FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. – This time last year, Roxy Kasman was Gonzaga University’s controller, and her husband, Doug Kasman, was an architect with ALSC.
Now they’re washing laundry and scrubbing toilets for strangers.
Earlier this year, the Kasmans quit their jobs, sold their Spokane home and bought a bed-and-breakfast on San Juan Island.
By their own admission, they didn’t really know what they were getting into. But they knew they were ready for a change.
Here’s what they discovered during their first year as innkeepers.
S-R: When did you first envision a career change?
Doug: It was Rox’s dream. I just tagged along.
Roxy: I started thinking seriously about it 10 years ago, but it was probably more like 20 years. It was something to take my mind off my intense, day-to-day responsibilities.
S-R: Why innkeeping?
Doug: Rox always wanted to live on the coast, even though we grew up in Montana. She loves the ocean, and saw owning a B&B as a way to be near the water.
Roxy: So we went up and down the Oregon Coast, staying in different B&Bs, taking notes.
S-R: How did you end up in Friday Harbor?
Roxy: We knew it was for sale, because I kept looking at B&B-for-sale websites. We asked two friends who were heading this way to check it out. And they called us and said we needed to come over and see it.
Doug: We had never set foot on the San Juan Islands before.
S-R: What did friends and relatives think of your dream?
Roxy: I’m sure they thought it would never happen.
Doug: I don’t think we were completely sure it would happen. But when we told people we really were going through with it, they were very encouraging.
S-R: You both had what most would consider very good jobs. What did it take to make this leap of faith?
Doug: Having the money in the bank to be able to do this. We don’t expect the B&B to make money, so we needed enough just to maintain for the next seven to 10 years.
S-R: Did you seek any training?
Doug: We asked innkeepers a lot of questions. And there are some wonderful books on the subject. But we didn’t go to any seminars. We didn’t want to hear too much (about the negative side of innkeeping), because we knew we had the skill set to make a go of it.
S-R: What were the first guests like?
Doug: That was a slam dunk. They were friends from Spokane.
S-R: How long did the innkeeping honeymoon last?
Doug: Until high season, when we went six weeks without a day off – practically not an hour off.
S-R: Were there moments of doubt, when you wondered whether you were in over your heads?
Roxy: Truthfully, yes.
Doug: Really? I didn’t.
Roxy: During those early days, I sometimes thought, “What did I do? I left this great job in Spokane.”
Doug: No, you left great people. It wasn’t a great job.
Roxy: But once the season was over and we had a chance to step away, I realized it was something we could continue to do.
Doug: And we feel privileged to be able to take care of a house with so much history.
S-R: What was the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
Doug: We need to schedule a day or two off for physical and mental breaks. Last summer, we never had a chance to explore the island and discover services available to guests. We’re concierges. We need to know those details.
S-R: What’s a typical workday?
Roxy: Doug gets up around 5 to start the coffee.
Doug: We put coffee or tea baskets outside the guests’ doors. And I clean up from the night before and set the tables for breakfast.
Roxy: I get over there between 7 and 7:15 and start working on breakfast. But I try to do as much as I can the night before, because guests like to talk in the morning. Breakfast is at 9, and guests are usually either checked out or out doing their thing by 11. Once they’re gone, we’re changing sheets and cleaning rooms.
S-R: How much laundry do you do?
Roxy: Six loads, if all four rooms are occupied.
S-R: Then what?
Doug: There’s vacuuming. The sheets and pillowcases get ironed. And I do a thorough clean of the showers and toilets, reset the TVs and check the clocks – make sure everything is back to level for when the new guests check in.
Roxy: As soon as we’re done with the rooms, I work on afternoon treats, which we have ready at 3 o’clock when people start drifting back or checking in.
S-R: When is your day done?
Roxy: If we don’t have check-ins, we’re back at the cottage (the couple’s adjacent 700-square-foot home) by 6. In the evening, all of the numbers get crunched, along with deposits and reservations.
S-R: Is there anything you did in your previous jobs that overlaps with what you do now?
Roxy: The accounting.
Doug: A lot of my previous job was about communication – listening, observing body language, seeing what interests people and what doesn’t. And a lot of the house maintenance I learned as an architect.
S-R: What new skills have you had to learn?
Roxy: To cook. And marketing, which is huge – newsletters, brochures and rack cards.
S-R: Now that you’ve been innkeepers for a year, will you take any of the seminars you used to avoided?
Roxy: I’d love to go to Vegas (for the 2013 Innkeeping Conference and Trade Show), just to hear what other people are doing.
Doug: And now we can ask more intelligent questions.
S-R: What’s been the biggest surprise?
Roxy: How much time it takes. We didn’t have a clue.
Doug: I thought that after breakfast I’d be able to go out and start working on projects. That’s not the case in the summer. That’s why we need two months’ down time in the winter – to work on projects that take more than an hour or two.
S-R: What do you like most about your new job?
Doug: I like meeting the sort of people who seek out bed-and-breakfasts. They’re very social, easy to communicate with and get along with other guests.
Roxy: And I like being our own bosses. That’s huge.
S-R: What do you like least?
Roxy: People who really don’t want to stay at a B&B. You can tell as soon as they walk in the door. Maybe they stop because we’re the only room available on the island.
Doug: Or their spouse talked them into it.
S-R: Who are your clients?
Roxy: We were so surprised. We expected most guests would be around our age or older – 50 to 70. But we’ve had just as many young couples, either newly married or celebrating an anniversary. And they’re so enthusiastic about staying in a B&B.
S-R: Would you liken staying at Kirk House to visiting grandmother’s, or do you have one foot in the 21st century?
Doug: When you walk in, you probably do think it’s grandmother’s house, because of the décor.
Roxy: But we have wi-fi, flat-screen TVs, DVD players and iPod docks.
S-R: What do you miss most about your former jobs?
Roxy: The people.
S-R: What don’t you miss?
Roxy: The stress and the hours. We still feel like there are too many things to do, but the pressure was much greater at Gonzaga.
Doug: When you’re dealing on major construction projects, people are often unhappy with what they’re doing. Here, it’s just a bed and a breakfast, and people are in wonderful moods.
S-R: You used to rarely see each other. Now it’s 24-7. How’s that working out?
Roxy: We have to set boundaries.
Doug: We have our own skills. We don’t work well together on the same task. I tease Rox, saying, “I do the stuff you don’t want to do.” And that’s partly true. But I wouldn’t want to do a lot of what she does.
S-R: Are you still catching your breath, or looking forward to another tide of tourists starting in February?
Roxy: Right now I’m excited for next season to start.
Doug: Yeah, and that kind of surprised us, because we were so relieved to survive our first year.
S-R: What advice would you offer aspiring innkeepers?
Roxy: Maybe do what we didn’t do, which is to shadow an innkeeper for a day, so you go into this with your eyes open. I don’t know whether that would have changed our decision to do this, but you should probably be a little more informed than we were.
Doug: And realize you’re not going to make piles of money at this.
S-R: So is this a living or a hobby?
Doug: It’s a lifestyle.