Lessons learned by a country inn owner - Buying a business | BDC.ca
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An entrepreneur’s road to success after buying a business

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Lee Arden Lewis and Paul Llewellyn, owners, Jackson’s Falls Country Inn

Lee Arden Lewis risked everything buying a business four years ago in Ontario’s picturesque Prince Edward County, west of Kingston. She left a sales and marketing career to take over the Jackson’s Falls Country Inn where she was later joined by Paul Llewellyn, her life and business partner.

“I wanted a life change and my last penny went into this business,” she says. “I had to hit the ground running and make the place work as soon as the ink was dry on the contract.”

An inn with a difference

The 1870 schoolhouse features a living area with original blackboards, light fixtures and antique furniture. However, a competitive market demands more than historical charm to fill nine guest rooms, especially in the off-season.

“From the get-go, I decided to create a bridge to my Mohawk heritage,” Lewis says. “My territory, Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, is only 20 minutes away and I maintain links with artists there.”

Guests look for unique experiences

Both partners believe customers increasingly want unique experiences when they travel. That’s why their inn features themed guest rooms decorated with local native art including the Iroquois and Mohawk suites.

The next step they’re planning is to build a dining room in the form of a traditional Mohawk longhouse. Lewis also wants to erect a teepee where guests can spend the night.

“Although my people didn’t live in teepees, we also want to introduce guests to the culture of the Plains peoples,” she says.

Concerts bring in patrons

Concerts organized with popular local musicians also draw visitors.

“Musicians like to play here and hang out afterwards,” says Lewis. “That’s helped attract a hip young clientele with whom we stay in touch via Facebook and Twitter. About 40 per cent of our guests are return visitors.”

Jackson’s Falls has developed another niche market: Cycling groups from Canada and the U.S. They are attracted to the inn by its safe bicycle storage, packed lunches for the road and a workshop for bike repairs.

Expand and diversify to maintain cash flow

“BDC helped us fund renovations and expansion after buying the business. That’s enabled us to diversify our sources of income for year-round cash flow,” Lewis says.

An upgrade to the kitchen and dining facilities have allowed the inn to cater local events, serve Sunday brunch and host birthdays, weddings and specialty meals such as Valentine’s Day dinners.

“Many places around here close in winter. So we’ve tapped into a local market of people looking for things to do. We realized this included a relaxed drink; so we applied for a liquor licence. It was a painstaking procedure, but well worth it.”

Products offered online

The inn has also moved into online sales of branded products such as bathrobes and soaps, as well as food items guests have enjoyed during their stay.

“Although these add-ons have increased our working days up to 16 hours, they’ve also boosted business by 25%,” Lewis says.

“But most importantly, guests say they feel at home here. We’re just the right size to get to know them personally. Being ourselves and doing what we enjoy is very attractive to people.”

Lee Arden Lewis’s lessons learned

  1. Stand out from the herd—offer a unique experience with your product or service.
  2. Your background and networks are valuable assets—use them creatively.
  3. Find a niche market and focus on serving it—clients are your best salespeople.
  4. Love what you’re doing and so will your clients.

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