Archive for the ‘New Amenity’ Category

Musical Motel Chairs, with Adirondacks (Another Amenity Upgrade – sort of)

July 30th, 2014 by camdenmotel

The "typical" Adirondack ocean view pic

The “typical” Adirondack ocean view pic

When we bought the Towne Motel last year, each room came with two dark brown outdoor resin chairs in front of it, plus a small table. A few years earlier, it was white chairs with white tables- different color, same kind of chair. We found out only recently why the white was changed to brown: spider poop, and how hard it was to clean, had something to do with it. That’s probably not the whole story, but it’s the only one we know.

Being fans of color, and of Adirondacks, we knew we wanted something different yet again. Sure, Maine already has more Adirondacks than you can shake a hiking stick at, but that doesn’t mean guests enjoy them any less. Not that our Adirondacks would come with an ocean view, like those on the fancier hotel and inn websites.(You know what I mean – two white Adirondacks photographed from the back, seemingly the only ones on a sprawling lawn, with a wide-as-the-eye-can-see ocean view ahead of them). Our views, if we wanted to use standard hotel lingo, would probably be called “garden” or “courtyard” view, maybe even “partial village” view. But at the Towne Motel we’re not really into that lingo, nor do we have many rooms with a view. If people ask – and they do – we mention the view of Mt. Battie from rooms 16 and 17 (nice, but not as spectacular as the view from Mt. Battie), but otherwise we have to laugh a little. People don’t really come to us for the views. Maybe we should offer view seekers one of the three upstairs rooms overlooking our patio, which can be entertaining if you want to see our cats wrestle or dodge baby pears prematurely dropping from the tree. But other than that, views are not our prime amenity.

The view from the Adirondacks? Let’s call it what it is – not a “courtyard” but a parking lot view, with a partial and sideways Route 1 view mixed in. But chairs, even outdoor ones, are not primarily about views; ours are about comfort and the chance to be outdoors, talk to others, catch the late afternoon sun, read and relax, have a drink, see who’s arriving or returning, and watch the traffic slow down into the village on late afternoons. Lately we’ve seen our guests use their ipads, have lunch, listen to audiobooks, and push several chairs together for a little happy hour before walking back into town for dinner.

Before we became innkeepers, we had a half baked thought that we’d be able to afford all kinds of stuff when “the business” would pay for it – but we learned quickly that the fancy wooden $200-300 Adirondacks would have to stay at LL Bean, and we’d have to stick with plastic if we were hoping to pay the heating bills. After all, we’d need 14 of them, maybe even 28, in case they’d fit on the second floor also. Not to mention some tables to go with them. (More on that second floor thing later)

Fortunately for us, and for those who believe in buying American, several American companies proudly manufacture colorful, affordable, and popular plastic Adirondack chairs. And come April, rows and rows of such chairs were for sale in and outside any of the hardware, home and outdoor living stores. But we had two problems to solve: transportation (neither one of our cars can haul much more than a shopping cart full of groceries, which, translated into furniture, means about two chairs), and color decisions. Last fall, we were sure we’d go with Adams chairs – there were some good colors at an end of season sale somewhere. But colors change with the seasons, and Adams chairs were no exception. Fun as the new spring chairs looked at the entrance of Reny’s , we wondered if they might not be a bit too bright for us (for anyone not familiar with Reny’s, it’s a Maine department store which deserves its own blog post. One of its branches is just up the street from us). We do love color – but how much do we love shiny neon Pepto-Bismol and scream green ? And how well would they fit with the Towne Motel colors?
Then again, Reny’s did have some nice clean white chairs, and a few in “pool blue.” Maybe we could make these work? It was about the time of year we used to open our pool in New Jersey, so probably the name did the trick – while also playing a bit of a trick on us. We stuffed one chair of each color into Siobhan’s trunk, and drove the block or two back to the inn. We put the chairs in front of a downstairs room to check out color and size. The size was fine. Not perfect – they certainly take up more space than the old chairs, so luggage and vacuums would need more maneuvering. But we knew that already. As for the colors — hmmm, not so much. We don’t mind a Palm Springs or Florida feel (confession: we looked at a few inns for sale in these places too), but it just doesn’t seem to be Maine, or the Towne Motel for that matter. We’re more about weathered colors, not loud and shiny ones. The fact that we’d love a pool again is a whole different story – we did know, on a conscious level anyway, that a chair wouldn’t be a good substitute, no matter how “pool blue.”

What to do? Well, we stored the Adams chairs in an upstairs hallway for now; maybe we could buy more white ones and spray paint them. But we also briefly took them on the second floor balcony, just in case, by some miracle, they’d fit better than expected. They didn’t. And by now Leah had trained us well enough to remember housekeeping in any inn-related decision we make. Imagining the space problems we’d have with upstairs Adirondacks, we thought of vacuum cleaners just as quickly as of guest luggage – or guests’ bodies, for that matter. Although we did feel bad that the upstairs guests wouldn’t have chair equality, we decided to spray paint the previously used brown chairs for the second flooor. New look, same great product! That was the plan for the balcony.

The spray paint decision wasn’t made quickly though. Did we really have time to spray paint 14 Adirondacks. 14 other chairs, and 28 tables? And how well would it work on plastic? Should we invite some of the housekeepers to an outdoor spray painting party? And which colors should we use?

It was back to Home Depot for some advice and decisions, and we bought a few cans of Rustoleum in colors we liked, so we could try them out on – – well, something (maybe one of our plastic foot stools?). But it was still too cold to do any painting outside, and the whole operation got postponed until we made some progress on our “To Room 16” makeover project, which was going on at the same time (and, like the chairs, took a lot more time than expected.) And then I was back at Home Depot again, for reasons now forgotten (probably having to do with other little projects going on at the same time, such as new outside lighting, doormats, and similarly exciting stuff), and saw some Adirondacks from another company, well priced, and in some promising, un-Barbie colors. I bought one red and one slate blue, the blue much like the color of the Towne Motel sign, hoping I’d be able to fit them in my impossible-to-haul-anything-with convertible. It was drizzling, and Home Depot wasn’t my last stop, so I couldn’t just leave the top open, even if I had to open it to load. A nice young HD employee helped out, making sure the convertible top would fit back over the chairs….oops, an ominous sound indicated otherwise. There was no hope for more than one chair, even if stacked. Determined as I was to show Siobhan the perfect chair colors, I had no desire to sacrifice my car over $40 worth of summer plastic. Which meant, embarrassingly, that the red chair had to stay at Home Depot for now – a picture of it came instead. Rick Wolf, you were right – innkeepers need vehicles that can haul a few things. It’s not that we didn’t believe you! We’re just pretty attached to our cars.

Back at the inn, Siobhan approved of the colors, and we ordered 12 more the next day, happily calculating the 28 cans of spray paint saved, along with a few hours of time or labor, not to mention chemical paint-induced headaches. But Home Depot doesn’t deliver, and Siobhan’s car wouldn’t win a prize in the hauling category either. We knew what to do: get our hands on the one truck Home Depot rents out by the hour. Why just one truck, you ask? Excellent question, and we’ve asked it many times ourselves. You can’t even reserve the truck, unless it happens to be available when you call and no one has it on hold and you say you’ll be there within the half hour. “You snooze, you lose” and “get it while you can” seems to be the truck rental policy there. When we called the next morning, we were told it was rented at the moment, until at least 3 p.m.

Chair transport!

And that was no lie, as I found out on Facebook that night. A local friend had a post up about hauling leaves and debris with it all day. “So you were the one that had Home Depot’s only truck out yesterday!” I wrote in response. “We were told that ‘a girl’ had rented it until afternoon.” A reply came quickly: “I am the girl!” Aah – the joys of living in a village…

We managed to score the truck two days later, and with it the chairs. We almost never drive trucks – so we felt pretty cool and butch that day. And the chairs looked good – we decided to alternate colors from chair to chair rather than room to room – so every room had one red and one blue chair. We’ll probably switch the pattern around some day this summer. But now it was a matter of deciding on tables. Home Depot didn’t have any matching ones, nor did we find them anywhere else. Maybe we could just do without tables? People could put their drinks, books, snacks, or phones on the wide Adirondack arm rests, no?

No; no indeed. We thought about what Leah would say: drinks would be spilled, glasses and cell phones might break, crumbs of morning muffins, along with the plates underneath, might land on the floor. And we didn’t want to be stingy. Sure, we’re not known for being upscale, but we don’t believe in stingy either. Maybe we could order some of these slatted Adirondack tables, which come in plastic but look almost wooden, if you’re far enough away from them. I even saw some online for about 15 bucks somewhere. But by then we’d tried the spray paint on plastic; it worked great and was fun, plus we could be outside in the sun while still being productive.

We got the brown chairs and tables up from the basement, put our painting clothes on (or should I say painted? They’d been through a few activities by then), and set up shop in the back by the garage. Spray painting seems like a piece of cake at first. You just aim and spray to your heart’s content, kind of like whipped cream except you don’t have to watch your calories, and at the same time you see something miraculously transform right in front of your eyes. But in case you think that means we were done in a flash –not so much. There is an art to successful spray painting, and neither of us knew more than the first thing about it. The YouTube videos tend not to tell you how to avoid bubbles and drips, headaches and carpal tunnel. Probably because they weren’t made by (or for) motel owners who have to spray paint more than just two chairs in their own yard. We did seven downstairs tables, in white, and seven upstairs, in alternating yellow and blue. And then we did the 14 upstairs chairs in yellow and blue. Logically, it shouldn’t have taken more than an afternoon, but it did. We can blame that on our inexperience, weak wrists, impatience, or sensitive heads, but it was also about the hourly interruptions in the life of an innkeeper, moody Maine spring weather, imperfect planning (we had to trek back to Home Depot for more paint halfway through), and other ongoing projects. (One of which included more spray painting, this time of wicker chairs, which are a snap by comparison). But we did get done, and now we have our Maine Adirondacks, a row of red, blue and white, as well as a set of inherited chairs dressed in new garb. Both sets of chairs get lots of happy daily use, and no one complains about unequal chair treatment, colors, or size. Well, maybe the housekeepers sometimes, when the Adirondacks get in the way of cleaning supplies or the vacuum. Or when they become that last pain-in-the-back thing to clean at the end of the day….

Red, White and Blue         the spray paint result!

Some of our little projects this spring have made me wonder: how do some inns get these major makeovers done in time for their April newsletters, when we know it can take weeks just to get one room redone, and a few days, spread out over weeks, just to get a new set of chairs in place?? This wasn’t the only little spring project that started like it would involve nothing but a quick decision and a credit card, but then somehow took on a life of its own. (Don’t worry – I’ll spare you the stories about outside lighting or door mats for now). But given our tendency to allow little projects to grow beyond their initial life expectancy, I wonder what would happen with bigger projects. Like a porch in front of the house, decks for rooms 16 and 17, central air, or …… hm, a pool in the back, maybe instead of the garage? (Just kidding – we need that garage, and so would our cars if they knew how cozy it gets in the winter. Plus, there’s that income-producing studio above it!) Well, we’d obviously hire someone for such bigger projects (and thereby open a different can of worms), and hopefully start earlier – like in November? That way, we can drag each project through several months of winter weather – and have even longer stories to tell next year!

flowers and chairs

Amenity Upgrade: or, It Takes a Village, Part 2

May 17th, 2014 by camdenmotel

On the weekend of the Camden Conference, our rooms had a new feature: Archive bath products–shampoo, conditioner, and prettily-wrapped soaps.  We were psyched.  It was an upgrade we’d planned around the same time we decided to get Keurig coffee makers for the rooms.  The Keurigs happened quickly.  The products….did not. Wait, you’re thinking: a blog post about bath products?  Impossible!  How can anyone write an essay on bath products?  Surely this is a topic for a Facebook post….a really, really boring Facebook post.  But stay tuned, dear reader…

Remember our first blog post, “It Takes A Village”?  That was a tribute to all the people who helped us on our journey to innkeeping.  Since then, we’ve learned it takes a village to run an inn. (For part of that village, see the post, “A Tribute To Our Housekeepers.”)  And believe it or not, it took a village to get our new bath products selected, tested, and “housed.”

Let’s go back in time.  It’s late October, and suddenly quiet around here, and the days are getting dark (earlier and earlier).  In the kitchen, Katja is perusing catalogues, something she normally enjoys.  Not so much, today.  Because these aren’t the bright, glossy catalogues we get every day in the mail, tempting us to order some fun thing we don’t need.  Welcome to the grim world of hotel/restaurant “catalogues.”  Back in our inn-shopping days, an innkeeper told us that once you’re in the biz, you don’t pay retail anymore, you pay wholesale (for inn stuff, not your own shopping, alas).  Yay! we thought.  Little did we know that wholesale shopping for this stuff involves long phone conversations, red tape, and wading through these depressing tomes where, to add insult to injury, things were not necessarily cheap.

Siobhan quickly bailed on this task.  The glossy catalogues can barely hold her attention, but these were actually repellent: flat, two-dimensional photographs of things like white plastic trash buckets, 36 of them for $9.99 (!!) Or soft disposable plastic cups, individually wrapped, a case of 1000 for $25.95 if you order 20+ cases. They had a real Soviet feel. But somebody had to do this awful job and Katja, having already survived ice bucket shopping, took on the task. And so, one amazing day, actual samples of products began to arrive in the mail.  Fun! Products to try!

And here the village part of the story begins.  Our friend Jan was visiting from Nebraska, and she became part of the deliberation process (in the kitchen–where most of this story takes place, come to think of it), weighing in on two crucial questions.  The first was, which product?  We liked a couple of the product lines but we ditched one after Jan sniffed it and pronounced it flowery; too feminine-smelling for men, something her partner would not use for fear of smelling like a girl.  She favored Archive’s Green Tea and Willow line for it’s “clean” scent, and we agreed.  One decision down.  But another awaited: to order conditioner or not?  Our product offerings in the rooms used to be just shampoo + conditioner in one, and soap.  Katja really wanted to order conditioner (of course the products we liked did not come in the two-in-one version), but Siobhan doubted if guests really needed/wanted it. Plus she was being cheap. Jan to the rescue again.  She said conditioner is the one thing people often forget to pack, that men use it too, and that in fact her partner and her son had gone out and bought it while traveling, if they had left theirs at home.  We ordered conditioner. homeless new products

Our housekeepers had joined us in the sniff-and-vote fun, and liked our choice.  But our head housekeeper Leah fretted about the potential waste.  People won’t use all of that shampoo! she lamented.  And the soaps, they’re so nice but…The first weekend we put the products out, Leah and Kendra filled half a jar with the leftover shampoo, to demonstrate how much was going to be wasted.    Not knowing how to solve this problem, we shelved it for now, but stuck to our guns – after all, most other inns and hotels handle this issue somehow, and so would we.

Jubiliation over choices made quickly faded as we realized the journey wasn’t over and that we were now embarked on Phase Two: the search for a product container/basket/what to actually put the shampoo, conditioner, and soap bars (very prettily wrapped) in.  The old products had been placed on the ledge below the bathroom mirror.  But these looked so nice; we wanted them to pop!  So guess who had to head back to the Soviet-style catalogues?  Yup.  Phase Two involved a ruler and lots of discussion about heighth and depth of potential containers.  But one glorious day, Katja found exactly the right thing–of course they weren’t cheap–and ordered them and eventually, several detours and shipping complications later, they arrived.  They were cool looking: hooray! But wait…aren’t they a bit big for the two soaps, the shampoo, and the conditioner?  We kidded ourselves for a while but finally had to face the fact that the products were rolling around in the metal baskets and needed something underneath them, to prop them up and show them off, as it were.  And Katja knew the repellent catalogues had nothing like that.

products in caddy without pillow

Now it’s January (remember, this saga began in late October).  We took a one-night getaway to Portland and there, at a boutique hotel, we thought we’d found the solution.  This hotel of course, also had very nice products in some kind of basket, and the products were nestled on top of…rolled up face-cloths.  Genius!  We were so excited; here was our solution, and a nice cheap solution too.  As soon as we got home, Katja ran out to Reny’s and got two dozen face cloths in different colors (to match the product colors, of course).  We rolled and folded and proudly showed the baskets to our housekeepers.

Leah took one look and said, “People will use them.”  Use what? we asked stupidly.  She pulled a towel out.  “They’re face cloths.  People will pull them out and use them!”  Well, we didn’t, in Portland, was our lame response.

Here’s a big thing you learn as an innkeeper: to think about what might happen to the cute/fun/etc. thing you put in the room, when it’s in the room with guests, night after night.  Hands up: who predicted that Leah turned out to be right?  Yup.  The morning “room report” routinely ended with “Room 3 / 7 / 12 used the face cloth in the basket.”  Always said with a bit of a smile.

But at this point, Leah became our most crucial “village person.”  Because she now took this on as a problem to be solved.  Leah is a brilliant fabric-worker: dresses, batiks, you name it.  And she became determined to solve the product-basket problem, with a fabric-based solution.  Morning after morning in the winter, Leah’s first words would be, “I have an idea…now what if we…?”  Honestly at this point we had given up: let them use face towels was our default position (we had plenty).  But Leah had got a hold of this idea and, we now learned, once she decided she would solve a problem, by gum she was gonna do it. And she did.  The solution?  She would hand-sew little bags for each basket, using fabrics from her own collection, and fill them with….can you guess?  Rice!  Which she funneled into the bags (10+ pounds for 20 bags), creating a product-cushion that no one could possibly mistake for a face cloth.  Though she did find one out in one of the bedrooms one day. We don’t want to know what that was about…but the bag was unharmed.

pillows for products

products with pillowOur final village person was Rick Wolf of the B&B Team, our friend and broker who, with his wife Jan, found us the Towne Motel.  Rick stayed with us one night in April and of course he had to hear the Product Saga.  And on the waste issue, he had a great tip about a company that takes unused shampoo and soaps from hotels and sanitizes them and then sends them to places in the world where cleaning products are in short supply.  Solution!  So now we’re collecting the leftovers and will be shipping them off soon.

We have actually written 1400+ words about upgrading products.  If you have read this far you deserve a medal.  Come get it, and while you’re here, try our products!

Amenity Upgrade: Introducing Towne Motel’s New In-Room Keurig Coffee Makers!

January 7th, 2014 by camdenmotel

keurig

Here at Towne Motel, we’re pleased to introduce our first amenity upgrade: in-room Keurig coffee makers with Green Mountain coffee K-cups.

We love coffee.  Actually, we need coffee.  Siobhan should not be approached before her first cup in the morning.  Katja drinks it through the day and (European-style) has been known to enjoy a cup at midnight.  When our previous coffeemaker broke down forever, we ran out and bought a replacement the same day.  The morning after Hurricane Sandy blew through and took the power supply with her (we were at the Jersey Shore then) our first question was, how will we make coffee???  On Morning One we heated leftover brew on the gas grill, then discovered that our gas stove still worked (hooray!) and moved to a boiling-water + filter system.  Only later did we think of things like where we would buy more flashlights or how we would keep the house warm in late October-early November temperatures.

As travelers, not surprisingly, we’ve long been big fans of in-room coffee makers  Thus they were one of our  first planned improvements when we bought the Towne Motel in September.  We serve good coffee downstairs at breakfast (Northeast’s Coffeehouse Collection—very popular), but for some of our guests, this doesn’t solve the problem of:

a) we want to have our first cup of coffee in our jammies, in our room, before appearing in public, in clothes (though jammy-suited guests are always welcome at breakfast)

or

b) we want/need coffee at other times in the day!

We hear you.

And Keurig coffee makers were clearly the way to go. A recent blog post,“Why Are So Many Hotels So Cheap When It Comes to In-Room Coffee?” (Hotel Chatter, Oct 15, 2013) complains about the surprising number of hotels that still have cheap-o (we won’t mention a brand) coffee makers in their rooms.  Like the ones that make you use a paper filter and then give you a bad, weak cup of “coffee” for all your trouble.

If you’re going to do something, we figure, do it right.  So Towne Motel joins the ranks of many fine inns and hotel chains (like Hilton Garden Inns this fall) featuring in-room Keurig machines.  We chose—after much research by Katja–the very popular Green Mountain K-cups, and we boosted the to-go cups, too.   The new ones have the better, actually drinkable-from lid tops, not the kind you have to struggle to peel off and then burn your fingers on.

It’s our way to celebrate the New Year at Towne Motel, with a gift that will keep on giving!

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