Suzanne Bearne, The Guardian, June 03, 2015
For around £170 per night, guests at The Reading Rooms in Margate enjoy an artfully decorated double room, complete with antique chandelier, a freestanding bathtub, walk-in shower, a hand-carved super king-sized bed and Ren toiletries. But the business isn’t part of a fancy chain or a boutique hotel. It’s a three-room B&B that’s become a destination in itself.
The Reading Rooms is just one of a new wave of B&Bs cropping up nationwide that are giving top hotels a run for their money by renovating their properties to deliver stylish, boutique-style accommodation. While they almost look like mini boutique hotels, they tend to operate on a smaller scale with fewer staff and amenities, and breakfast is included in the price. However, these B&Bs appeal to a similar crowd to a fashionable, small hotel: city-living thirty- and fortysomethings.
The creative eyes behind the carefully curated decor at The Reading Rooms belong to Louise Oldfield and Liam Nabb, who previously worked in the graphic design and music industries. By creating a luxurious B&B – which offers guests breakfast in their rooms at a time that suits them – Oldfield says the duo have created their own niche.
“An important part of marketing a B&B is thinking about how you get people to come to you,” says Oldfield. “You need to be a destination. We could have opened more rooms [each room has its own floor] but that would have squeezed them all and the rooms would have been mediocre at best.”
The Ashton in Lancaster is run by James Gray, who was inspired to open the B&B after working abroad as a film and television set decorator.
“I ended up working in Melbourne for a year and everywhere there were independently owned places to stay where the owner was always around, and it felt like a totally different experience,” he says. “I needed a change in career direction and I thought ‘What can I do?’ I knew I could cook, clean and chat.”
Gray says The Ashton’s unique selling point is the quality of its breakfast. “I have a massive breakfast menu, which is available at whatever time suits the guest. Also, I try to think of what people need before they ask, so I might offer them a glass of wine if they’ve just arrived after being stuck on the M6 or offer to iron their shirt if they’re about to go to a wedding.”
With its crisp nautical style, flatscreen TVs and White Company toiletries, Nearwater in St Mawes, Cornwall is one of a small number of B&Bs to feature on boutique and luxury hotel specialist Mr & Mrs Smith.
Nearwater co-owner Tim Whittaker says: “This helps promote us and get new customers. It’s good for trade; we generally get a younger crowd through them. The disadvantage is that we have to pay a commission.”
With the rise of boutique hotels and chains, former hotel critic-turned independent hotel and B&B consultant Sally Shalam says there is a market for modern, stylish B&Bs.
“Often the target market are frazzled urban dwellers who are cash-rich, design-literate and time-poor. So with hotel brands growing at a terrific rate, it is vital for independent accommodation businesses to compete on their own playing field. They need uniqueness and individuality, uncompromised comfort, the best breakfast imaginable showcasing regional produce and peerless local knowledge to pass on to the traveller.”
James Lohan, executive chairman and founder of Mr & Mrs Smith, says the trend for personalisation has led to higher customer expectations. “We all look for unique experiences because now we’re all editors and can share our ‘edited’ view of what’s stylish with our peers. For business owners, that means hard-to-please customers have an established online audience, which can be both fantastic and disastrous. It has helped hoteliers and B&B owners to up their game in terms of style and service: they are more exposed and customer expectations are higher.”
A lot of graft and expense goes into creating this level of individuality, but the result is that B&Bs can compete with boutique hotels and price themselves at around the £120-£180 a night mark.
But setting up a B&B is not without its challenges. “I didn’t anticipate how much all the startup costs would be,” says Gray, pointing out that legislation meant he had to ensure there were adequate health and safety precautions in place, such as fire exits.
David Weston, chief executive of the Bed & Breakfast Association, says there are “a growing number of rules and regulations covering anyone who lets a room to paying guests, including the 2006 fire regulations and regulations on food hygiene and music copyright that people must be compliant with before setting up a B&B”.
Running a B&B isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle change – and a busy one at that.
“I pretty much work seven days a week,” says Gray. “It’s not something I would recommend to many people as you can’t be booking lots of time off. It drives my other half mad as I have to get up at 6am and work for five hours, but I get to go to the gym when it’s quiet and I start working again from 2pm to 8pm.”
Shalam says it’s tough to make a profit as a luxury B&B, so many owners run side businesses or mini ventures. Nearwater, for example, runs walking holidays, wild swimming trips and classic car festivals.
For Oldfield and Nabb, the future goes beyond The Reading Rooms; they have bought a Georgian villa just around the corner, which they are transforming into self-catering accommodation that will act as a destination for yoga retreats or corporate away days. As part of this, Oldfield will host workshops on how to open a boutique guesthouse.
“You can create a really great business in a top urban environment that might not seem like a tourism destination, and you can find a way to do this if you factor in quality,” she says.
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This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Suzanne Bearne from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.