A Touch of English Bed & Breakfast is located in the Glenmore region of Kelowna in Canada, close to downtown and near to world class Okanagan Valley golf courses, beaches and wineries. English host Clare Sucloy tells us about her decision to open up a B&B in Kelowna and how in keeping with their name and brand afternoon tea is served on a daily basis – English style of course!
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what influenced your decision to open up a B&B in Canada?
My husband Kelly is a chef with extensive experience in the hotel and restaurant industry, including food and beverage management, as well as having a genuine passion for cooking. My background was in sales but I wanted to stay at home when our daughter was born and I had always wanted to run a B&B.
At the time we owned a very large house in North Vancouver. Initially we boarded students, but after a year of that, we became convinced that it would be more fun opening up our home to travellers from around the world. Our research involved many trips to various towns in British Columbia and across the border, where we stayed in many B&Bs, to see what we liked and didn’t like and what we would like to have our in our own B&B. Ultimately we fell in love with the beautifully scenic Okanagan Valley and the wonderful, easy-paced life style in Kelowna so we relocated!
We originally opened our doors in 1996 with local guests as well as international visitors from England (definitely our favourite), Europe, and across the US, and here we are in 2017 – 21 years later, still passionate about what we do in the B&B industry.
I am originally from Newbury, Berkshire, which is how we came up with the name and niche for our B&B, “A Touch of English”.
Did you encounter any start up problems?
Establishing a brand and reputation and attracting guests is the biggest challenge. When we started up our B&B, advertising was through print rack cards, travel books, tourism British Columbia and referrals from guests and other established B&Bs. Over time, this model has changed. We have found that print advertising alone is expensive and less effective for a start up or even a growing B&B business. When we moved our B&B from North Vancouver to Kelowna, we held an open house and invited neighbours and other B&B owners to meet us and see the property. We also ventured into online marketing, which gives us the opportunity to more specifically target our audience and saves us money by paying only when our ads are clicked on.
In terms of licensing and regulation, we were fortunate in that the home we purchased is seven bedrooms, six and a half bathrooms with a full size swimming pool and had already been zoned as a vacation rental property. Getting a business license as a B&B was only a matter of inspections, health certification and safety qualifications (fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, etc.).
What do you think are the main differences between running a B&B in the UK and overseas?
I think the main difference is in the nationality of guests we host and their particular preferences. For example, we find that Europeans prefer open windows and fresh air, even if the weather outside is +40 degrees whereas our local and US guests love to crank up the air conditioning and freeze all night. Breakfast can be a challenge – British guests love savory whereas our North American guests love sweet and savory at the same time. We are also beginning to cater to more Asian guests, for whom B&Bs are a new way of staying. An interesting observation about this group is that we find that they enjoy long hot showers and baths, which can drain hot water tanks!
Overall we find that Canada is a great country for the B&Bers of the world. Just be ready for the taxes you will have to collect and remit as well as the nuances that you may not be ready for, ie: location, transportation.
Tell us about the selection of food you have on offer for your guests at a Touch of English.
In keeping with our name and brand, we serve afternoon high tea with fresh scones, local seasonal fruit, and chocolate dipped strawberries (that’s the “English” touch) on arrival.
Breakfast is a full 3 course menu with fresh baked goods, local seasonal fruit, and entrée. A few of our best successes include: eggs benedict and fresh asparagus, eggs Pacific (smoked salmon and poached eggs with a lemon dill sauce), orange and thyme pancakes, waffles with sautéed blueberries, baked peach French toast, or morning casserole with ham and Welsh, Irish or Canadian aged cheddar.
We always make an effort to showcase local foods and fresh seasonal fruits, and to emphasise creative presentation.
We also cater on request to vegan, gluten-free and lactose-intolerant guests.
You have some great reviews on Trip Advisor – tell us how you go the ‘extra mile’ for your guests
Reviews from Trip Advisor and Bed&Breakfast.com definitely help guests find our B&B, and a follow-up to thank our guests, goes a long way.
We believe the “extra mile” comes from our passion for entertaining. B&Bs are not for everyone to operate. We go the “extra mile” by being ourselves, welcoming our guests with a huge smile, afternoon tea, or a glass of wine by the pool side.
We also go out of our way to ensure cleanliness (no hair on the sheets, towels that are soft and fluffy and spotless loos), luxury touches (we place a full sherry decanter in each room) but atmosphere and genuine personal service contribute as well.
In your opinion what makes a great B&B host?
Having the right personality is one of the biggest success factors for any B&B. Our online reviews often include feedback about Kelly and I. We have found that in addition to enjoying cooking, decorating and meeting new people, you will need to
be extremely flexible. Being able to provide personalised attention in a timely and meaningful way to each guest is really important. That will often mean setting other priorities aside, however, it will almost certainly lead to rewarding new friendships and personal connections. You will also have to be prepared to keep up-to-date. B&B guest preferences change all the time. Different cultures, languages and food preferences, special diets and environmental sensitivities are all things that we have found have changed significantly for our guests over time.
A great B&B host must have sincerity, humour, and humility. We have found that my natural gift of the gab is definitely an asset. It is important to be able to put people at ease and to make easy conversation.
Patience is also a must, especially when you are dealing with the International audience that we cater to. A second language helps, but you can live without it (smiling and nodding go a long way).
Finally, do you have any advice for other B&B owners thinking about making the move overseas and starting over?
Our advice is to make sure that you understand the impact of running a B&B on your personal life. Being your own boss doesn’t work for everyone. You must be prepared for hard work and seasonal or fluctuating income. It will take time and money to establish your brand and reputation and it involves a sacrifice of much of your personal time. Before you make the move, be sure you know the marketplace and are certain that it needs another B&B.
However, if you do make the move, it can be very rewarding. It is a great living if you are willing, and we are! By the by, I am 63 and Kelly is 62 but we still move like 40 year olds!