Nancy Robel was interviewed for the September-October 2003 issue of 'MAKING BREAD MAGAZINE, the Magazine For Women Who Need Dough.' The interview was conducted by MAKING BREAD'S Elizabeth Kaminsky. Please read the article below:
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOUR
FAVORITE THING IS TO PLAY HOSTESS?
You Turn Your Old House into a Bed and Breakfast,
and Tell the Ghosts to Behave!
By Elizabeth Kaminsky
Crisp, white rocking chairs with sailcloth seats adorn the porch of the Somewhere Inn Time Mansion (now renamed Ocean City Mansion). The chairs are vacant, but each one is rocking to its own beat in the August wind. When I step inside this lovely Ocean City, New Jersey, bed and breakfast, I am greeted warmly by its innkeeper, Nancy (Aiken) Robel. She offers me a seat on a lush velvet couch and then excuses herself to check in a mother and three children.
The children are fidgeting, waiting to be shushed. Nancy goes to each of them, touches them gently, looks them in the eye, and calls them by name, and I know I'm watching a hostess extraordinaire at work, making her guests feel at home. Each one of the kids-even the 3 year old-is now in her spell. Her bright smile and easy manner have won them over. And they haven't even seen their room yet. When Nancy escorts them to their room and this family gets its first view of their temporary home, the Medieval Room. there is a chorus of "Mom, look at the castle bed," " Mom look at the tub," " I want the top bunk," and so on. The family is bubbling over, and I can tell by the look on Nancy's face as she descends the stairs, that she is bubbling over, too. She is finally doing something that she and her husband, Scott, had dreamed about doing for a long time.
MAKING BREAD sat down with Robel, a month after Somewhere Inn Time opened, to get the "inn-side" scoop on what it takes to own and operate your own bed and breakfast. To find out more about Somewhere Inn Time or to contact Robel, visit www.ocmansion.com. For further information about starting your own Bed and Breakfast, visit the National Bed and Breakfast Association's "How to Start a B&B" section at www.nbba.com.
MB:A lot of people daydream about opening a bed-and-breakfast inn. What made you and your husband decide to actually go ahead and do it?
Nancy: Doing this has always been a shared dream for my husband, Scott, and myself. We had both grown tired of the corporate world. I was a merchandising manager and Scott refinished boats. We wanted something more fulfilling, and something that would allow us to be closer to our children. It's very important to both of us to have them beside us, especially while they're young. We discussed it, did some research, took some classes and started the ball rolling.
We know that one of us may have to take another job in the off season to bring money in. But, right now, we are giving it our all to get things off to the right start.
MB: How did you choose this house as the site for the inn?
Nancy: We bought the house in 1997, after we got married. It was pretty old and in need of a lot of remodeling, which we did ourselves. It's a big, old house, and we kept thinking of ways that we could make it work as a B&B. Plus, being in the heart of Ocean City, we knew we had the perfect location.
MB: Where did you get the idea for the name?
Nancy: We both loved the movie of the same name, "Somewhere in Time," starring Jane Seymour. We thought it had a romantic feel. In fact, we named our oldest daughter, McKenna, after Seymour's character in the movie.
We even have a picture of Jane framed above our reception desk. I guess you could say the name is pretty special to us. The best part is that it truly fits the property, which dates back to the 1890s. The building has a lot of history. One of its owners was Sally Lake, a member of the founding family of Ocean City.
MB: Big old houses need lots of renovations. How did you finance the remodeling?
Nancy: It's kind of a funny story. My mom and dad are both salespeople, and they taught me to have an entrepreneurial spirit at a very young age. By the time I was 21, I had bought my first house. I fixed it up, rented one part, and lived in the other. I just kept on doing that, and by the time I was 30 I had several properties. To finance the transformation of our house into a B&B, we liquidated the properties one by one and sold our boat, too.
MB: Big old houses are notorious for giving their owners lots of "surprises." What unexpected problems came up-and how did you solve them?
Nancy: There were a million little things. It literally felt like we were under construction forever. We needed to get finished, so that we could start earning income. Financial pressure is like no other. To be honest, it took a lot of prayer to get us through. I guess you could say that's what helped us solve any of the problems that came up for us along the way.
MB: What would you say was your smartest money decision so far?
Nancy: There've been a few things. First, I'm a very shrewd shopper, whether I'm looking for furnishings or loan rates. I was diligent in finding the best financing rates for any loans we needed. My parents also taught me the value of maintaining excellent credit. Throughout the process, we've made sure to always pay bills on time and to keep our spending in check, so we don't get in over our heads.
MB: On the flip side, what has been your biggest money mistake?
Nancy: There came a point when we were rushing to open, and we needed to hire contractors to help us get finished. One particular contractor had been bugging me to hire him, but my gut kept telling me that something about him wasn't right. We hired anyway, and it turned out to be a big mistake. He did a terrible job, and it ended up costing us a fortune to correct things.
It set us back time-wise, too. The lesson I learned was to always trust my gut instincts! In this case, especially, it would have saved us a lot of grief and a lot of money!
MB: What skills does it take to be a successful B&B owner?
NR: I like to say that you need to be an "assertive co-dependent." You need to be an assertive businessperson to handle the finances, order supplies, negotiate with contractors, etc. But you also need to be a total "pleaser." To me, that's the co-dependent part.
Being a good host means that you must love making people happy. I do. I feel like I'm granting their wishes and making them feel comfortable in my home. You do have to get used to being available 24/7, and it is hard to detach and have a family life. Finding the balance will be important in the future, I think. Right now, I'm focused on turning each guest into a return customer.
MB: Tell us what's special about Somewhere Inn Time?
NR: This place really is our pride and joy. We took our time decorating it, making each room unique. They all have individual personalities, from the Log Cabin Room, to the Chocolate Room, to the Honeymoon Suite.
I did extensive research, made collages of decorator ideas and posted them all over the place. The ideas that I could live with after looking at them day after day were the ones I chose to guide me as I purchased items for all the rooms. It's been a labor of love.
MB: You have a "Paranormal Activity" page on your Web site. OK, so is it true about the ghosts?
Nancy: A house this old is bound to have a few "spirits." When we first moved here, we heard footsteps many times. We'd check, and there would be nothing there. Many, many things have happened during the transformation of the house that have made us wonder. Recently, representatives from South Jersey Paranormal Research spent some time here. Let's just say they felt there was a lot going on around here. Thankfully, these "friendly ghosts" have only added to our fun.
Elizabeth Kaminsky is a contributing editor to MAKING BREAD.
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