I wanted to chuck the rat race and start over. Just follow my crazy dream of running a successful home-based business in France. But jumping into unknown territory is scary. I wanted to mitigate any possible losses.
What I needed in this case was a good process: to envision what the final outcome would look like, then work backwards to break it down into easy steps. My most viable option was to create a vacation rental to test the market with the lowest risk. The most pressing concern was the lack of major hotels. Why were they absent? Was that a good or bad indicator?
George Brezny of GB Marketing Research Solutions, LLC listened with the empathy of a therapist, joked with me a bit, then, got down to business.
“There wasn’t a major hotel within a 20-mile radius, but there was a new exit off a major interstate making B&B options highly desirable. Additionally, the location of the property is in a classified historic area, so the business model fit nicely into the needs of the community,” says Brezny.
There were three basic options we decided to explore:
- Online accommodation such as Air B&B
- Chambre d’Hote – French version of a Bed and Breakfast for guests doing short stays
- Gite – a space that includes a living-, bed- and bathroom as well as a self-catering kitchen for guests planning to stay for a week or more
After running a queiry through Statista, Brezny found that Air B&B maintains a very high presence for online bookings in France, second in the world behind the USA.
Information gleaned from 2019 Statista reports also showed that the most profitable time to rent is in summer since most French citizens take their vacation en masse between July and August. Statista also showed the down side of the market actually worked to my advantage. Heating large old buildings is a considerable expense so closing in winter (at least for the initial implementation phase) was advised.
Next we checked out our competition to get an idea of what the market can handle. We talked to employees at the local tourist offices. We discovered that the B&B trade in the area was actually overbooked in the summer months, confirming our numbers.
We used this information to our advantage by contacting vacation rental owners and offering to accommodate surplus guests, thus giving us an additional client stream to complement our online presence. In return, we would do the same for them.
We also learned that serving breakfast was popular with many operators, who reported a greater profit margin in relation to the amount of expense and effort involved. Due to the lack of sufficient restaurant and grocery stores in the area, many guests expressed a desire in having not only breakfast but also having dinner on the premises. Self-catering was another big plus.
Based on ease of execution, we chose to first launch as a B&B with no breakfast offering the self-catering studio with the kitchenette online. Once the business had a consistent client base, we could expand offering breakfast and later possibly, dinner.
Other feedback we gleaned from networking with other guesthouses was that activity based stays such as visiting local farms, factories, and archeological sites were popular with guests. Owners of local businesses and rentals were also willing to tell their clients about workshops, if we chose to offer them. With this in mind, we revisited our business plan to prioritize renovations to include a studio space for yoga and art.
We also decided to phase in the renovation of a large kitchen space at a later date, once the operation was profitable. If all went well, we would consider registering a Table d’Hote that allows B&B owners in France to provide dinner to their guests (subject to a few general rules). Another option was to offer local food immersion classes at a later date.
Brezny provided me with data and information to help me innovate and make better decisions. Now it is time for me to take action.
Alice Verberne is the owner of the École des Vatelottes, located three hours southeast of Paris in the rural hilltop village of Bourmont between Champagne and Lorraine. Bourmont is a classified small town of character with exceptional heritage. The old college is strategically placed at the top of a rocky overhang that offers exceptional panoramas of the valley. Our intent it so use the building to serve as a meeting point for artists and artisans by creating a café style atmosphere that will attract visitors and connect them with the local population (and what the area has to offer).
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