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How to run a bed and breakfast

Christine Warbrick, owner of Jessop House

Christine Warbrick
Former front office staff for the Police Force.
Key tips:
Better to run this business without young children.

Try to aim for the highest star rating from quality assessment teams.

Be aware of the VAT thresholds on earnings from guesthouses.

BusinessesForSale: Hi Christine, do you think that now is the ideal time to buy a B&B?

Christine Warbrick: Well I think that the ideal time to do this really is when you're in your mid forties because if you have your children younger, then by that time they're off your hands - although mine have followed me here!  You need to have more energy [to run this business]. 

BFS: What kind of skills do you need to run your own B&B?

CW: You've got to like people. If you don't you're stuck. It can be lucrative but if you're just in it for the money, forget it. Because if you don't like people - don't do it. It can be lucrative, but you must be prepared to work hard at it. 

BFS: What is a typical day/week like?

CW: You have to get up early every morning - really early - as you have to make the breakfasts, do the rooms, ensure everything's clean, get the accounts done, make sure that all your marketing is done right, answer your emails and doing all of your enquiries. 

My typical week involves just making sure that everything is running smoothly. You don't get a lot of time off - especially in the summer as you have weddings. Also, even though you have check-in times, you have people coming four or five hours early. 

BFS: What are the particular things to be aware of in this sector?

CW: This B&B was a four star when we bought it, but it shouldn't have been as it was a dump! It was - how some people say - "tired". When I came I thought to myself 'Right. I'm going to make this a five star'. The difference between star ratings can be huge. You can be at the bottom of a four star or at the top and they no longer rate you as a gold or silver. So when customers look at your prices they are wondering how a B&B can charge certain prices - unless you're a different star people aren't going to know the difference between your services and rates.

BFS: What are the difficulties of doing this job?

CW: Well you have to live out of the business. Before I started I used to think that that sounded very strange and think 'what are you talking about?'. But with a B&B all your bills are taken care of, your mortgage, everything, so what money you have left is all yours. But we've spent it all! On furnishings and so forth. 

BFS: Finally, how much can you earn in this job?

CW: Well we're happy as we are 30% up on last year. We have an eight bedroom B&B. We have 80% occupancy which is quite high. You can earn anything from £110,000 to £160-170,000, but you have to watch that VAT threshold. You either have to stay below it or you've got to blitz it. There is no point in working like crazy for £88,000, you have to go well above £100,000 to make it worth your while. Or you have to stay below your VAT threshold. That being said, I have never seen any poor B&B owners. 


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