“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain
Back in 2011, Doug and Roxy Kasman had deep roots and rewarding careers in Spokane – Doug at ALSC Architects, Roxy in Gonzaga University administration.
But they harbored a dream.
“Even though we grew up in Montana,” Doug said, “Roxy loves the ocean, and saw owning a B&B as a way to be near the water.”
Roxy’s vision materialized when their daughter steered the Kasmans to historic Kirk House on San Juan Island and they abruptly quit their jobs, bought the four-bedroom B&B and moved to Friday Harbor.
All they lacked was (A) a business plan, (B) any experience in the hospitality industry, and (C) much fondness for B&Bs.
Learning as they went, toiling seven days a week, the Kasmans gradually lifted Kirk House to national prominence.
They shared their experience twice with Spokesman-Review readers – first in 2013, and again two years later.
The Kasmans put the business up for sale in 2017 and found buyers earlier this year.
Recently resettled in Spokane, they reflected on their adventure.
S-R: How much did you pay for Kirk House B&B?
Roxy: About $650,000.
S-R: Had you ever owned a business before?
S-R: How much advice did you get from Kirk House’s previous owners?
Roxy: One phone call.
Doug: And it was mostly about mechanical systems and changing over the phone and cable. As far as operating the B&B, nothing.
S-R: But you had your own ideas?
Doug: Yes. We’re not B&B-type people – we prefer resorts – but as part of our research, we’d stayed in a few B&Bs on the Oregon coast and asked a lot of questions.
S-R: Soon after buying Kirk House, Roxy, you mentioned wanting to attend the annual Innkeeper Conference and Trade Show in Las Vegas. Did you ever get there?
Roxy: (laugh) We got to Las Vegas, but not for the trade show. We went for Gonzaga basketball. We gradually learned efficiencies on our own, but the trade show would have made the process less time-consuming.
S-R: What’s a lesson you learned?
Roxy: Until 2018, we were too focused on keeping business income and personal savings separate, so we paid all the business expenses with a credit card.
Doug: We’d pay off the debt during peak earning months, and carry a balance in the off season when revenue dropped. Consequently, we paid a lot of interest unnecessarily.
S-R: Anything else?
Doug: I wish we’d learned more about the community firsthand so we could give guests insights about restaurants, hikes and other things to do. We were too busy to explore the island ourselves.
Roxy: One year we went four-and-a-half months without a day off.
Doug: I’d say half of what we know we got from guests.
Roxy: We want to go back as tourists, because there are so many places we didn’t have time to explore.
S-R: Besides feedback about the island, did guests occasionally offer suggestions regarding your business?
Doug: They would say how much they liked things done a certain way.
Roxy: Not our way. (laugh)
Doug: We appreciated ideas for making the rooms more comfortable, because we weren’t staying in them. But as far as recommending we serve breakfast at two or three different times instead of one, or serving it buffet-style, that’s not how we chose to run our B&B.
S-R: You bought Kirk House during the recession. As the economy picked up, were you able to raise rates?
Roxy: Yes. The two bigger rooms rose from $220 a night during peak season to $295. Yet guests still told us our rates were much lower than some of the island’s other places to stay. What helped generate bookings was positive feedback on TripAdvisor. For the past four years, we were ranked No. 1 on San Juan Island, and last year we received TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Award as one of the top 25 B&Bs in the U.S.
S-R: What months did you operate?
Roxy: At first we were open nine months of the year. Eventually we cut back to seven. What surprised me was that the bottom line stayed the same. Sacrificing the little trickle early and late in the year didn’t make any difference.
S-R: How many hours did you put in during peak season?
Doug: Eighteen hours a day, each of us, seven days a week.
Roxy: Eventually we avoided being available to guests in the evening – going over to close things up and then chatting for another hour.
S-R: Did you pay yourselves salaries?
Roxy: We’d take what was left at the end of the month, which worked out to $30,000 or $35,000 a year for both of us. And we personally charged the business $3,000 a month in rent for the historic B&B house. So we earned a total of $60,000 to $65,000 a year.
S-R: You once hoped to sell the business for around $1 million. What did you end up getting?
Roxy: We started at $900,000 two years ago and accepted $795,000 before taxes and Realtor fees.
S-R: What are you going to miss the most?
Roxy: The house itself. It had so much history.
Doug: And living in a small town.
S-R: What will you least miss?
Roxy: The laundry. When the house was full, we washed seven to nine loads a day.
S-R: How would you describe the people who bought the business?
Doug: They’re us eight years ago – the same age, with the same enthusiasm. He was a house painter, and she was a loan officer at a bank.
S-R: Did you give them the walk-through you didn’t get?
Roxy: Yes, along with a booklet of schedules and other information. And they already knew a lot because they had read all the TripAdvisor reviews.
S-R: What skills make for a successful innkeeper?
Roxy: You need a business sense, even if you don’t do the books, so you stay within your budget. An advertising background helps, too, because there’s a lot of social media opportunities for marketing a property.
Doug: On the touchy-feely side, you need to be able to talk about a lot of different things and listen without yawning. People stay at B&Bs mostly because they’re social.
S-R: Describe your ideal guests.
Doug: People who liked being with other people so they could carry on good breakfast conversation and share their experiences with other guests.
S-R: What sort did you find off-putting?
Doug: People who treated us like the help and didn’t take care of the rooms. Or they would show up hours before check-in and just sit around the parlor.
S-R: Looking back, what were some surprises?
Doug: We thought we were going to offer things like pottery classes, movie night out on the lawn, host weddings and do catering. Uh-uh. Cooking and cleaning and maintenance took all our energy.
S-R: Roxy, once when asked what you did when the stress became too much, you said, “I drive around the island, hoping the ferry will be there when I get back, so I can escape.”
Doug: That happened at least once every year.
S-R: But you persevered and eventually sold the business. What was it like to realize you will never feel that stressed again?
Roxy: There were tears – knowing we had taken it so far, and now what will we do?
Doug: My attitude was, “So what?” I loved Kirk House, but we’re on to the next thing.
S-R: Which is?
Doug: I’m going back to work at ALSC a couple of days a week, and we plan to do some traveling.
Roxy: And we’ll be babysitting our grandson now that our daughter-in-law is going back to work part time.
S-R: Did you keep any mementos to remind you of Kirk House?
Roxy: A reproduction of an old Friday Harbor promotional poster.
S-R: Doug, one of your chores at Kirk House was ironing all the sheets and pillowcases. Are you glad that’s behind you?
Doug: Actually, I’m going to start again. I find it relaxing.
S-R: If someone on the coast called and asked you to come run their B&B for a couple of weeks, would you?
Doug: No way in hell!
Writer Michael Guilfoil can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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