AMERICUS — Walking into Kim and Susan Egelseer’s Americus Garden Inn, a bed and breakfast in Americus, it becomes immediately apparent why their business thrives and why TripAdvisor has picked them year after year as one of the best B&Bs in the country.
They will offer you a wide variety of drink options: hot tea, hot chocolate, coffee, cider or nearly any kind of soft drink you can imagine. As they provide a tour of their home, you might notice a “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations” banner hanging over one of the entrances to a room, a sign that one of their upcoming guests is celebrating a birthday or anniversary. If it’s an anniversary, you will notice the rose petals on the bed as you walk in.
Susan will say, “Do watch your step” each time you enter a room with a raised threshold. You will feel as if you have known both Susan and Kim a long time, as if you are just coming to visit an old friend.
And you will not be the only one who has felt that way. Nearly 1,000 people on TripAdvisor feel the same way, which is why the Egelseer’s Americus Garden Inn has been recognized as one of the best B&Bs in the country and in the world 10 different times.
Their most recent win was for 2019, when the Americus Garden Inn was rated as the No. 4 B&B in the United States and the No. 17 B&B in the world. It was the only lodging property in Georgia to win in 2019, and it is the only lodging property anywhere in the United States with 10 total awards from TripAdvisor.
The first award came in 2007, just five years after the Egelseers bought the 171-year-old house, already an established B&B, and just a few months after a tornado that tore down many large trees on their property and damaged their roof.
A FedEx package arrived with a glass award, and Kim and Susan weren’t quite sure what it was. They weren’t even quite sure what TripAdvisor was, but they soon realized that they were selected because of their outstanding guest reviews.
“It was a nice equalizer to the despair that we were facing after the tornado,” Kim said about that first award.
“That was our worst year in many ways because of the tornado, but it was the first time our guests recognized us on a world stage,” Susan said.
Now, with another nine awards under their belt, they said they are still surprised every time they win.
“It’s a surprise every time because if you’ve won any award in any capacity, you think that it’s a one-time thing,” Susan said. “And it’s very hard to defend a title, no matter what it is. It’s very hard to defend. So we’re happy that we won in the past, but to get it again, and the 10th time, it’s overwhelming to me.”
“It’s like winning the Super Bowl 10 times for us,” Kim said. “That would be the equivalency.”
The Egelseers originally lived in Florida before finding their way to Americus. Kim worked a corporate job, and Susan worked as a health coach and nutritionist. Susan said they never really saw each other much, and they wanted a change of pace, a business that would allow them to support themselves while also spending time with each other and making people happy.
“I just personally love making people happy,” Susan said. “I really believe that’s why I’m here, to make people happy. So for me, finding a business that incorporates making people happy and not just selling things (was) really important.”
Neither of them is quite sure how they settled on the idea of a bed and breakfast exactly, but once they realized that was what they wanted to do, they started looking.
Their original idea was to have a B&B in the mountains in a popular skiing area and near a national park, so they looked in the Rocky Mountains. But, as Kim puts it, Americus “found them.”
“We didn’t have any ties to the area in terms of how we came to Americus,” Kim said. “It found us, I think.”
“When we came here, it all happened so fast,” Susan said. “We came here and right away, people were so friendly to us. … All of our neighbors greeted us, and (told us they) were happy that we were going to be here. It was just something that we had never experienced, and we wanted to be a part of that.”
The inn had been fully remodeled by the previous owners when the Egelseers bought it. The previous owners added a bathroom in every guest room, which Susan said was a big selling point for them.
“When we were looking for a B&B, we wanted one that was already up and running, but at a point where we could take it to the next level,” she said.
The Egelseers said that they were “not in the current century” with some of the technology at their B&B. They have only box TVs, VCR players and VHS tapes in the way of televised entertainment. Neither of them owns a smartphone, and they insist on talking to every guest over the phone to confirm bookings, rather than taking online reservations.
While they might be a little behind the times, the Egelseers said they believe that is part of what makes them different.
“We insist on talking to everyone so that we can make sure it is that perfect experience for them when they come,” Susan said. “That’s truly what we believe makes us different.”
While the couple does allow for online reservation requests, they call their potential guests within 48 hours of the guests putting in a request. On the phone, they discuss their policies at the house.
Because of potential dangers for young children, only children over 10 are allowed to stay. They also explain about the TVs and VCR players and tell the potential guests that they don’t allow smoking or pets in the house. They also explain that check-in is preferably between 4-7 p.m., with no check-ins after 9 p.m.
During each phone call, they also ask about food allergies and preferences, and each morning Susan makes homemade breakfast and tailors the menu to the diets, food allergies and even preferences of the day’s guests. Each breakfast is three courses, with a baked good, fresh fruit, some sort of egg dish and one of Susan’s nearly 80 pancake recipes.
Kim said he thinks the phone conversations with each guest also allow him and his wife to learn why their guests are coming to stay with them and what their goals or hopes might be for their visit.
Kim and Susan run the business alone, with no other employees, so they personally see to the needs of each guest. Because their business is also their home, they don’t take any last-minute, walk-in guests.
“We’re not a hotel,” Susan said. “It is our home. … If you were entertaining guests at your house, wouldn’t you want to know they were coming so you could prepare for them? That’s how we look at it. Any person who comes to our door, we treat as our best friend. You have to know what they like, what they don’t like, so that you can prepare for them. That’s what makes us really different.”
Both Kim and Susan said they think their B&B allows for conversation between them and their guests, and between guests, and they can see a difference in their guests when they leave.
“People realize they have so much more in common, and I think that’s what people have found here,” Susan said. “They find that there are other people who feel the same way they do, and in today’s world, although people are connected electronically, they don’t actually feel like they’re connected to anyone (personally). The human interaction is missing. … By the time they leave, you can see they’re relaxed and smiling.”
“The stress kind of drips away,” Kim added.
The cynic in us might lead us to think there’s no way that this couple really sees all their guests as their best friends, but that wouldn’t be true.
Susan said she has cried and laughed with many of their guests, offering someone a shoulder whenever she sees that someone needs it. Both Kim and Susan said they try to give every guest the best experience possible.
“We just do our darnedest to provide the best experience for our guests and genuine hospitality,” Kim said. “That’s what we do.”
“What’s important is making other people feel valuable, making friends, making a difference in other people’s lives … that’s pretty much what we set the focus on,” Susan said. “Every person who comes in gets treated like a treasured friend. My goal is that by the time they leave, they truly feel that they are our friend.”