Business Models: B&B vs. Self-Catering
Unable to decide whether to operate as a B&B or to provide self-catering accommodation? We speak to B&B owners to find out how they are diversifying to offer more options for their guests.
An apparently never-ending debate for many owners in the hospitality industry concerns the question of how to pitch and operate your business. Across Rural Britain there is an abundance of high-quality, well-run and attractive B&Bs, but today, particularly for the younger generation, are these now outdated? Are holiday-lets the way forward?
Responding to shifting demand, owners are coming up with inspiring new business models, some creating a hybrid of a B&B and holiday-let to suit their needs, as we found when we spoke last month with two businesses who have diversified their B&Bs. The objective was to discover how they manage this combined arrangement.
Katharine Wolstenholme from College Farm Norfolk (CFN) describes her business as “a B&B, boutique self-catering cottage and wedding venue”.
Sally Kellard from Crow Leasow Farm B&B (CL) writes on her website that Crow Leasow is a “Bed and Breakfast (and sometimes dinner)”.
These two ladies explain why and how their businesses have diversified to become more than simply a B&B.
COLLEGE FARM NORFOLK
Why did you decide to diversify your B&B, and how did you go about achieving it?
Katharine (CFN): My husband Richard and I began operating our first bed & breakfast at the end of 1989. After nearly a decade, one year before the pandemic stuck, the opportunity arose for us to convert two derelict barns next to our farmhouse.
We started renovation work just as lockdown kicked in, with the result that our six-month building project ended up taking two years.
We finally finished the work this Easter, just in time for our two daughters’ weddings in May and July this summer. Both daughters used the larger barn (The Cattle Shed) for their wedding receptions and both couples used the self-catering holiday home (The Goat Shed) as accommodation over the course of each of their weddings.
Richard and I are both in our mid-60s and the time will come when I have neither the energy nor the inclination to manage a B&B. At the moment I do it all myself as Richard spends the week working in London, but I find it can get very tiring, especially in the summer when there is a higher turnover of guests.
Our long-term plan is to renovate another barn (The End Shed) enabling us to switch to offering two self-catering cottages as well as occasional B&B guests in the farmhouse.
Richard is due to retire in 18 months and when we are both living here full-time I expect the idea of doing B&B every day to become less attractive, because we’ll want to have the time to go out and do things together. We believe that self-catering will give us the time to achieve this, especially if I appoint someone to help with the cleaning and preparation of the accommodation.
Do you think your mix of B&B and self-catering options works well? If so, why?
Katharine (CFN): By offering a choice of B&B or self-catering to our guests, they can decide which option they prefer. Some of them even start as B&B guests and then move to the self-catering offering, or vice versa.
Even if guests are staying on a self-catering basis, they may still come over to the farmhouse for breakfast – for a small extra charge.
Would you recommend this mixed model of hospitality to other B&B owners?
Katharine (CFN): Yes I would, although it does of course depend on the circumstances of the owners. It works well for us at the moment, but I can see a time when we will move to providing fully self-catered accommodation as we get older and want more privacy and time to ourselves.
Do you think you’ll ever become a fully self-catered business?
Katharine (CFN): A couple of years ago I would never have seen myself moving away from B&B to self-catering, but circumstances change and our goals in life also change.
Now that our two daughters are married, they will with luck have children, whereupon my priorities will change. I shall want to spend more time with my daughters and their families and to be on hand to help them. If I were to be operating a B&B then that wouldn’t be possible. By moving towards self-catering accommodation, I will still be able to interact with our guests, but I will have more time for other things.
At the moment, running a B&B is a full-time job and I often don’t have time for anything else. I love all aspects of the B&B. It keeps me fit and busy, but my priorities are changing.
I have loved every aspect of running a B&B. It’s meant that I was able to stay at home with my children while they were growing up, as well as giving me the chance to earn some money. Of course it’s hard work, but the rewards are enormous and I would not have changed a thing – until now, that is, as self-catering becomes more appealing.
CROW LEASOW FARM
Why did you decide to diversify your B&B, and how did you go about doing this?
Sally (CL): Back in 2015 we opened a B&B near the Herefordshire town of Leominster.
The problem we had at the time of opening was that there were no good places within 20 minutes to send our guests to eat in the evening, and many of them were foodies. I found myself beginning to offer dinners, which were particularly attractive to those guests who’d travelled for three-and-a-half hours from London and who didn’t fancy getting back in the car and driving another 30 minutes and back for dinner.
Some three years later we re-located our business 12 or so miles north back home to Ludlow in South Shropshire, where – after extensive works – we opened Easter 2019.
Over the years Ludlow itself has developed a reputation for very good food and whilst we are in a very rural spot here at Crow Leasow, we are less than 10 minutes by car from the centre of town, so we can offer an escape from the crowds, yet we are close enough for our guests to find places to eat.
Upon relocating, I expected the rate of requests for dinner to decline. How wrong I was! In fact, offering dinner to our guests has gained me a lot more business.
I want to appeal to all ages, with private space to accommodate every generation of an extended family. This means there is no need for them to worry about hotel space and about children being children and causing the occasional older couple to look on disapprovingly!
A self-catering space would be the normal solution, but then dealing with the food planning, the shopping, the prep and cooking, the clearing up and so forth. The pandemic really brought it home.
Among our regular guests was a a family from Bristol who for three years had not seen their parents, who themselves in that time had not been able to see their grandchildren. For the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee bank holiday, they booked the whole house and I cooked for them all throughout their stay.
How do you make this work?
Sally (CL): This model is probably only possible with a house layout similar to the one we have at Crow Leasow. This house has two sets of stairs. The main stairs are for our guests, who also have their own large parking area and entrance. The back stairs – historically the servants’ stairs – are for us.
The space our guests have is as much their own as it would be at a self-catering property. Meanwhile we have our own space, our own entrance and parking. The gardens surround the house, enabling ourselves and our guests and us to be separate and not on top of each other.
How do you market yourself?
Sally (CL): That’s a good question. The problem is that I need a niche title for the property. It’s not a B&B, it’s not a hotel, it’s not self-catering and it’s not an inn.
At the moment, I am happy to operate in the way described. A lot of B&Bs don’t offer dinner as it involves so much more work.
Do you think this kind of business diversification works?
Sally (CL): Yes, I do. A friend of mine who has a similarly laid-out place now offers self-catering, having given over the kitchen to guests. For some 20 years she did provide bed, breakfast and dinner, but now she enjoys the freedom that self-catering offers. The business model is also more lucrative since the whole place is filled with one booking rather than a single bedroom at a time.
Another place I know called Fingals, near Dittisham, has recently converted from a B&B that provides dinners to self-catering guests. The age of the owners was also the reason for the change.
Do you think you’ll ever become fully self-catered accommodation?
Sally (CL): At the age of 61, having done this for just seven years rather than, say, 20-plus, I still have the enthusiasm and energy to keep going with the combined business. Give me another five years or so, though, and I am guessing I might have had enough and find myself wanting to swap completely to self-catering.
Watch this space.