(O.K. Carter for the Fort Worth Business Press, February 8, 2019) For the budding entrepreneur who fantasizes about opening a little bed and breakfast, Sanford House Inn and Spa General Manager Valerie Landry offers two highly useful and complimentary gemstones of somewhat contrarian advice:
1. First, forget the “little” part.
2. Second, diversify with complimentary components.
Back to those tips momentarily, but first some history: Landry was all of 10 years old in 1996 when her grandparents and parents built Arlington’s first bed and breakfast at Center and Sanford streets in Downtown Arlington four blocks from City Hall. Since downtown wasn’t exactly booming at the time and this was B.C. – before the Cowboys showed up – the enterprise was decidedly a gamble. The gamble paid dividends.
As soon as she was old enough to work after school and weekends, Landry – she’s now 33 – made The Sanford House her part-time job.
“I figure I’ve done just about everything related to this business from making beds and cleaning bathrooms to helping in the restaurant and touching up paint jobs,” Landry says with a laugh.
She thought, however, that the hospitality industry part of her life was over when she journeyed to Hofstra University after high school, completing a degree in marketing and looking forward to a career in the next-door Big Apple (Hofstra is located on Long Island). Then mom – physician Joan Bergstrom – called with an opportunity. Landry’s grandparents, who ran the Sanford House, were retiring. Maybe Valerie could take over managing the Sanford House and also work on her planned MBA degree at UTA. She decided to do both.
“I can’t tell you how handy both that marketing degree and particularly the MBA have been,” says Landry.
Flash forward and things have changed dramatically at the Sanford House from those early years, the facility buying adjoining property and adding more suites – there are now 12, some of which are cottages, others villas -- and meeting facilities, expanding the restaurant and lounge operation and also opening a spa – facials, couple’s massages, pedicures and manicures. Landry credits her mother for developing the spa concept.
“We can no longer be described as a bed and breakfast at all, but more of a boutique hotel,” Landry said.
Meanwhile, Landry utilizes those MBA and marketing skills to expand the business parameters in multiple directions from hosting business conferences and family reunions to weddings, cooking schools and wine tastings, among others. Along the way she also remodeled and rebranded the Sanford House’s small restaurant to Restaurant 506, where it constantly ranks in the top five of Arlington’s premiere dining offerings, thanks in no small part to Executive Chef Joey Villarreal, a unique culinary artist.
Whether it’s lunch (consider the lobster roll, or a magnificent Reuben, or crab cakes with celery apple slaw) or dinner (give the lobster and wild mushroom risotto a try, or go for the seared scallops, or maybe the spiced lamb chops with asparagus and golden raisin couscous).
“Part of our restaurant brand has revolved around special offerings on holidays, typically sold out, thanks to both Villarreal’s talent and our own persistent marketing,” says Landry, who stays in touch with patrons through email and social media – something she believes to be an essential branding strategy in today’s competitive market.
Then there’s the restaurant as a crucial marketing component.
“It and the impression it makes are often the first introduction people have to Sanford House, so it’s critical that it be outstanding,” Landry says.
What’s next for Sanford House? Arlington has more than 15 million people a year visiting its assorted entertainment offerings, a potential market for growing interest in temporary rentals – possible competition, depending on what Arlington eventually does in the way of regulatory ordinances. So far, Landry doesn’t see those entities as major competition.
“I think most people still expect something of an elegant experience from an entity like Sanford House, so long term I don’t see anything with the trend that will be adverse to our business,” she says.
In fact, Landry adds, she’s giving considerable thought to expanding – and perhaps diversifying – a bit more. After all, it’s a strategy that’s been working for more than two decades.
The Sanford House Inn and Spa
506 N. Center Street
Read the full story by O.K. Carter, which was originally published in the Fort Worth Business Press on February 8, 2019. Photo by O.K. Carter.