The only bed and breakfast in Flathead Valley, Bad Rock Bed and Breakfast Inn is owned Mark & Serena Jackson. It is located in Columbia Falls, Montana. In my interview with Mark, he had insightful comments on what skills they use to run their bed and breakfast and what they have enjoyed outside of their business that helped them have better focus to be good innkeepers.
Q: How long have you been in business?
This starts our tenth year. The inn has been a bed and breakfast since 1992. We are the third to own it.
Q: Why did you decide to go into innkeeping?
I traveled for twenty five. I love bed and breakfasts that I stayed in around the world. When I retired, I said that I was going to have one for myself. I ended up retiring at 44. Every bed and breakfast is so unique. They have their own character. Each one has some neat little thing.
Q: What is your signature breakfast?
Most people like best, what we call a bacon wrapped polenta. It has eggs and cheese inside with the bacon wrapped around it. We serve it on a fresh spring salad with a fresh made bacon vinaigrette. Southerns would call it grits. It is basically Italy grits.
Q: Where are the majority of your guests from?
They come from all over the world. Everybody comes here to see Glacier National Park. Mid west is definitely our main area. We get them from every country. We get a lot of people from Netherlands which is probably our number one country than Germany is our second, and England is our third. Many come from Japan, Australia, Taiwan, Sicily, etc. Europeans plan longer vacations so they go to a lot of places such as the national parks.
Q: What’s the best thing you have done for your business?
Best thing by far has been putting a decent website together. Also, we offer everything for our guests. We offer items free of charge. We have bear spray for them so they don’t have to spend $50 for a can of bear spray. We have a full size laundry to use because I hated when I traveled to spend a lot of money to wash a few clothes. Once you walk in here, you are ready to go to the Glacier park. We supply everything for guests to use like water bottles, packs, hiking poles, etc. so people don’t have to drag stuff from their homes to enjoy the national park. We have everything ready for people to go to Glacier park.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
Employees. We are mostly seasonal with guests coming mostly June-September and hardly anyone the rest of the year. Workers looking for seasonal employment is hard to get around here. We hire many people from foreign countries, mostly from Europe. They are hard working but they can be difficult to understand. We have one right now from Belarus. We give our employees free room and board and we pay more than minimum wage. Our workers are becoming more loyal. It is hard to find anyone local who wants to work.
Q: Biggest lesson learned in the industry?
Don’t try to make everyone happy. Do what you think is right and gear yourself towards those clients. This is my house and my rules. We are geared towards a more older clientele. We have handicap specifications, where you can walk from the cabins into the dining room without needing to step up. I spent a hundred thousand dollars getting that done. I try to make it really easy for our older clientele. We catered mostly to retired professionals.
I serve our guests a nice big breakfast. We average about twenty five people at breakfast. They sit around the huge dining room table and share their stories. We don’t have end little tables for two. Our guests like to sit together and interact at our place.
Q: What motto do you live by?
I treat people the way I want to be treated is my motto in life. As retired scientist, I see things different than other people. I trust people. I believe in the handshake. Most people return the favor. Everything is out in the open. I’m not going to change my world for a few stupid people who might leave with a book or a can of bear spray. Most people appreciate what I do for them.
I don’t have payments on our place. I don’t owe anything. It gives me a lot more freedom on how I run the place. I can shut down and take a vacation. I take a month off every year and go south.
Q: What is unique about your inn?
It is a true lodge. We have every trail book and map available. We cater to people staying for three or four nights. I built many of the additions to the property such as I added on the huge, log dining room. I turned an old horse barn into a three room cabin. I built a lot of the furniture including the log beds in some of the rooms. The valley has a nice little hot pocket so there are cherry and apple orchards. I, also, have apple trees loaded with apples in our backyard.
Q: What would you do all over again if you had a time machine?
I would have added more rooms after we bought the place. We get pretty busy during our peak season so each room is worth $15,000 to $20,000. I bought the place next door and turned it into a guest house. I shouldn’t have spent the money on the landscaping when I needed more rooms. I am still waiting to add on to the other cabin. The thirty thousand I used for the pavement; I could have put in two rooms.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
I ride motorcycles. I have four motorcycles. On the weekends, there is a dual sports club that my wife and I ride in together.
My wife and I did an eight country tour of Asia two years ago. Earlier this year we went on a two week cruise around Hawaii. For our next trip, we are planning on a slow leisurely trip through Utah to see the Arches and on to Arizona.
Q: Any little known facts about your inn or your town?
Our town is a gateway to Glacier. We have the Flathead River which is one of the best trout fishing rivers. Our area has eight golf courses, is a big retirement area and the Californians have discovered it. In the summer, it is beautiful here with 40 degrees at night and 80 degrees in the day with no humidity. We provide a couple of bikes for our guests in the summer. We have kayaks for them, too. We have skiing in the area during the winter.
Q: Any fun guest stories you want to share? Such as unique guests, crazy situations or celebrity guests.
I had the guy who bought the first robot I designed and built, stay here. I was heading out to the breakfast table and saw him which was quite a surprising experience.
It is always interesting to see the different reaction the guests have when I hand them a can of bear spray. There was a little girl, who I tried to insist to her dad that they should take the bear spray. I tried to train them on how the dad should walk first with the bear spray and the little girl should walk between the dad and the mom. With the grass high along the trails in August, the bears can walk right out on the trail before they are seen by anyone. The dad said that they were going to walk on the busy trails. I told him that the bears don’t care how many people are on the trails.
The next day, the little girl said “Mr. Mark, you were right and my daddy was wrong.” The dad got to far down the trail and a bear walked out right in front of the little girl. The little girl just froze like I told her to do and the bear walked off.
We get quite a few federal judges and we “appeal” to many lawyers who come stay with us. One morning I walked out to our table of ten guests and everyone was either a judge or a lawyer.
We get a lot of military people. They will come back from deployment and bring their wives here. We have the Malmstrom military base in Great Falls about 5 hours away.
Did You Know?
The largest natural freshwater lake which is west of the Mississippi is Flathead Lake. A haven for fisherman looking for pull in lines of trout. Another big adventure is the whitewater rafting. If you prefer to watch, the Bigfork Whitewater Festival goes on every year. The 160 mile shore line is quite breathtaking and peacefully to drive around.