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How an Innkeeper Got Back to What She Loves: Welcoming Guests, Not Marketing to Them

Thanks to a Mailchimp partner, this historic inn became a modern must‑visit.

Since 1846, Washington House Inn has been welcoming guests to Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Over the course of its 175 year history, the inn has seen its share of facelifts and ownership changes. But for the past 37 years, the beautiful Cream City brick building has been in the careful hands of Innkeeper Wendy Porterfield. During her tenure, Washington House Inn has doubled in size and become an internationally recognized, award-winning destination. Innkeeping is an age-old profession, but the digital era would bring new challenges and opportunities. That’s where Mailchimp partner Allison Crumpton came in. White Stone Marketing, a Nevada-headquartered marketing and website design agency—that Allison co-founded with husband Scott Crumpton 27 years ago—specializes in promoting boutique inns and hotels. It was the perfect firm to champion Washington House Inn’s digital evolution.

What prompted you to hire White Stone Marketing?

Wendy: We have 34 rooms, which can mean we’re dealing with up to 1,054 room rentals in a month. As an innkeeper, I have to be a jack of all trades. On top of managing all the front of house duties (as well as 26 staff), I also handle all the repair and maintenance—our buildings are from the 1800s, so there’s a lot of upkeep. It’s a consuming occupation, but one I love. Taking care of our guests is my favourite part of the job. My least favourite? Handling all the marketing.

Washington House Inn predates Google (by more than a few decades!), how has adapting to the digital age gone?

Wendy: I'm a paper and pencil kind of person, but that's not how you do business any longer. 37 years ago, it was a different world. So, for a while there, I was just running after the train all the time. No matter which direction I was going in, I was behind. So, White Stone taking over our marketing was a huge load off my shoulders.

Prior to hiring White Stone Marketing, what was your online presence like

Wendy: Our first website was pretty clunky. We convinced one of our more digitally savvy employees—a biology major with no web design experience—to make it. It was basically an online business card. We knew it needed improvement, but when you get busy, well, you don’t look at your own website.

How did you find White Stone Marketing?

Wendy: The owner of Washington House Inn, Jim Pape, met Allison at a trade show 12 years ago. He came back from the conference and said, “There’s someone you have to meet.” Soon after, we were having monthly meetings, and things started running a lot more smoothly.

What were some of the first things you tackled for Washington House Inn?

Allison: We focused on redesigning the website. If you have even just one person come to your property, look around and say “Oh my gosh! This is so much better than I thought it would be!” your website has failed you. For any inn, a good website is the most critical component. It’s your main selling machine—up 24/7, 356 days a year. You also have to have good search engine optimization (SEO) and a robust paid search program. So that was phase 1.

My greatest compliment is word of mouth, but word of mouth only goes so far. You have to have an online presence, and they’ve done that for us.

Wendy Porterfield, Owner of the Washington House Inn

Getting Washington House Inn’s new website up was phase 1. What was phase 2?

Allison: Getting them set up with Mailchimp was a natural next step. Email marketing offers so many benefits, including allowing them to stay in touch with their regulars. They have a very loyal following.

And? What were the results?

Allison: Since we set them up with Mailchimp 7 years ago their list has grown to 18,000 people, and their campaign results just keep improving. Just this past year, they've made $36,000 in direct revenue. And their average open- and click-through rates—22.3% and 4.8%, respectively—are excellent. So it’s not surprising that email is their fourth largest traffic and revenue driver after Google, Organic and Paid Search.

Wow! That’s seriously impressive. What do you attribute this success to?

Allison: It’s partly due to the contests we run on social media. We’ve had some creative campaigns to celebrate the inn’s birthday and for other holidays, too. Wendy has fully embraced email marketing and leveraged it in really unique ways. The real secret to their success, though, is consistency. Washington House is consistent in their branding, consistent in their marketing, and consistent in their voice.

I get people in the door, but Wendy’s the reason they come back.

Allison Crumpton, Founder of White Stone Marketing

You’ve been working with White Stone for more than a decade, what are some of the other ways they’ve improved your marketing?

Wendy: They’ve helped us with revenue management, rate setting, package creation, and they’ve also put a lot of what used to be done manually on autopilot. But, at the end of the day, the most important thing White Stone Marketing has done for us is to help get our name out there. My greatest compliment is word of mouth, but word of mouth only goes so far. You have to have an online presence, and they’ve done that for us.

Allison, you’ve helped Washington House Inn significantly over the years, what’s been the most rewarding part?

Allison: Wendy is phenomenal at what she does. Where she shines is taking care of her guests and giving them a fabulous experience. Innkeepers like Wendy wear a million different hats. When we take marketing off their plates, we allow them to wear the hat they love the most. I get people in the door, but Wendy’s the reason they come back.

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