My first book launched seven years ago. I’m Living Your Dream Life: The Story of a Northwoods Resort Owner is a combination memoir and how-to. It’s the story of how my husband and I went from being a couple of California yuppies to a family of four operating the world’s first disc golf resort in Northern Wisconsin.
The impetus for writing this book is on the first page. One day I received what was probably my one-hundredth call from a man who wanted to know how we made it work. “What can I do to have your life?” he asked.
We not only received regular phone calls—on our toll-free number—but a substantial chunk of time at the resort was and still is dedicated to telling our life story to resort guests. When they look around at the beautiful, dreamlike setting that is Sandy Point, many want it to be a part of their life for more than just a week during the summer. I’m happy to have these conversations and even happier to point to the gift shop, saying if they want to more they should “buy the book.”
Last night I received a letter from a man named Bill, who read I’m Living Your Dream Life while researching resort ownership. I’ve lost track of the number of letters like this I’ve received, but this one stands out because it’s been a while. I’ve since had three additional books published (on different subjects) and it has shifted my focus and the types of letters I receive.
Bill asks some specific questions regarding occupancy rates and how much staff it takes to operate a small resort, but he asks other questions that take me from the “how-to” expertise category to the “memoir” portion of the story. He asks: “Exactly how stressful is it” to own a resort, and “is the job hard to figure out?”
Well Bill, here are your answers. First, the specific:
During 16 summers of operation, we’ve enjoyed ten prime weeks of summer occupancy rates at 100%. We base our entire operating budget on these ten weeks. This income pays for everything it takes to keep the place going: electricity, propane, trash collection, septic service, well and pump, building, grounds, and equipment maintenance, pest control, insurance, insurance and more insurance, real estate taxes, association fees and dues, advertising and marketing, licenses, housekeeping supplies, office supplies, telephone bills, legal and professional fees, guest amenities and staff.
During a good year all other income aside from this 10-week budget scenario is our profit. In other words what we earn from an additional four weeks of on-season rates and three months of off-season (also known as shoulder season) rates is what we use to feed our family. We have the added bonus of the disc golf course and retail operation, but that has separate budget criteria.
As far as staff, I know only one woman who operates a three-unit resort on her own. Most of the people I know in the local resort association are at least a couple or a family operation. My business partner (aka husband) and I each take on 50% of the responsibilities, bringing our particular talents to the table. At times we are required to step into one another’s arenas and we make that work. For example, I can change a ball cock on a toilet and relight a water heater if I must, and he can make hospital corners on a bed sheet and check-in guests rather well; however, we prefer to stay in our comfort zones.
Now that our daughters are old enough, they have taken on jobs as well and frankly, I don’t know how we managed without them. We also have a full time man, a caretaker, who we house on the property year-round, and he has 45-acres of work to keep him busy.
Regarding the more esoteric notions of how stressful the job may be or how hard it may be to learn, I can’t predict this for Bill. My first question was to ask if he was “handy.” By handy I mean whether or not he can fix things. Is he capable of determining what’s causing the toilet to run or the faucet to leak, or diagnosing what the smell is over in cabin #4? Can he repair a leaky roof; find out where the bats are getting in and plug the hole; rethread a pull cord on a motor when an overzealous weekend fisherman pulls it out? Can he fix a screen or replace a broken window? How many of him does it take to change a light bulb?
If he can do these things easily, he won’t be stressed when called to do them on a daily basis.
I just described the key elements of my husband’s job. Then there’s MY job. I am the CEO and bookkeeper, office manager, receptionist, booking agent, advertising executive, decorator, webmistress, hostess, housekeeping supervisor, maid, laundry room manager, concierge and Mother Superior. Most of the jobs came easily to me and those that didn’t, I bought books like If You Can Read You Can Understand Bookkeeping; Idiots Guide to Running a Bed and Breakfast and So, You Want to be an Innkeeper. Once I learned how to do everything, I was not stressed.
These days I only stress out when there’s a bad storm and I have to wake up to see the damage and wonder how much time and money it’s going to cost me. The rotten guests no longer stress me, frankly because they don’t really exist. The people who come to our resort are genuinely lovely people and we are happy to share our dream life with them.