First-time hoteliers, the owners of The Dove Inn, say they’re looking to be innovators in hospitality, with a behind-the-scenes service model that works similarly to a home rental but is staffed more like a hotel.
GOLDEN, Colorado—Hospitality and innovation come naturally to husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Regan and Libby Foster.
So the couple knew when they decided to get into the hotel business, they would do it differently.
They enjoy entertaining at their seven-bedroom, five-bathroom home in Denver, Colorado, which they built from nine corrugated-steel shipping containers, and which they rent out on Airbnb.
When they travel, they like to feel at home, but without the hassle—comfortable and catered to, leisurely but luxurious.
All of that was going through their minds, they said, when the Fosters bought a bed-and-breakfast here in November 2017, which they renovated and reopened as The Dove Inn, a boutique hotel, in February.
“We weren’t really looking for a property when a friend of ours sent us this listing in the summer of 2017, but we saw a lot of potential,” Libby Foster said.
“We visited (the bed-and-breakfast) multiple times that summer, and the previous owner was very sweet to us, and let us sit there and dream, and take up her time and her staff’s time. We asked a lot of questions, got a lot of great ideas.”
The Fosters operated the property, which was originally built in 1866, as a bed-and-breakfast for about a month, then closed it in mid-December for a full renovation, for which they set a hard deadline of two months.
The result is something different from a bed-and-breakfast, not quite the same as the home they list on Airbnb, but also unique by most hotel standards, they said.
What sets it apart
Libby Foster admits “the line is very thin” between their boutique hotel and a home-rental listed on Airbnb. In fact, The Dove Inn is listed on Airbnb, but “we don’t get many bookings from there,” she said.
The difference, as the Fosters see it, is the inn is staffed with housekeepers who clean every day, offers fresh food for breakfast each morning and books its 10 rooms individually.
Each of the 10 rooms is uniquely designed and furnished, with antiques the couple picked up on a cross-country shopping spree, they said. The kitchen, dining and living room areas are communal spaces.
“We wanted to combine modern with the old Victorian look,” Regan Foster said. “So it’s not just a bunch of antiques. It’s very clean and modern, up-to-date, with some cool, antique pieces. Every room has its own feel to it.”
The couple sees the hotel’s behind-the-scenes service model as one way they are innovating in the hospitality space.
“At a typical bed-and-breakfast, you’re eating with the owners and talking with them,” Regan Foster said. “With this behind-the-scenes concept, guests make themselves at home, and we’re there if you need us. There’s more of that freedom, and it adds a different feel, a different vibe that certain travelers want.”
The Fosters have three people on staff at the property, and pitch in themselves, but the idea with service is to have their presence felt while not necessarily seen, they said.
“It’s a little bit more than housekeeping; our employees do everything,” Regan Foster said. “Usually one to two people show up every day, from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. They’re turning rooms, cleaning the kitchen, restocking the fridge, helping anyone who needs anything.”
But, Libby Foster said, sometimes guests later will comment: “Where is everybody? I didn’t see anyone the whole time I was there.”
“For us, that feels like a win,” she said. “We want our staff to be quick and quiet, so people can enjoy themselves. … There’s no question that somebody’s there every day, but we try to be really quiet and fast.”
Check-in and check-out is also automated, through software that works with the booking engine to text guests with door codes. Guests receive a welcome email and can contact the owners and staff by phone or text, which is checked 24/7, Regan Foster said.
Not for everybody
So far, the reception by guests has been very positive, the couple said.
“It’s been going well, and we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback. We’re really open to people’s criticism and willing to change practices as we need to. But in general, it’s been really fun, and people have really enjoyed what we’ve done,” Libby Foster said.
Any struggle has been with guests who don’t “do their research” about the hotel before booking, Regan Foster said.
“People who book us through different websites than our own, they book according to the price, and don’t read anything about who we are,” he said.
Those guests can be “caught off guard,” he said, by things such as the breakfast they offer, which isn’t hot, but consists of locally-sourced offerings that the guests can prepare themselves, from breakfast burritos to yogurt, pastries and cold-brew and roast coffees.
“We do offer food for breakfast; it’s just self-serve,” Libby Foster said. “It’s not about saving money. We spend more on our breakfast, which consists of high-end local ingredients, versus (what the brands do) with dollar-a-dozen eggs and the cheapest bacon.”
The owners said they understand their hotel isn’t going to appeal to everybody. “And that’s totally fine,” Regan Foster said. “If you want to do something unique and creative, not everyone is going to like you.”
But one guest was so impressed that he asked if he could be an investor on the Fosters’ next hotel project. (They are looking for another property to potentially invest in, Regan Foster said.)
The location of the hotel, the mountain town of Golden, draws lots of outdoors adventurer-types, for mountain biking, climbing and river rafting, the Fosters said.
Things are starting to slow down in the fall, but through the summer, the hotel had “probably close to 90% to 95% occupancy,” Regan Foster said.
Now that school is back in session, a lot of the Inn’s guests are parents and teachers. Golden is home to the Colorado School of Mines, a public teaching and research university devoted to engineering and applied science.
“Parents dropping off at the School of Mines come from all over the world,” Libby Foster said.
The Dove Inn is also drawing a fair share of staycationers—from Denver, for example.
“The mountains surround Golden and keep Denver out. You feel like you’re in the mountains,” Regan Foster said.
Guests at the Inn book on average for two- to three-night stays, though “we definitely get some three- to five-weekers,” Libby Foster said.
The experience of running a hotel has been educational so far for the couple.
“Entrepreneurship has always excited me. I’m always looking for ways to learn and grow,” Regan Foster said.
One of those learning experiences has been working with the staff.
“This is our first time having employees who run the day-to-day operation. It’s an amazing way to learn, to find creative ways to better a business, while taking care of employees and guests,” Regan Foster said.
The couple has learned that “if we make our employees our priority, they will make the guests their priority,” he said. “It trickles down. If we don’t give attention to our employees, we start losing attention to all the little details. It’s kind of a game, and we’re learning to play.”
Libby Foster added: “We wanted to be really great bosses; we’ve both had great and not-so-great ones. We have a very strong desire to make sure the women who work for us are happy and growing and feel listened to. It’s something I’m learning to do, and that I’ve never done before in this capacity. It’s been fun to try, and we’re really excited to take the next few months to really dive into the women who work for us, making their lives at the Inn easier and more streamlined and happier.”