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Wood carvers turned hoteliers on their dog-shaped motel

Wood carvers turned hoteliers on their dog-shaped motel

How did a pair of passionate wood-carving artisans end up running a motel?

BusinessesForSale: Why the motel sector?

Frances Conklin: It all started because we wanted to diversify our art business, but now the motel side of the business is predominant, although the motel also includes an artists' studio for our carving work.

BFS: An unusual adjunct to an art business, to say the least...

FC: Yes, but we love meeting and interacting with people, so adding a motel was a good match.

BFS: Your motel is in the shape of a dog! How long did it take you to construct the building?

FC: We worked on the construction of the dog-shaped building for nearly four years. It took that long, not because of the difficulty of the task, but because we did most of the work ourselves and worked on it as and when we had time to do so.

BFS: Tell me more about how your unusual work as a chainsaw artist supplements your motel business...

FC: As everyone in the lodging industry knows, it's much easier to make sales to people once they are 'in your door'. Our guests often want to take a souvenir home to remember their stay in the big dog, so a dog carving or two along with postcards and other mementos on offer fits that desire.

Having two businesses in one location is a very good mix.

BFS: What are your working hours like?

FC: We work very long days, often from daybreak to sunset - and sometimes longer! Our hours haven't calmed down at all. As the business has grown so has the demand on our time.

We don't have any employees; Dennis and I do everything, from maintenance and marketing to all the other day-to-day operations.

BFS: How've you gone about marketing your business?

FC: Word of mouth and media exposure are the primary growers of our business. We have a robust website and produce occasional electronic newsletters. We are also very engaged in social media side such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc.

BFS: What do you enjoy most about running your own business?

FC: The greatest reward is meeting the people that find their way to us. We really enjoy the social aspect of being innkeepers and have become good friends with many of our guests.

Since there is no separation between our business and personal lives it is very rewarding to have total control in shaping the directions we pursue.

BFS: Any downsides?

FC: No frustrations, but we do sometimes get tired. However, we manage to find renewed energy for every visitor.

I suppose we could hire assistance, but we'd rather be tired sometimes than relinquish the responsibilities to others as we enjoy every aspect of our work.

BFS: What are the pros and cons of the motel sector?

FC: Advantages include low overheads, hence good profit margins. Also, we get to meet people from all over the world without having to leave home.

The only disadvantage is the long hours and necessity to schedule our personal time way in advance, to avoid booking conflicts.

BFS: How competitive is the motel industry?

FC: Since Dog Bark Park is the only place with a lodging inside a dog-shaped building we have the luxury of having no competition. However, being located in a remote area in Idaho is our greatest challenge - our motel is a bit out of the way.

However, we're located about mid-way between two of America's greatest national parks, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park. It does take a couple of days to get from one to the other, but they are good landmarks to be in between for en route travellers.

BFS: What advice would you give to someone buying a B&B?

FC: We strongly recommend visiting as many lodging properties before you make the leap. Talk to owners and managers. I believe it is very important to study the business before you set up or buy your own motel.

BFS: Do you follow a plan for the future?

FC: We don't have or follow any formal business plans because we don't need them to guide our business, in part because of our ages and experience we know where we're headed and what we need to do to get there.

We are flexible but every business decision or expenditure is made by considering if it will contribute to the business and lead us to where we want it to go. We are always looking for new opportunities but before we pursue one we make sure it fits with who and how we are in business.

BFS: In hindsight, would you do anything differently?

FC: If we could do any of this again we would have begun this venture 30 years ago!

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Krystena Griffin

About the author

Krystena Griffin writes for all titles in the Dynamis stable including, and as well as other industry publications.


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