984. They were just guests then but were entranced with their stay at a place that had for its motto: "You'll come back for the memories."

But the Wooleys came back for even more. In 1986, they became the owners of the inn. Kathleen had experience in interior design, had traveled extensively studying inns and was a gourmet cook. John brought financial and management skills with him. And experience. Years back, he'd helped his grandparents run a famous national historical monument in South Dakota--the Franklin Hotel.

The Spillmans provide five bedrooms, the Wooleys nine (some of which are suites).

Regulations vary in different towns, but it's always necessary to contact the city's or community's planning department to see if a location is zoned to accommodate a B&B; operation. Other areas to be checked out are insurance coverage, fire and health codes.

Other B&B; hosts (who are not considered innkeepers) may rent out a room or two in their homes and serve the early-morning meal as an adjunct to their own regular working day outside the house. Less businesslike than a mom's boardinghouse concept, these places are referred to as homestays.

How do prospective visitors find you at a homestay? Primarily through reservations services, such as California Houseguests International in Tarzana. Proprietor Trudy Alexy attests to the proliferation of bed-and-breakfast accommodations. She says when she started her business seven years ago, there were only a few such services across the country. Now, there are about 400.

One of the prime reasons for this upsurge is the serendipity factor. Both the Spillmans and the Wooleys say it's a way to meet interesting people from all parts of the world. Guests who choose bed and breakfast over conventional hotel stays are often adventurous as well as friendly.

There also is a special kind of rapport that evolves and sometimes lasts beyond the stay. And as Shirley Spillman comments: "They can even joke with you when all the lights blow."

Switching Jobs

Fixing the fuses, though, is more Sandy's job than hers, although if he's not up and around (her day starts at 6 a.m.) she tends to that chore, just as he will do the dishes when she's otherwise occupied.

Merging talents is an important way to round out the smooth operation of an establishment. And many guests become your friends or almost like distant relatives, even if it's just for the moment. Conviviality around a fire, doing things for other people, the "home" atmosphere all add up to what the Wooleys like about their new life.

Some hosts do all the work themselves; others have help. The Wooleys are not on the premises full time but they have an experienced manager. The Spillmans have cleaning and gardening help, although Sandy does the maintenance; Shirley, the shopping and cooking. And she's proud to announce that at the recent first Southern California innkeeper's bake-off in the muffin category, her pineapple-lemon muffins took the prize.

In California, there's a kind of innkeeping network up and down the coast, because it helps to know what others are doing in the field. Both the Spillmans and Wooleys recommend reading books, keeping up with newsletters and attending seminars as an important way to learn what innkeeping entails. This way you can maximize your efficiency and enjoy your new life style at the same time.

Bed and breakfast is a special experience both for the host and the visitor. A recent guest of the Spillmans, as she made her farewell with big hugs, put it this way: "Gosh, I never said goodby like this at the Hilton."


Among the resources to keep you in touch with various aspects of the bed-and-breakfast industry are:

"Bed and Breakfast Homes Directory" by Diane Knight (Knighttime Publications, 890 Calabasas Road, Watsonville, Calif. 95076; 4th edition, $8.95). This directory covers homes in California, Oregon and Washington. While it is directed at travelers, it gives insights to prospective hosts on how other people have converted their residences to bed-and-breakfast operations.

"So You Want to Be an Innkeeper" by Mary Davies, Pat Hardy, JoAnn Bell and Susan Brown (101 Productions, P.O. Box 267, Inverness, Calif. 94937; $13.10 including postage and handling; California residents add 65 sales tax). The authors are all innkeepers and discuss such topics as reservation forms, policy models, brochure basics as well as cash flow projections, researching the market, site selection and most important, who makes a good innkeeper.

"Start Your Own Bed and Breakfast Business" by Beverly Mathews (Pocket Books; $5.95). The author is an expert on homestays and includes an extensive list of reservations services.


Innkeeping--The Innkeeper's Newsletter, P.O. Box 267, Inverness, Calif. 94937. A national industry monthly featuring marketing, a calendar of events, news, classifieds and ideas at $48 a year.

Yellow Brick Road, 2445 Northcreek Lane, Fullerton, Calif. 92631. A monthly read by both vacationers and innkeepers. Covers inns to visit, upcoming workshops for innkeepers, inn recipes, news about innkeepers at $29 a year.


Instructors JoAnn Bell and Pat Hardy operate the Glenborough Inn in Santa Barbara; they've trained aspiring innkeepers since 1981 with the Innkeepers Guild and teach in the University of California Extension system.

"Your Bed & Breakfast Dream . . . Buy an Existing Inn or Start from Scratch?" is 2 1/2-day intensive workshop offered in March and October at bed-and-breakfast inns throughout California. Cost is $375 per person, $500 a couple; lodging not included. For information, call Pat or Jo Ann at (805) 965-0707.

Consulting Service

Inn Transition, 1333 Bath Street, Santa Barbara, Calif. 93101, (805) 965-0707. This service helps aspiring innkeepers locate and value an inn, write business plans, prepare for meetings with bankers and make the transition into daily operations of innkeeping.

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