Updated: Aug 12, 2020
Business at the Inn at Horn Point in Annapolis plummeted right after the pandemic. In April there was zero revenue for the 18-year-old bed and breakfast owned by Cory and Carol Bonney. They have slowly grown back their revenue by promoting their intense cleaning process and also getting some grant help.
“It's been a rough thing to come out of,” Cory Bonney said. “July is going to be stronger. That's all I can say. Already we're doing better than June and we're only on the 11th of July. We're doing better than the whole month of June. So we’re climbing out of a hole. It feels nice. I said to my wife ‘It almost feels normal today.”
Their daughter, Josalyn Bonney, is the third family member involved in bringing the inn’s business back to life. Cory said that during the stronger economic times of years past, the inn’s rooms were often booked out months in advance. But now bookings are being made more at the spur of the moment by guests.
In May, Carol came across a small business lifeline called SCORE. SCORE bills itself as “America’s premier source of free business mentoring and education,” on its website.
With the help of SCORE advisor Bruce Sanders, the Bonney’s ultimately won a $2,000 grant that would help them change the way they did business and bring back more guests.
“He was actually the one that introduced my wife to NAV,” Cory Bonney said. “NAV is a national organization that is effective in in supporting small businesses in many different financial ways. They can hook people up with small business loans when the small business might find it difficult to get financing in other areas. And then they also have this grant program.”
The $2,000 allowed the Bonneys to put the inn’s 8-seat table in storage and purchase and buy spaced out two-person tables, chairs and linens for the dining room.
“NAV came to the rescue,” Bonney said.
The process for being awarded the grant was competitive, but exciting, he said. There were initially 1,000 small business applicants for this most recent round of the grant. It was paired down to 60 applicants and then those were reduced to six hopeful applicants who were vying for one of the three grants available.
“With the six, each was interviewed by by a board of NAV members,”Bonney said. “We did a Zoom interview. That's when it really got exciting.”
"Like many small businesses, Inn at Horn Point was quickly thrust into an unprecedented situation due to COVID-19," said Greg Ott, Nav's CEO in a press release. “"The grant application from the owners of Inn at Horn Point stood out because they not only showed a challenge they were facing, but ways they were thinking creatively to overcome it. The Bonneys are a prime example of small business resilience."
For the Bonney’s “outside the box” meant ensuring robust safety measures are taken at the inn for guests and letting prospective guests know why they should rest easy at the inn during the pandemic.
Back in 2015 they had already bought a central air scrubber which helps purify the air of viruses, bacteria and mold with ultraviolet light.
“That runs 24-seven in our house,” Bonney said. “Now we also have a portable one (air purifier) that we can take into a specific room when someone's just checked out. We open the windows, let it air out for an hour. (We) close the windows, (then) let the air conditioning do its work with the UV. We put the air purifier in there and run that. So we're killing the bacteria and virus on surfaces with the UV light, and then we're filtering the air of any airborne situation. And then we wait 24 hours. And then we go in and clean with disinfectant. I mean, it's quite the process. But it's what you have to do today.”
They explain their health and cleaning process on their website. The inn also requires all guests to wear masks while outside their rooms and inside the building. Cory Bonney went on to explain his motivation for such demanding standards. He said he learned it from two decades of working at Marriot prior to starting the inn.
“In human nature, we have people all over the nation--some refused to wear masks, some refused to say that this virus is a problem,” he said. “And then we have a friend who hasn't left her home since the 17th of March. So you have both ends of the spectrum. You have to be as good as your most discerning customer.”
That attitude learned in the hotel business is paying off for the Inn at Horn Point now. He said a lot of guests recently have been people who have been needing to get out of the house for a change of scenery, but who also need to believe that they will be safe at their destination.
“We're getting good feedback,” Bonney said. “They say we appreciate what you're doing.”
He said he thought large hotel chains faced bigger issues than local inns when confronting the danger of coronavirus because they have to deal with higher guest counts. They also rely heavily on group bookings at a time when events and gatherings have often been outlawed.
As part of his routine he said he looks to do projections and also compares current numbers to the same time last year. He doesn’t expect his industry to fully recover from the pandemic economy until perhaps 2022.
“I know I'm like everybody else,” he said. “I'm a little bit nervous.”