You've had a good day on the slopes and you're sitting around the fire sipping your favorite drink and thinking, "This is the life!"
Suddenly, you get the most brillant idea of your life: you'll quit the rat race, buy an inn in ski country, and relax. "With the whole family working it, we could have a good time," you say.
Not so, says Pat McClune, who did just that -- almost. "It's cheaper to hire your help than to raise it."
Three years ago, McClune sold his home in Philadelphia, closed his heating-contracting business and became a full-time ski instructor. A year later, he began negotiations on the purchase of a 150-year-old inn. This year, he is closing the deal (at half the asking price), getting married (to a woman who has summers off so she can help at the inn) and turning 35.
McClune's inn, The Antlers, is far off the main highway that runs through Swiftwater in Pennsylvania's Poconos. But its reputation was not built on dropins. It was built on the work of Dave and Joan Toms and their three kids and two English sheepdogs.
For 23 years, the Toms ran the inn and raised the kids and the dogs. Joan, who was in charge of the kitchen, often worked with an active baby in the playpen next to the massive stove. Dave pressed the children into service as soon as they were big enough to carry a plate or cleaning supplies. They worked 20 hours a day and had only a week's vacation every year.
But the point came when the children were grown up and the sheepdogs had been replaced more than once, and Joan wanted out -- of both the marriage and the inn. "I knew I would terminated the marriage, but I couldn't do it while I was there," said Joan.
About the same time, McClune, whose divorce had recently become final, was looking for something more challenging than ski instruction. He was bunking with one of the Toms boys, and helping out at The Antlers when needed. So when Dave Toms offered to bankroll him if he wanted to buy into the inn, it did not come as a complete surprise. What did surprise him was that as he looked into the deal, he found out he would have to become the sole owner if he was going to save the resort from bankruptcy. Toms had worked for 23 years to build a resort only to have to sell it for taxes and debts.
"I was idealistic and I did not know what I was getting into," McClune recalled. "I knew it would be hard work, but ski instruction is hard work and I don't mind that. What I did not expect was the financial struggle."
After running The Antlers for almost two years, McClune finally has some solid figures that let him project his financial future. "It will be another three years until I see anything substantial," he said. His figures include a $10,000 annual set-aside for capital expenditures.
"I've got to replace all the matresses in the place, and get all new air-conditioning. Last year, I had to replace the entire heating plant, and that was an unexpected and unwelcome expense all at once."
McClune's naivete about The Antlers' financial picture was based on differences in style between him and the Toms. "They were reluctant to put money into repairs. They would keep repairing something themselves long after it should have been replaced," McClune said. There are also differences in payroll costs: McClune's payroll last year was about $30,000; the Toms' last payroll was $14,000.
"I think I'm doing it better than they did," McClune said. "I'm hiring my staff, not raising it." McClune's bride is a teacher, available to work at the inn during the summer, but bringing in $18,000 during the school year. "I can hire a whole lot of help for $18,000," McClune said.
McClune considers himself lucky if he gets to ski part of a day once a week. "In the winter, you bust your butt five days a week and get satisfaction two days," he said. He does not open the inn during the week in the winter except for holidays and long weekends. He does not have enough guests to warrant the heating and staff costs.
"Before this, my greatest satisfaction in life was teaching skiing. But this is greater. If the guests are happy, I'm satisfied."