Community Comment: Four bucks a beer, or how I learned to stop worrying and embrace competition

Poppi Reiner, the owner of Revelstoke's Poppi's Guesthouse, writes about her experiencing with business competition.

Poppi Reiner is the owner of Poppi's Guest House.

By Poppi Reiner, Special to the Revelstoke Review

I recently watched the video “Whistler-Blackcomb: 50 years and beyond” on Youtube. I didn’t watch it so we could figure out how to be the next Whistler-Blackcomb. How could we? We are uniquely Revelstoke. I watched it because I expected the lessons learned by the resort to be highly relevant to our town. It’s a short documentary that illustrates the tensions that arise with protectionism, the progress that is fueled by competition, and the benefits of cooperation.

That got me thinking about my own history in Revelstoke and whether I have been a pro-development type, or a protectionist. This is what I discovered.

When I moved to Revelstoke more than eight years ago to open my hostel, I had a list of interesting names to call it. After several months of extensive renovations, I asked my tradespeople which name they liked the best. They all said the same: “Don’t bother with fancy names. Guests are just going to say they stayed at Poppi’s”. And so I decided to call it just that: Poppi’s Guesthouse.

One of the first things I did before opening was to contact Twyla, the owner of the only other hostel in town, the Samesun. I introduced myself and explained I wished to work with her, rather than to compete against her. Fortunately, she was very welcoming. We discussed how our two establishments could complement each other, as I have only private rooms and she has mostly dorms, and I was seeking a more mature clientele. Twyla disclosed her pricing, and we agreed I should always have a slightly higher price-point.

We have enjoyed a solid relationship since, sending referrals, helping when we are over-booked, and warning about troublesome guests.

A few years in, I was struggling to pay for an increase in property taxes and I had to take on outside work. Between the two jobs, I was working up to 18-hour days.

It was at this point I heard about a new hostel that was coming to town that, like mine, was going to target mature travellers and have private rooms. Worse, they were going to charge substantially less than I was in the winter, my busiest season. I panicked. I was unable to believe this news meant anything but the utter destruction of the business I had tried so hard to build and was barely hanging onto.

I sought the advice of an experienced hotelier who has been running his hotel and pub for decades. He told me, “If you knew how many times someone new came into town and set up to sell $4 beer. But I know how much it costs to run a business here and I know they can’t do it. So I sit tight, and within six months, that business has either gone bankrupt or raised the price of their beer.” This was timely advice and I felt greatly relieved.

Sitting tight has never been my style so now that I was calm, I met with the hostel owner and explained my pricing and the rationale behind it. It turned out because of his previous experience in a summer tourism town, he had no idea Revelstoke’s winters were so profitable. He agreed to raise his winter rates. Again, cooperation over competition was a benefit to both parties. I was still worried about our similar clientele and that his rooms were not only private, but also had toilets, whereas my bathrooms are shared, but, as it turned out, he wasn’t a big fan of backpackers as guests and dropped the word hostel from his name. I needn’t have panicked.

What I realized from all this is I offer a type of accommodation that is uniquely mine and that my guests enjoy. I have my niche and no other business will be quite like it. I have an established business and no matter who else opens up in town my loyal guests will still call on me first as I have provided them good experiences and fond memories of Revelstoke. Just as my tradespeople knew before me, my guests won’t say they stayed at “a hostel,” they’ll say they stayed at Poppi’s.

Since then, my business has grown, I don’t need to take on outside work, and our community has continued to become enriched. It’s exciting to have so many new restaurants and retail stores to recommend to my guests. It’s thrilling to discover all the new activities they can enjoy when they visit. Every one of these businesses is distinct. Every bar has its own ambience, every restaurant has it’s own menu, every retail store has its own buyers. Indeed, unless you open a big-box store or a franchise, you couldn’t be like the business next door if you tried! I know the more the community has to offer, the more people will come, and the longer they will stay. Our visitors are as varied as our businesses.

There is now another hostel opening up but this time I‘m not panicking. Revelstoke’s tourism growth charts, which are truly astonishing, show us rarely does a month go by where the numbers are not greater – sometimes far greater – than the year before. I realize there is plenty of business for every one of us and more options for travellers means good business for all. Just as there are guests better suited to the Samesun Hostel than mine, there will be guests better suited to our newest hostel, and I look forward to referring them.

While I do on occasion still catch myself chanting “four-buck beer, four-buck beer” under my breath to calm my protectionist voice, I am learning that competition is healthy and serves the community as a whole very well.

Editor’s note: This column was proposed and written before news of the latest treehouse hotel controversy emerged.

 

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