Saturday, May 6, 2017
Our Bed & Breakfast is located in Jacksonville, Illinois, just outside Springfield, the State Capitol. I often say that we live in a "small town," although with approximately 20,000 residents, it hardly qualifies. Yet, even through we have a lot of friends and neighbors, many businesses, the arts, colleges, and activities, Jacksonville still remains that "city with a small town feel." Jacksonville is the kind of town where you can have breakfast on the front porch, waving as your neighbors pass by, work all day, go out to dinner and a movie, and finish your day on the back porch viewing the stars and watching the fireflies light up the night. You can be as busy or as relaxed as you'd like to be.
There's always something to do here in this small town! Head down to the corner of Main and Morton for a Rotary Club Ferris Wheel ride on a summer Sunday afternoon. Thanks to our local Eli Bridge Company, these big wheels have been manufactured here for more than 100 years. Take a day to go fishing at Lake Jacksonville, one of the highest ranked bass fishing lakes in the state. Need a little more action? Head out to Jacksonville Speedway! Like baseball? The CABA World Series has been played at our Lenz Field. And, our "small" town offers the opportunity to watch two college football teams play on Saturdays each fall.
This small town offers a big history. We have several homes that have been identified as stops on the Underground Railroad. Woodlawn Farm, open for summer tours, was also an early agricultural center. The only remaining Governor's Mansion outside the state capitol is located just down the block from our Bed & Breakfast. We have many "Old House Neighborhoods" in this small town, with examples of fine architecture, from Victorian to Prairie Craftsman. The JACVB offers three distinct Historic Home Walking Tours. One goes right through our neighborhood! Take a leisurely drive through town, listening to the Abraham Lincoln Voices of Jacksonville narrative as you discover more about Lincoln's early relationship with our small town. Our Lincoln heritage goes back a long way!
Want to take in a concert? This small town has annual grandstand concerts with well known country artists and a weekly summer concert series downtown. Our Jacksonville Symphony offers an annual concert season including patriotic and Christmas performances. Prefer the theater? We've really got you covered there, too! Whether you're seeing a play, a comedian or a musical performance, our intimate venues are designed to encourage the connection between the audience an the performers on stage. No "obstructed views" here!
Prefer dressing up and going out on the town? Seasonal events offer that opportunity, from Masquerade Balls to Blue Jeans Balls to hat contests on Derby Day. Here in Jacksonville, you can put on your swimsuit and go to the lake or put on a different suit and go to a Gala. We have something for everyone, from fishing to football, from country to symphony, from Ferris Wheels to fireflies.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
My idea of camping is shutting down the A/C and opening the windows, but we'll go for the music and I'm sure Valerie the rock collector will love the mining attraction!
Sunday, April 23, 2017
There are some standard questions I'm asked from time to time. I thought I'd start with one very common question. "Who stays with you, anyway?"
Jacksonville is considered a small town and it's located about 30 minutes from Springfield, the State Capitol. So, who stays here, anyway? Our guests come from as far away as Australia and as close as across town. They range from newlyweds and young professionals to business travelers and retirees. Some stay in B&B's as a matter of choice and some have come for the first time, because our local hotels were full. I've learned that first-timers, even when "forced" to stay here the first time, often become return guests.
The Authors and the Artists...
|Val with authors Mark Parsons|
and Wendelin van Draanen
week drove a minivan wrapped in book covers from all of their published books. They were doing a book signing at Our Town Books and we enjoyed the opportunity to host them while they were in town. Valerie is such a reader that it was a real treat for her! One week in March, in our early years, a local artist stayed four nights for an Artist's Retreat. She spent time pondering and planning and primarily getting away from the distractions she would have faced in her home a short distance away. She not only stayed here, she spent time painting the lovely watercolor of our home and wrote and illustrated a book for Valerie, our Assistant Innkeeper. Later, Sharon illustrated Valerie's book and she now comes back every year for her annual retreat.
Our guests one week included a young married couple who came for a Dinner and Movie Date Night. They had a nice dinner at Lonzerotti's Italian Restaurant, ate Dell's popcorn, and watched movies to their heart's content. For them it was a Babymoon - their last getaway as a couple, before baby makes three.
One fall, a group of quilters made this their base as they visited fabric shops here in Jacksonville and in nearby communities. They had massages, explored the area, shopped and spent a good bit of their time working at our dining room table.
We've had several guests that would fit the imagined profile for the "typical" B&B guests. Some couples travel together, socializing on the front porch or in the front parlor, dining out together, and playing cards in the dining room. They're B&B veterans who have high expectations. And they often return a couple of times a year!
Doctors and Lawyers and College Trustees...
Over the years we have hosted many business travelers. They seem to like the peace and quiet here. There are lap desks in each suite, along with power strips to help them stay connected. We offer Internet access and a business center to send faxes and print boarding documents. Some of our business guests have been here several times a year, others several times a month. We've developed some great friendships over the years.
What is My "Target Market"?
I typically spend the first part of the year reviewing my marketing plan, revising my web site and determining which listing services I want to pay to belong to. One of the key questions I ask myself is, "What is my target market?" I know that I should have a target market, but what is it? WHO is it? I can't seem to nail it down. Business travelers? Honeymooners and romantic getaways? Senior travelers? Millennials? Boomers? We love them all and I can't name just one target market. So... we'll keep on working on special packages that appeal to each of these groups, and you all just keep on coming.
A new market I'm considering targets "Foodies." How would you like to have your own private chef for a night? Perhaps you'd like to host a dinner party for some of your friends, planning it with your own personal chef. Maybe you and another couple would like to come for a weekend and enjoy a private "Chef's Table." Stay tuned to see what we come up with, and if you have a suggestion for us, please leave a comment!
Sunday, April 9, 2017
Who are my people?
Certainly my people are my relatives. We have five children, some with spouses and children of their own. I have one sister and many cousins. Many of them have spouses. I have a living uncle (and aunt) on my mom's side and on my dad's side. They are my people. Generations gone by are my people. Many of my relatives love(d) the Lord and share(d) that love with others. I have a godly heritage. II Timothy 3:14, 15 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you have learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Growing up, I often celebrated weddings and birthdays and holidays with my people. Easter involved getting up early and dressing up for the Sunrise Service, the early service before Sunday School and church. Church was often followed by a family gathering that included a carry-in dinner, lots of pictures, and an Easter egg hunt. On holidays, I was typically surrounded by my people.
Glenn came from a very large family. Though we may see each other only a couple of times a year, his siblings, their spouses, their children and grandchildren are my people. He is a widower and when he married Sheila, her family became his family. Sheila's mother, Helen, was a precious "other mother" for me and a wonderful grandmother for all of our children. They are all my people, too.
Friends are Good People
I have a small circle of close friends embedded within a larger circle of friends. They are my people. My "best friend" from elementary school is next to my good buddy I became acquainted with many years ago through my work at DCFS and they're next to other friends that provide solid friendship and support. We are surrounded by others that I've gotten to know through my
church, my work, and my involvement in the community. They are sisters of the heart. (OK. I'll admit it. There are some brothers in there, too!) Some people I speak to regularly; others not as often. These are friends that share faith and fun times and laughter as well as sadness and heartaches. During my journey with Cancer they've supported me with notes and calls and meals and gifts and, most of all, with their love and prayers. I love to spend time with them. Some of us nearly fall to the floor laughing when sharing "Remember Whens." They've laughed with me, cried with me and they've held me up when I thought I couldn't take another step. They are my people.
Our B&B Guests are Good People
We have welcomed thousands of people into our home during the past nine years. Some have been welcome guests, passing through Jacksonville only once. Others have become our people. We have many return guests. Chuck has stayed with us several times a year for the past five years. He's "visited" a dozen times. We've shared major life events like his marriage, role changes, and my adventure with cancer. He's become like a brother. Some guests have reported, "It's like we've always known you." We form strong bonds that stand the test of time. These are my people.
When I think about my people, I can't help but think about God's people. Just as I spend time with my friends enjoying their company, I should enjoy spending time in fellowship with the Lord. Just as I lean on my friends I should rely on the Lord for my strength and my joy.
1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
I am thankful that I have my people,
I am even more thankful that I am one of His people.
It Pays to Associate with Others that Share Your Passion
I recently attended "America's Innkeeping Conference and Trade Show" in St. Charles, MO! It takes a lot of planning, both personally and financially, but I made it! I'm a member of two professional innkeeper associations, the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, PAII, and AIHP, the Association of Independent Hospitality Professionals. Each association offers opportunities for professional development including webinars, magazine articles, newsletters, member forums, etc. Who needs it? I do!! I believe we all need to continue to grow and develop in our areas of interest and expertise. As an innkeeper, I need to be up-to-date and proficient in many areas. I need to be a good hostess, a good cook, a good decorator, a good business manager, and a good marketer. I need to have a good understanding of the travel and tourism market and trends in order to develop a plan for success. I believe hospitality is often an innate quality, but all of those values can be further developed. Conferences provide a way to gain new understanding while building on what I already know. I learn from presenters, from vendors, and from networking with other innkeeepers.
I initially planned to attend one innkeeper conference every two years, but this is the second year in a row I attended a PAII conference. I was unable to travel to the inaugural AIHP InnSpire Conference in Long Beach, California in January, but after traveling to Charleston, South Carolina, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Austin, Texas for PAII conferences, I felt like this year's PAII conference was in my back yard, and I couldn't miss it! Overall, if costs me about a week of room nights to attend a major national conference. That's a big investment with my other expenses, but that's how I look at it... it's an investment - I'm investing in myself and in my Bed & Breakfast business. Bonus: Val was on Spring Break, so she and Glenn went with me this year!
Over the years I've planned some major conferences for DCFS. I have loved working on conferences, Education is very important to me. I've been on one of the planning committees for a PAII conference and I actually presented at the PAII innkeeper conference in Little Rock. It was a lot of fun! I really believe in the value of educational conferences.
Why do I go to conferences? Why spend the money? What's in it for me?
|Old Towne St. Charles, MO|
- Getting to travel and visit other places. I am a good tourist and it's a lot more fun to learn while I'm away from the distractions of home, especially since I have great backup and I don't have to worry about anything. Most conferences offer opportunities to tour and socialize after hours. Last year, I was able to spend time with my uncle and aunt as well as some "old" friends, originally from Illinois, while I was at the PAII conference in Austin. It was great to be able to spend time with them and eat Texas BBQ and cruise the river in San Antonio. This year, the conference was not so far away, but we still enjoyed the opportunity to get away from home for a few days. We shopped Old St. Charles and enjoyed a wonderful evening event at the Foundry Arts Centre, hosted by the St. Charles CVB.
- Adding to my tool chest. One of my guests once told me that I needed an Alaskan Ulu knife for the kitchen. She'd been given one and thought it was the best tool ever. I bought one and used it nearly non-stop as I was preparing Thanksgiving dinner! I use it frequently throughout the year. Sometimes there's a better way to present towels, or a better way to serve breakfast or a better knife or small appliance. Conferences provide a chance to actually add new tools to my tool chest.
- Connecting with vendors and suppliers to the innkeeping industry. I am able to offer my top of the line Comphy® sheets and Gilchrist & Soames® bath amenities, thanks to connections I've made at conferences and their trade discounts. It's always exciting to see the latest and greatest items at the conference trade show and it's fun to see vendor friends
Assistant Innkeeper Valerie
with Mary White, author, CEO
- Learning from the best. Experienced innkeepers, suppliers and other trade experts present workshops that are packed with information. I tend to choose sessions that will build my skill level. I don't spend a lot of time at the more technical "how to build a web site" sessions. I don't need to know that. I leave that work to the experts. Instead, I attend the sessions that give tips on how to stay current with my existing web site, how to increase click-through traffic, and how to make my web site more effective. Like Steven Covey says, I see conferences as a time to "sharpen the saw."
- Getting inspired - Katherine Lugar, President and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association was a keynote presenter at our PAII Conference in Austin. An expert in the hospitality industry, she was motivational and encouraging. This year Matthew MacLaren, Esq., Senior Vice President, Member Relations, American Hotel & Lodging Association, presented a keynote. One year it was the Beekman Boys. They provided an engaging and inspirational marketing presentation. You may have seen their little business in upstate New York, or you may have seen them on their TV series, or maybe you have their cookbooks or you've seen their Beekman 1802 farm to table products at your local store. Keynote presentations are inspiring and we build off others' expertise, strengths and experience.
- Networking with other innkeepers. I learn so much from others' life experience. Why reinvent the wheel? (And I'd prefer not to repeat their mistakes!) Several of us stay in touch on Facebook and innkeepers' forums, but spending time with them, building relationships in person, is terrific!
- Reflecting on challenges and successes. Heading home from a conference has always been a time of reflection for me as I spend time "thinking on" things I've learned. I consider areas where I've hit the nail on the head and ponder times when I may have missed the mark.
- Improving our service standards. Once back at home I review conference outlines, along with my notes, to refresh things I've learned. I drill down to make new notes and new lists, prioritizing things I want to implement, along with a timeline for implementation.
- Building my business. Implementing the things I've learned, along with unpacking items I've ordered from the Trade Show, are the final benefits of my conference experience. Whether it's something guests can see and use, or something operational behind the scenes, I'm focused on improving and building my business, using the knowledge and tools I've gained through participation in the conference.
|Gwenn with Carolyn K,|
Hospitality Manager at
Mountaintop Lodge at Lake Naomi
I'm Already Looking Forward to my Next Conference - There's Always More to Learn!
Sunday, April 2, 2017
|Innkeeper Valerie and Freezie - in their younger years|
Valerie, our now 13-year-old Assistant Innkeeper, is typically the person giving the welcome tour at Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast. While we've typically already offered the opportunity for dinner recommendations and reservations during guest check-in, Valerie is most likely to make dessert recommendations. Or snack recommendations. Or both. She loves the Frozen Penguin, our local yogurt shop. (We all enjoy the Penguin - Valerie LOVES the Penguin.) When she was younger, she had her birthday parties there, complete with Freezie, their mascot.
When you live in a small town, or a medium sized town that thinks it's a small town, you get to know the local businesses and their owners. Randy and Becky, the owners of the Frozen Penguin have stayed with us at Blessings on State more than once. We've gotten to know them both as business colleagues and as friends. We join Valerie in encouraging you to schedule a visit to the Frozen Penguin the next time you stay with us.