Located in heart of the popular Lake Weeroona precinct Comfort Inn Julie Anna is a favourite with guests, recently we met owner/manager Kristyn Slattery and asked her about how her business engages digitally with an ever expanding audience.
So tell us a little bit about your businesses?
We are a 33 room accommodation motel, part of the Choice Hotels, under their company brand. We have a restaurant that’s open for breakfast 7 days a week, and dinner Monday through Thursday. Reason being, we are permanently a corporate motel. So corporates are looking for a meal through the week, locals and weekend trade tend not to support the restaurant, because they are here to go to a 21st, a wedding and engagement party, or to try the new restaurant in town or catch up with friends. And the locals are a bit the same. There are so many choices in town so the previous owners closed weekend trade and it hasn’t impacted the business. We also have a function room that seats up to 60 for private/corporate social functions. We have 15 employees at present.
So, the business has been established for quite a while, how long has it been running and how long have you been managing the property?
The motel celebrated 30 years this year. It was opened in May, June 1986. It’s had a number of owners and facelifts over that time. But, we took it over on the 1st of April this year, mum and dad had it 7 years ago for approximately 5 years. But, Jill is the owner and who it's named after, Julie Anna is a play on her name.
How did you come to be in the hospitality field?
Mum and dad bought a hotel 22 years ago, they had never done it before. Dad was a draftsman and civil engineer at the local council. Mum was a department store manager at the local department store. They were ready for a change and wanted to run their own business and looked at a number of things before finding a motel in Swan Hill, I thought it was the worst thing ever! Now I think it’s the best thing ever. I didn’t want to follow in their footsteps, I went off to be a Kindy teacher and changed my mind. Mum and dad gave me a call in 19 years ago, asking me. I had indicated by then, but asking me if I wanted to come join the family business, which I was absolutely ready for and within 4 weeks I had resigned and moved. They sold it 7 years ago. I stayed in the industry, had a couple of other jobs. Worked my way through some different roles, but I am exactly where I am meant to be in life right now.
What do you find is the biggest challenge as a business owner?
Staff and customers. You can’t have a business without either, you wouldn’t have a business. Customers can prove challenging sometimes to deliver an appropriate level of service.
What would you like to see happen locally to support other enterprises and increase networking between other small business in Bendigo?
I am all for social media platforms and round table conversations and training because, we can sit in a room and talk, but we should be talking on our social media platforms and engaging with one another’s business, because for us being in tourism and hospitality it’s a snowball effect. They are going to come to the new restaurant in town, going to have an extra glass of wine and need somewhere to stay. But if they have come to town to have a break and chosen to stay at the Julie Anna then I need to be talking to businesses that will keep them in Bendigo a second and third night. I think workshops are great, they're short, sharp and shiny and, if there is an open mic session where we can interact with one another I think there are good opportunities there. Getting in the mix of that Bendigo Tourism was hosting a superior members workshop, to discuss the new art gallery exhibition and post the statistics of the Marilyn Forever exhibition. I put my hand up to host, because all of a sudden new faces are in my property and I get to meet and greet a lot of people. So by opening my door and hosting people it’s a chance to showcase my business and meet others.
Who are your ideal guests, who do you try to attract?
We are a corporate motel, so Monday to Thursday it's the corporate clients so, you are dealing with corporate government agencies and travel agents. Our weekend trade is a real mixed bag, from families here for sporting events, to the single income no kids demographic and also the grey nomads.
So how important is social media to your business and your online marketing?
It's hugely important, we were only having this conversation an hour ago, your website is now your brochure. No longer do people want a piece of paper. The demographic I just talked about, they still do want a piece of paper and you need to meet that need to a degree, but our older guests are becoming more tech savvy and able to access Google maps and Instagram and the internet in general. We are considering a new website in the new year. We have a little more work to do in our photoshoot before we are ready to do that. We will be looking at our website design and creating a more contemporary experience, bringing it into 2016 and beyond. I can control social media more easily because I can change that at a drop of a hat.
I believe having an online presence is where it’s at, it’s the start, the middle and the end
So, what’s your number one tip for running a successful business?
6 months in I'd say being in the business and working yourself, knowing your business, your customers, your staff, your stock, and your product. We are getting to know our customers, finding out what they want, find out what’s wrong, what we need to fix. Being responsive to the needs of our customers and our staff, just being involved. And of course the guest experience, if they are happy, it reflects on your business, happy customers are paramount.
How long have you been number 3 on Trip Advisor?
We are fluctuating between 3 and 4, but we were number 5 when we took over, 5 and a half months ago, we have been number 3 for 5 or 6 weeks now. That’s something we are working towards, I respond every 48 hours to every review, the good, the bad and the ugly because it’s an open forum. It’s actually a great selling tool because it’s a chance to talk to the customer. Ideally we would like customers to talk to us when a problem arises, not at check out and not on Trip Advisor, because most of the time there is something we can do to fix it. Whether it be a room change, change a light bulb, get some more towels, its normally something that can be fixed. You've just got to be responsive.
Do you encourage them to leave a review or is it just something that’s up to them?
No, I have just designed a business card, one side says 'Stay Social, Let’s Get Social' with our hashtags that we are using for social media. We encourage our guests to post a picture of their breakfast or room, or lake or whatever. The other side is 'How was your stay, please share your experience with other travellers on Trip Advisor.' Next week they are going into the rooms, they will be on in every room and at this stage the thought is I will put them on the bed, because then they have to pick it up. One side is bright orange so, it’s going to pop. We always ask the guest at check out, How was your stay? It’s an open ended question, and if there is any waiver on responding to that, we step away from the computer, say tell me about it, what can we do better? What didn’t we get right? If we don’t know we can’t fix it. If I can do something to remedy that and get them back, that's what we want to do.
So what questions would you like to ask a web design/digital branding expert?
I understand there is SEO and there is SEM, but understanding what the difference is and how they work together and what they mean to one another and what they can do for my business, I’d like to know more about that. When the time comes to get quotes and ideas on a new website there will be questions I’ll be asking, and wanting help and support.
What percentage of reservations do you get through your website at the moment?
Probably 50% of our bookings come from the phone, which is unusual, most are web based these days. So that’s a hard thing to measure because the phone numbers probably not on the website, they could be Googling us then ringing. But it’s a small portion like very small portion that are from our booking button link. But a lot of our customers are repeat business, we probably have 50 percent repeat business at least, at checkout they book for next week or the next two weeks or the next 4 weeks as they have a regular pattern. So it’s not even a phone call for those ones but in the scheme we looked at our web based bookings probably 50 percent come through choicehotels.com then it would be the other third parties.
You said you have put together a wish list for your new website. So what's your website going to look like?
Very visual, our rooms are some of the largest rooms in Bendigo at 38 square metres, its unheard of. That is a strong selling point for us as well as our position and location. It will have a massive in your face call to action to book now. We'd like to get a bit more regional with what’s on and what’s happening. Our other offerings to feature would be the restaurant and the function spaces. So, by selling the region people stay longer and will grow the average length of stay. We want them to embrace the region. That’s what people want but we think we can offer a little bit more with the size of the rooms. Another unique feature is everybody can park at their doors, which is almost unheard of now in motels.
So where do you see Julie Anna this time next year?
I would like to say number one on trip advisor but I don’t think that’s a true reality, but we have put it to our housekeeping team, as a motivator that that’s where we would love to be.
If your business is in need of a website overhaul, or you're looking to attract more followers on social media contact Purencool Digital.