River Rock Inn owner puts her hospitality to work
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What was once a 2,200-square-foot home on five acres became a 5,200-square-foot inn featuring a giant stone fireplace set in a massive great room with floor-to-ceiling windows and comfortable furnishings.
There’s still room for the Watkinses to live in the inn, along with the five private rooms and suites, the outdoor covered tub spa with two waterfalls, the massage room and the kitchen where Lisa Watkins cooks breakfasts for guests, or dinners on special arrangement.
Since it opened in March 2005, she’s been providing “a luxurious Northwest B&B experience,” as she likes to describe it, to hundreds of guests. The River Rock Inn has become one of the Northwest’s most popular B&Bs, thanks not only to the Watkinses’ effective marketing but also because of the attractions they have to market — relaxation, comfort, friendliness, pampered experiences and scenic beauty.
“We offer people a place that’s peaceful and quiet and rejuvenating and they’re attracted to that. It’s a chance for them to get back to the basics, to nature and playing checkers or watching movies in bed. It’s about the connection of two people, it’s a haven in a fast-paced world,” Lisa Watkins said, adding that the B&B is also well established as a retreat center for small groups.
Their web site, riverrockinnbnb.com, attracts guests from all over the world, the U.S. and Snohomish County. Travel journalists and publications rave about the accommodations and genuine friendliness. KING-TV’s Evening Magazine and Best Northwest Getaways, among others, have rated the inn as one of the top B&Bs in the Northwest.
“We also help the local economy by buying in Arlington and sending guests to local restaurants and attractions like the nearby kangaroo farm, the Arlington Fly-In air show each July, local casinos and downtown Arlington shopping,” she said.
Despite the challenges of the months of construction, the years of marketing and the long hours operating the inn, the Watkinses’ success was uncertain.
“We’d never done anything like this before, so it was a new experience,” Watkins said. “But God gives everybody certain gifts. Hospitality apparently is mine. We had the vision, resources and the ability to realize this dream, but without the gift of hospitality it wouldn’t have worked. Fortunately, both Bob and I are people persons.”
Although they felt confident from the beginning, the Watkinses agree taking on that challenge was definitely a “step in faith.” Today, Lisa Watkins’ venture is a textbook example of someone who successfully gambled everything to fulfill an entrepreneurial dream.
But she had more going for her than just knowing how to be friendly and hospitable.
As a young woman of 19, starting out in the business world in San Diego, she discovered her gifts with people, marketing, innovation and determination.
That’s when she founded her first business, Bank On Us, then the area’s first temp agency for providing banks with trained staffing when regular employees went sick or on vacation.
“I had to be a sales person to get in the door to talk to these people because at that time we were the only business like it in the San Diego area,” she said. “It was an entirely new market for smaller banks.”
After 10 years, she and the business moved to Bellevue. After meeting and marrying Bob, the two of them ran Bank On Us and added office furniture and cubicle installation to their services.
“Working for myself for so long I realized the importance of marketing, customer satisfaction and service,” Lisa Watkins said. “Now we wanted to apply that to our own venture. Our original vision was having the B&B for couples, including mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, sisters or families so they can reconnect. Now we’ve added retreat groups, tourists visiting the area and a whole variety of other categories.”
She’s involved in the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce and serves on the boards of directors of the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau and the Washington Bed & Breakfast Guild.
“Our success is all about making people feel welcome in an inviting setting,” she said. “We’ve had guests from all over the country, Korea, the Philippines, Europe, Africa. People come as tourists, for elopements, anniversaries, getaways and any number of reasons. It’s a 24-hour-a-day job, so we try to take time for ourselves now and then. We’re no good to anybody if we show up at the door thinking, ‘Oh, no, not another person.’ We’re genuinely thrilled when people come here out of all of the many places they could have chosen.”
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