OpportunityI am a coffee snob. I admit it and I’m not ashamed of it. I like good coffee in just about any form – espresso, french press, drip, cappuccino, etc. Coffee is almost like a drug, once you’ve had the good stuff it’s hard to go back. Starbucks is OK, but there’s other brands that I prefer and I’ll drive miles out of my way for it and pay a handsome fee for it as well. This fact was completely lost on Callaway Gardens when I visited there over the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Call it catering to snobs, but I found a lot of missed opportunities at Callaway. These opportunities were not just flights of fancy, but opportunities that would generate revenue. There was a lot of wasted space in the main area of the Inn. What used to be the bar, was turned into a general common area that had little rhyme or reason. This area could be easily converted into a coffee bar. Starbucks has brought the idea of fancy coffee into the mainstream. Setting up a coffee shop that also served a pastries and bagels would have been very popular. There was a restaurant of course, but if you wanted something quick and easy, you were out of luck.

The coffee shop would have filled this need and fill it profitably. Coffee bars are not bargain centers. $3 – $5 coffees are the norm and $2 – $3 pastries are not uncommon and even if you’re not a coffee lover, you also have hot chocolate and other hot beverages that can cater to those tastes. Given the insane amount of traffic Callaway Gardens had the time I was there, they could easily pay for the addition within 3 months, because the Inn has a captive audience. There are no competing coffee shops in the nearby town of Pine Mountain and if there was, it’s still a couple of miles away.

Another Missed Opportunity – Internet Access
Coffee wasn’t the only thing missing from Callaway Gardens, there was no high speed Internet either. Having Internet access is becoming almost a necessity, especially for hotels. Callaway caters to golfers and golf is a popular businessman’s game, so how are they supposed to keep up with their e-mail? Having hi-speed access via a hotspot is the perfect solution. Guests could pay for the service at $10 per day and this would make a nice add-on for the hotel. I was there for 4 days, so that’s $40 just for one room that Callaway missed out on taking advantage of. It may take 6 months to recap your investment, but that’s nothing compared to the recurring revenue they could enjoy. It’s not as if the Internet is going anywhere. 😛

I was able to connect to the Internet via a dial-up account, but the fastest connection I could establish was 28k. At that speed, just checking e-mail was a chore. While I was there, I was never successful in checking all of my accounts and had a truckload to wade through the following Monday. With a hi-speed wi-fi connection, I could have stayed on top of things without spending a lot of time away from my family. A quick check in the morning while I was getting ready and another before going to bed would have easily taken care of all of my needs and would have been worth the $10 daily access charge.

Gift Shop Opportunities
One of the things I noticed about Callaway Gardens was the fact that all the gift shops carried many of the same items. There were some specialty items at each, but they all had the same basic staples. One of the missing items were video products. There were no DV, Hi-8, or VHS video tapes that could be purchased. I brought a Digital Video camera and when I ran out of tape, I was forced to drive 20 miles to a nearby town to find a store that carried DV cassettes. I would have paid double the normal price for the same product in the gift store.

That’s the beauty of Callaway Gardens, it’s somewhat remote so they could get away with paying slightly higher prices for certain items for the sake of convenience. I don’t think food, or beverages should be hiked, but convenience items such as video tape, film, batteries, etc., are fair game. How many sales are lost because they simply don’t carry an item that is somewhat popular to travelers? Video cassettes are quite common on family trips and there were a lot of family reunions there that extended weekend.

One Surprising Thing
Although I’ve been ragging somewhat on Callaway, there was one thing that surprised me. In one of the gift shops, I found that they carried memory cards. They had memory stick, compact flash, smart media and secure digital cards. It was tucked away in a back corner that most people wouldn’t ever find, but they did have them. Clearly they were attempting to support digital camera users. The prices were fair and it’s a shame that they weren’t a bit more prominently displayed, not to mention sold in all the gift shops.

I’m Not Just Spoiled
Maybe I’m just a spoiled brat and I’m whining about not having some luxury items that I’ve grown accustomed to, but I don’t think so. The couple of items that I’ve mentioned are easy to add services that could generate solid returns in a short time frame. People want to be catered to when they are at a hotel and the more remote the location, the more valuable the services are. There are always going to be people that just want to get away from it all, but there are plenty of others that like knowing that those items that they rely on are handy.

Had I fallen in love with the area and was looking to retire there, or move there someday, I would run out as soon as possible and open an Internet Cafe in the nearby town right on main street. 😀