Innkeeper Ellen Grinsfelder spent 32 years working in and running the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls near Hocking Hills State Park. The property was the dream of her mother, who unfortunately died four years into the business.
That left Grinsfelder and husband Terry Lingo — who she met after her mother hired him as her contractor — to run the operation.
“We had hoped, as I think in many family businesses, that our two children who grew up in the business might have interest in it,” the Buckeye Lake resident says.
However, it wasn’t to be. So, after some careful discussions to make sure her children weren’t interested, Grinsfelder decided it was time to sell.
It doesn’t happen in a day
Grinsfelder put the property on the market about four years ago.
Her broker — who specialized in bed and breakfasts and inns — wasn’t located in Ohio, which made the process more difficult. Plus, the inn didn’t fit readily into a size category in the hospitality industry, in which it typically takes two to three years to sell a business.
“We’re not a resort,” Grinsfelder says. “We’re not a hotel. We’re not even the size of a motel, and we’re not a four- to eight-room bed and breakfast.”
The property included a full-service restaurant, which many potential buyers didn’t want, as well as a spa.
“It wasn’t going anywhere,” she recalls. “We decided to pull it off the market, which really was a smart decision.”
Over the next three years, the inn had its strongest financials, in terms of revenue and profit, in its history. With the addition of yurts, the property was up to 29 units available to rent.
Grinsfelder decided to put the inn back on the market in January 2018. Last summer, she started to accrue a list of real estate brokers, sending signals out she was ready to try again.
One of those broker contacts, Zac Loomis, Re/Max Associates Realty, came from her banker. “I called Zac on the phone, and by the time we were done with a half an hour conversation, he said, ‘I know that you called me about potentially helping you market the property for sale, but I already own some lodges in the Hocking Hills and I might be interested myself.’”
Grinsfelder wanted three things in a new owner. Somebody familiar with the Hocking Hills. Somebody with hospitality experience. And somebody who was a true entrepreneur at heart, passionate to continue to build on to what she and Lingo had started.
Loomis and his wife Lauren ticked all three boxes.
The inn never actually went back on the market, and the deal closed at the end of February.
Start early, get help
After the sale, Grinsfelder and her husband took a six-month contract to stay on the payroll until their exit at the end of August. That way, Loomis could learn about the operations and maintenance. The inn’s assistant innkeeper would be promoted to general manager, and the lodges that Loomis already had in the area could be added to the total mix.
Grinsfelder says they will continue to be involved where Loomis needs, but she and her husband both started part-time businesses to keep them busy in their semi-retirement.
“The walking out is going to be hard,” she admits. “I think it probably would be much more emotional if we weren’t in love with who bought the inn. That no doubt helps.”
Looking back, the deal had more paperwork and details than Grinsfelder expected, and it was critical to surround herself with solid, experienced people.
She also was glad that she decided to sell the business before she wanted out. That forced her to keep the business strong during the sale process, something she had heard from other CEOs.
“Think about it in advance,” Grinsfelder says. “Don’t wait until you’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to get out of this’ and burnt out, because it’s not going to sell in a day.”
It’s also stressful dealing with things like trying to decide how much to share with your staff, she says.
“You’re going to have a roller coaster ride,” Grinsfelder says. “You may have six people look at it and you think that four of them, absolutely it’s going to happen. The reality is you’ve gone through six months and they’re not the people. For whatever reason, it stops cold, and you’re like, ‘Oh, great here we go again.’ So, it’s pretty intensive while you’re at it.”