Ellen Stoddard and Marie Kveen, sisters and Owners of Anchor Inn, a Bed & Breakfast in New Smyrna Beach, took the entrepreneur's plunge in October of 2015 and never looked back. Prior to Anchors Inn, Marie was a Navy Recruiter for 27 years and Ellen, a licensed registered nurse, spent 35 years in nursing. After successful careers, they went looking for a new challenge and decided that buying a bed & breakfast and fixing it up would do the trick. After about a year's worth of research and courses on B&B ownership, they were ready to find their bed & breakfast. Marie explained, "We were originally looking on the west coast of Florida. We wanted that 'Old Florida' feel. Our consultant encouraged us to check out New Smyrna Beach and that's where we discovered our inn and also fell in love with the area."
When they bought the house, it was already converted to operate as a bed & breakfast. However, it was in need of some repair and some TLC to give it that warm and inviting 'Old Florida' charm that Ellen and Marie were after. "We took out an SBA loan to cover the purchase of the house," said Marie. "I was able to get a special rate for being a disabled female veteran, so that helped. Most of our upgrades were accomplished by re-investing our profits. We did a little patio on the front deck at first. We just finished a patio on the back deck and we're also doing hot water on demand. These and other environmentally friendly enhancements have earned us the distinction of being the only 3-Palm designated Green Lodge B&B in Volusia County," said Marie. The upgrades are certainly paying dividends. Business is great and customer reviews are off the charts.
We asked about those customer reviews. "We do not solicit reviews," said Marie. "Guests will tell us they had an amazing experience and are going to leave a review and we just say "thank you"." Marie did admit that having such good reviews definitely puts the pressure on to live up to those reviews, but agreed with us that it's a great problem to have. The two sisters live upstairs and are very active with the management of the bed & breakfast. Those good reviews have a lot to do with how involved they are and how much passion they have for ensuring their guests have a great experience.
We asked about their guests and how the B&B business has changed as a result of AirBnB disrupting the industry. Marie explained, "Our guests come from all over the place. We get a lot of European guests. A lot of visitors from up north. We get a lot of people from Orlando looking to get away for the weekend. We even have millennials that come in for the wine walks and various foodie activities on Canal Street. In terms of competition with AirBnB, unfortunately it's not a fair playing field. They're not required to maintain the same business licenses or commercial insurance that we are. They're not required to have fire, health or food management certificates. Not having to maintain these standards, and pay for them, allows the AirBnB owners to charge lower prices. However, the guest is also potentially liable for accidents and there's no recourse if the guests arrive and the place is nothing like how it was described online."
By all accounts, Ellen and Marie have built a very successful Bed & Breakfast, but it wasn't all crumpets and tea. "The first couple of years were rough," said Marie. "We had to live on faith that it would all fall into place. It was like learning through a fire-hose. We were blasted everyday. We didn't pay ourselves anything for the first two years and I would encourage any aspiring entrepreneurs to be prepared to work for free for up to three years. I would also encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to just do it. The biggest thing is that people talk themselves out of it. If you're able to talk yourself out of it, then you probably don't want it bad enough. Stick it out. It gets easier." Marie also recommends a handful of great leadership books including, Stephen Covey's books on time management, Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun by Wess Roberts and Monday Morning Mentoring by David Cottrell.