New Employee Pep Talk 2014

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This is more or less the pep talk I delivered to our new employees in May 2014 at the beginning of the season. What I can remember anyways.

Warm Up

Welcome to Gwin’s Lodge! We are so excited that you are here! I would like for everyone to introduce themselves by telling us your name, where you’re from, and something about you that not a lot of people know about.

Labor of Love

Keith and I bought Gwin’s Lodge at the end of 2011. We had never even been to Alaska before, but one look at the Lodge and the surrounding areas we fell in love. The Lodge was in disrepair so we immediately started renovations. The kitchen and restaurant were gutted and renovated. All of the cabins have been remodeled. Tired and worn mattresses, bedding, and furnishing have been replaced. Now with the store remodel nearly complete, all of the major work on this property is done. This was an expensive endeavor that was more than what we expected. Now we need your help to get in the black and make some money!

Mission Statement

Our mission statement is – Gwin’s Lodge is dedicated to provide the highest level of hospitality, accommodations, products, and services at a convenient central Kenai Peninsula location. I would like for you to focus on the words “highest level of hospitality, accommodations, products, and services” this Summer.

Anticipatory Service

A book I read recently taught me the concept of “anticipatory service.” What that means is that we try to be in our customers’ shoes and try to anticipate their needs and wants before they open their mouth to ask for them. The example given in the book has a customer walking toward a door with her hands full of packages. An employee nearby replacing light bulbs immediately stops what he’s doing and gets to the door ahead of the customer to open it for her. We want our customers to know that we care about them, and we want them to have a wonderful experience here at Gwin’s Lodge.

It’s the Customers, Stupid

Most of our customers come to Alaska to fulfill their lifelong dream and check off something on their bucket list. We want to do what we can to help them create unforgetable and wonderful memories here in Alaska. The customers are always right. That also means that we don’t complain and we always provide excellent service with a smile. If you are having problems with a customer, please don’t hesitate to get a manager involved right away.

Best of Many Applicants

We received many applications from people all over the country and all over the world this year. You represent the best of those applicants. We know you will have a fantastic Summer working at Gwin’s Lodge and we know that you will enjoy all the fun outdoor activities and beautiful scenery that we have to offer. We know you will make lasting friendships and create lasting memories. Please read through the Employee Handbook and observe the guidelines we provide in the handbook about living at the Lodge and serving our customers.

Represent Gwin’s Lodge

Keep in mind that you are the face of Gwin’s Lodge. You are what our customers see and interface with. You represent Gwin’s Lodge whether you are on the job or not. Therefore we expect you to be on your best behavior whether you are doing your job here or when you are hiking on a trail, or on a rafting trip we have arranged for you. That means you are respectful, courteous, and professional at all times.

Conscientious

Keith and I feel very fortunate to own this little piece of paradise in the middle of the Chugach National Forest on the Kenai Peninsula. We are surrounded by public lands and to the west we have the Kenai Wildlife Refuge and to the East we have the Kenai Fjords National Park. All of us have a responsibility to protect and keep this place pristine. That means I don’t want to see any cigarette butts on the ground on our property or any surrounding areas. That means no littering and observe all rules in the parks and wildlife refuge that you visit. That means pick up the mess even if you didn’t make the mess in the first place. Even though you will only be spending this Summer here in Alaska, we hope you will do what you can to help preserve this beautiful environment for many years to come.

Up Sell Cross Sell

One thing we would like for you to master is the art of up-selling and cross-selling to maximize profits. Without being pushy or obnoxious, we want to remind the customer about our award-winning smoked salmon chowder, delicious pies, or famous carrot cake. We want to help them pick out a coordinating cap or jacket that goes with that shirt. If they are in the store, we want to remind them that there are some good food right next door. If they are in the restaurant, we want to remind them to pick up some gifts in the store. Chat them up. Make a connect with our guests. See if there is anything they want to know about the surrounding area that you can tell them about. Don’t miss an opportunity to up sell and cross sell.

Wrap Up

I am so excited for you as you are about to have one of the best adventures in your life. If you need anything or have questions about anything, please don’t hesitate to come to Keith, Rob, or me. Although I won’t be here most of the time, I will only be a call or an email away. Have fun!

Copyright 2014 Gwin’s Resorts LLC. All rights reserved.

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Looking Forward to 2015!

Well, it is the end of 2014 and we have owned and operated Gwin’s Lodge for three seasons now. It has been challenging, full of drama, but also immensely rewarding. The Lodge is closed for Winter now, but we are gearing up for 2015. I have been reviewing applications for various positions at the Lodge for next year. We have some amazing candidates who have already accepted our offer, and the bonus is that we have returning employees from prior years! It’s wonderful to know that these employees enjoyed their Alaskan Summer experience so much to want to come back. I am looking forward to building a great team for 2015!

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A Collection of Slideshows

List of Gwin’s Lodge slideshows: http://tripwow.tripadvisor.com/tripwow/account/my_slideshows

Gwin’s Lodge and surrounding areas 2012 http://tripwow.tripadvisor.com/tripwow/ta-0831-5b9c-9668?lb

Hiking The Matanuska Glacier Slideshow Slideshow

Denali National Park – http://tripwow.tripadvisor.com/tripwow/ta-0831-5b42-96b6?lb

Hiking the Slaughter Ridge – http://tripwow.tripadvisor.com/tripwow/ta-0831-5afc-9708?lb

Fishing for Silver Salmon – http://tripwow.tripadvisor.com/tripwow/ta-0831-5aca-973e?lb

Sights of Homer – http://tripwow.tripadvisor.com/tripwow/ta-0831-5944-94b0?lb

Kenai Peninsula, Alaska’s Playground – http://tripwow.tripadvisor.com/tripwow/ta-0800-44ee-892b?lb

The Best of Kenai Peninsula – http://tripwow.tripadvisor.com/tripwow/ta-0800-435e-8e9b

Class V Whitewater Rafting on Six Mile Creek – http://tripwow.tripadvisor.com/tripwow/ta-0800-05c4-c801?lb

Exceptional Service

Being in the service industry for my day job (patent attorney) and night job (Gwin’s Lodge owner), I am especially interested in how some businesses excel at providing exceptional service. So when I came across this book, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit by Leonardo Inghilleri and Micah Solomon, I devoured it in one sitting.

The book talked about “reactive service” versus “anticipatory service.” We typically get reactive service – ask at the counter for napkins and ketchup, and the server gives us what we asked for. But anticipatory service means putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and anticipate their needs and desires. The example in the book describes a maintenance man up on a ladder replacing a light bulb, when a guest walks by with her hands full toward a heavy door. The maintenance man, well-trained in anticipatory service, comes down the ladder, beats the guest to the door, and opens the door for her. No one asked him to do this, but he anticipates the needs of the guest, and does it without being asked. Needless to say, this concept went into our employee handbook.

Another takeaway from the book that I liked is the vocabulary and language used when interfacing with guests and customers. The book calls this “language engineering.” The example of Ritz Carlton was given. Ritz Carlton trained its employees to use a set of ideal phrases when speaking to guests, like “My pleasure,” “Right away,” “Certainly,” and “We’re fully committed tonight.” This prompted me to put Into our employee handbook a table of do’s and don’t’s in how to interact with customers in various situations.

Of course, none of this should feel forced. The number one most important way to provide exceptional service is to hire the right people and give them the right motivation. Employees who like people, who are naturally upbeat, who have a natural desire to please, and who are motivated to do so are the most important ingredient for exceptional service. We are pretty picky about the people we hire, but because candidates are only interviewed by telephone, it makes it a little harder to gauge personalities and other nuances that cannot be easily detected by voice alone. However, our GM does her very best to hire the very best people we can. We look forward to meeting our crew for the 2013 season, which will be May 24-September 29!

Gwin's Lodge road sign w/snow 10/16/2012

Copyright 2013 Gwin’s Resorts LLC. All rights reserved.

The Kenai Flip

After repeated futile attempts to land a sockeye salmon on the Kenai River, I began to wonder about my “Kenai Flip” technique. Perhaps I had not quite mastered the correct wrist-and-shoulder coordination despite the conscientious tutoring by Ben and Gabe, our fishing guides. Perhaps the angle at which my lure lands up stream is too wide or not wide enough. Maybe the tip of my rod is held too high or not high enough. Maybe the artificial neon green feather lure that is on the end of my line is not to the salmons’ liking.

The “Kenai Flip” describes the way the lure is flung into the river upstream at about 2 or 10 O’clock (depending on which side of the river you are on) with a shoulder-wrist motion, followed down river with the rod tip to about 10 or 2 O’clock, and then pulled back out to be repeated again. The motion is likened to “flossing.”  The length of the line from rod tip to lure is no more than 10 feet – so that with skillful manipulation, anglers can stand side-by-side along the river trying their luck without the hooks and lines and sinkers and lures getting tangled.  The photo below was taken at Bing’s Landing, a great illustration of what “combat fishing” is all about.

Since sockeye salmon snagged in any body part other than the mouth is foul, the ripping or snagging motion that some anglers execute prior to bringing the lure back is illegal (called Kenai Flip and Rip).  Yet I saw plenty of people doing it.  And one fisherman who landed them left and right counseled me to try snagging the rod to increase my chances.  However, doing the snagging motion makes it more likely to hook a fish in body parts other than the mouth, and any sockeye salmon snagged this way has to be returned to the water with minimal handling.

Keith was the only one from our group that did land two sockeye salmon.  One on our guided trip, and one at Jim’s Landing, after fighting it for several minutes with almost all of his line out.

Asya helped to net it and bring it in.It was a good looking salmon, but Keith had snagged it in the tail.  So we had to let it go.

My efforts weren’t entirely unproductive – I landed a bait-sized dolly varden.  A very pretty fish.  There is always next year, and I plan to land my limit everyday!

Copyright 2013 Gwin’s Resorts LLC. All rights reserved.

Yes, We’re Open!

We did it! With hard work from Charlotte, Keith, and the whole crew, the restaurant at Gwin’s Lodge is finally open for business!

On the morning of Wednesday, July 11, 2012, we had a grand re-opening ribbon cutting ceremony and breakfast, complete with members of the Cooper Landing Chamber of Commerce.  We are grateful for the support of the Chamber, and town residents and business community.

The day before the grand opening, we had a couple of trial runs in the kitchen and with the wait staff.  Everyone gathered in the Lodge and prepared to sample food from the menu.  Charlotte, Keith and I also took this opportunity to address and thank the staff for their hard work and for sticking with us.  Keith’s Dad, Paul, also said a prayer before we dug into our food.  We were so relieved that the burgers, soups, quesadillas, and other food that Hoss, Jason, Drew, Shawn, and the rest of the kitchen staff turned out from the kitchen were so delicious!  Of course, we offered tweaks and adjustments where necessary.  I instantly became a fan of sweet potato fries and continued to have them whenever I could.

From the very beginning, the restaurant served decent breakfast, lunch, and dinner crowds.  We were ecstatic to receive such a warm reception and positive feedback from everyone.  There were also many patrons from other countries and the lower 48.  In a couple of days, I personally talked to customers from the Netherlands, Italy, Israel, and Switzerland.

We were especially happy to meet and talk to Alaskans who have been coming to the Lodge for many years, including Annette, who has been a loyal customer since childhood.  She told us that she was sad that the place shut down last year, and she was concerned when she found out that we were renovating it.  Having checked everything out, including the washroom, Annette gave us a big thumbs-up expressing her appreciation at the changes we have made.  She loved the new open kitchen, the lighting fixtures, and the new hardwood flooring.

I also met two restauranteurs, one from San Francisco who owned and operated Italian and German restaurants, and another from Florida who owned and operated sports restaurants and bars.  They both generously shared their insights in the restaurant business and war stories dealing with employees.  They promised to stay in touch and provide assistance and guidance.

Because the employees are on different shifts, it was difficult to get everyone together to take a group picture.  So the one below is just a partial gathering of this year’s staff.  We have a great bunch of young people and experienced managers working at Gwin’s Lodge this year!  Many went above and beyond in helping to get the restaurant and cabins cleaned up and ready for business.

Drew became the resident pastry chef as he expressed interest in making the cakes and pies.  He used the Gwin’s Lodge recipes and turned out delicious carrot cakes and pies.  I am especially fond of the carrot cake – I tried to have one more slice before we left but I was disappointed as it was all sold out.  Good thing I have the recipe and can try to make it at home!Here is Drew putting the finishing touches on the yummy carrot cake.  We were happy to sample the carrot cake.  Hey, it’s health food since its main ingredient is carrots, right?

The kitchen staff stayed busy cooking up Alaska-size hearty meals to fisherman who stopped by.  Fishing for salmon and halibut can be tiring and hungry business!

I tried to take some pictures of some of our offerings.

Now at the peak of the sockeye salmon season on the Kenai, we expect to stay very busy.  Stop by when you’re in the neighborhood!  We’re at Milepost 52 and we’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (6am-10pm).

Grand Opening

Gwin’s Lodge has been opening in stages in June.  The store opened first, then some cabins, and now the restaurant is almost there.  Because of deferred maintenance and poor construction, the kitchen had to be completely ripped out, all the equipment replaced, new plumbing and electrical wiring done, and new flooring put in.  Now in the first week of July, it looks like the restaurant won’t be able to open for July 4, but hopefully it will open by the coming weekend.

Meanwhile, I want to post some photos taken by Keith, Terry Burns, Alexis Dexter, and Nicole McFarlen.

The Kenai River by the Lodge

This is the beautiful Kenai River by the Lodge.  This photo was taken in April and because of snow melt the water level is now much higher.

The Lodge

A photo taken of the Lodge in April with the mountains and trees behind it.

Bear Cubs

Keith took this picture of two cubs who were with their mom and another sibling near the lodge.  Momma bear was grazing on the vegetation and the cubs waited patiently and watched the humans with suspicion.

Photo taken by Nicole McFarlen

Some of the staff have been able to enjoy the great outdoors Alaska has to offer.  Here they went on a kayaking excursion.

Momma moose with her calves.

Keith snapped this photo of a momma moose and her calves near the Lodge.

Gwin's Lodge sign

This Gwin’s Lodge sign in front of the Lodge has been spiffed up and cleaned and looks great.

Gwin’s Lodge undergoing transformation while the moutain stand guard.

Bald eagles are a common sight in the Kenai Peninsula.

So are brown bears.

Thanks to Alexis the following are some interior shots of the store and the merchandize.

A large assortment of fishing gear is available to our guests.

Snacks, anyone?  For when the munchies and cravings strike.

A wide variety of outerwear, T-shirts, and other clothing is available.  All bearing beautiful Kenai Peninsula, Russian River, and Gwin’s Lodge designs and embroidery.

And of course the store carries the requisite Alaska mugs, key chains, postcards, and other souvenirs.

As a bonus, earrings made from real hand-tied fishing flies made by moi are available.

Zion and I are finally going to be going up to Alaska to join Keith and Asya!  Can’t wait!

Copyright 2012 Wei Wei Jeang.  All rights reserved.