Karen Brown has one of those
jobs many people envy. She travels the world – along with her mother and daughter – evaluating Bed & Breakfasts to recommend in her guidebooks and on her web site (www.karenbrown.com ). I was originally attracted to her book because of the unique places she finds, and we’ve stayed in some fantastic B&B’s because of her recommendations. We’ve stayed in a castle from the 11th century, a manor house in the middle of nowhere, with a Count in the heart of the Bordeaux wine region and attended a cooking school with locals in Provence. I trust her recommendations and now only need to choose between one fantastic place or another. But I think I’ve discovered her real secret.
Yes, it’s true that she finds great, unique places, but I think what really separates her guidebook from the others, is the people she encounters who own or work at the establishments. At each of the places Karen Brown recommends, I have encountered fantastic people. They are the kind of people who greet you like you are old friends and go out of their way to make you feel like you’ve come home, even if it’s just for an evening. These are places that when you leave you are sad that you are leaving friends, and you can’t wait to come back and see them again.
I’m thinking of Francoise at
Chateau d’Ecutigny who invites you into her castle as if you have been life long neighbors. At the end of her seven course dinner she hands you a glass of champagne, and with a candelabra in her hand she guides you on a tour of the dungeons and the history of her twelfth century chateau. Or Sean and Larainne who are American and British (respectively) and invited us to participate in their “cooking school” with a local Michelin two star chef and ten of their neighbors. The dinner happened to be on my birthday and they celebrated like we’d known each other for years.
On my last trip I was booked
in a hotel in Bayeux (near the D-day beaches) where I met Cynthia, the most helpful front desk
person I’ve ever encountered. She helped me with my French, gave us great dinner recommendations, brought us afternoon tea in her garden and made us feel like we wanted to stay at the hotel instead
of leaving to see the sites. As I was checking out I looked on the wall and there was a postcard from Karen Brown. That’s when it hit me. It takes more than great places to make it into Karen Brown’s book. She’s looking for great people also.
This became even clearer to
me as I reflected on my time at our hotel in Paris. We stayed at a nice enough establishment that is adequate in every way without being distinctive. It’s close enough to the Metro, in a nice part of town (the 7th) with comfortable beds and a decent sized bathroom. The daytime desk clerk is a very efficient man whom we’ll call “Raoul,” or more appropriately, “Mr. Painintheass.” He has all the details right and every assigned task is executed perfectly, but he is as engaging as one of Rodins sculptures and about as warm. He’s the kind of person you wouldn’t ask anything extra.
The night attendant on the
other hand is a man named Cedrick and he is wonderful. Two of our friends were arriving on a late
flight from London and I decided to wait up for them. I sat in the lobby of the hotel and talked to Cedrick for about two hours (note: Relationship Core Motivator in action). Before long we were talking about the
difference between France and America and a little about his life. He is from Limoges, is working on his
PhD in Philosophy and Sociology (as if the world needs another socialist PhD) and has a six year old son. We talked about the various areas of France I’d visited and loved and I pulled up my web site and showed him some of my pictures of France. He wondered if it hurt my business to be associated with France in America and I had the opportunity to dispel a myth about Americans. The next night our group had wine and cheese on the roof top patio and Cedrick provided us with plates, utensils, wine
glasses from the bar, and uncorked our bottles. He went out of his way to make it happen in a way that Raoul would never have dreamed of, and I got the impression this was the kind of thing he did every day.
Because of Cedrick this hotel
is more than adequate. The rooms seem nicer, the beds softer and the bathroom bigger. Because of Cedrick the hotel is warmer and friendlier and is a place to which I will return.
Every business is only as
good as its people. We all know that. You can have a great property with great facilities but if the person engaging the customer is a Raoul then the best you can hope for is adequate. The quality of the person at the front desk is the difference between being adequate and being great. The trick is to get great people in the right seats on the bus, who are energized by being able to be who they are in
their work. That requires investing in those people and it is worth every dime.; Just ask Karen Brown.