The Itty Bitty Inn is tucked into an itty bitty lot on Highway 101 at 1504 Sherman Avenue, North Bend. The enchanting and fun murals grab your eye, spark curiosity, and suggest that there is a lot more going on behind those muraled walls.
How does this Itty Bitty Inn draw visitors from all over the world? FUN. Branding. FUN. Branding. MORE FUN. OK, fun and branding. The challenges most companies have is how to make their business memorable long after the business transaction is done. Not so at the Itty Bitty Inn!
Innkeeper Rik Villarreal has developed a unique and memorable brand in the quirky art work and themes that checks off many branding success strategies: humor and fun, positive memories, authentic and unique, and somewhat unpredictable. He recently described the Inn as “a fusion of SciFi nerd-dom, mid-century Americana, and Oregon coast free-spiritedness. Vintage, Nerdy, Bohemian.”
This description actually fits really well. Where else might you find vintage rotary phones, rebuilt Atari 2600 systems (by Recycle Video Games http://www.rvgnet.net run by Annie Jackson), and listen to old favorites on vintage record players. Villarreal has, over time, developed a fun atmosphere, working in a quirky, fun artistic themes in every niche and cranny of his business.
Villarreal found the Itty Bitty Inn about five years ago quite by accident. He was looking to move to this area after his Coos Bay apartment was smoke damaged. He and his wife stayed at the Inn a few weeks and fell in love. When the Inn went up for sale, he dove in headfirst and began remodeling/restoring the site and building the brand.
Now you might think that branding is all about how your business cards and website looks but those ideas fall short of what effective branding can do for your business. This branding process has incorporated many different quality products and ideas that represent the wholesome personalities and vibes that make up our little stretch of the Oregon coast.
Local and regional products such as three unique soap and balm makers (SideShow Soap Company, Laughing Lion, and Sud Muffin) , Lex Johnson’s best roasted coffee, complimentary organic oatmeal with cranberries, blue berries, and hazelnuts, and several clothing/apparel products that were printed or created regionally. A bag of Bay Bridge coffee to go please.
But he has also worked to find out what visitors need, such as the ‘Tour of Deliciousness’ map featuring local restaurants and knows where to find the best gluten-free pizza (Dave’s pizza, 740 Koos Bay Blvd, Coos Bay, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Daves-Pizza/666708600014516). Or even providing an electric car recharging connection designed by his dad, a Master Electrician, whose foundation in physics and engineering came from SWOCC. Did we mention the Itty Bitty Library collection in each room?
Each hotel room, and indeed the whole Inn, is cheerfully decorated in fun themes that reflect our town’s personalities and flavors. The 70’s disco room is lots of fun, but it is the mid-century transition room featuring a rotary dial phone that is over the top! He shared the story of some younger guests who were puzzled at what that thing on the dresser was and how to use it... They had never seen a real working rotary dial telephone! Here is a short video for those of you that don’t know what a rotary phone is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OADXNGnJok
Villarreal “loves taking care of people” and works hard “making [their] visits more robust.” The Inn offers several fun activities such as crabbing in Charleston, bike tours (with complementary use of high-end bicycles purchased at and maintained by Moe’s Bike Shop, in North Bend). The eight high-end bikes range from cruisers to hybrids to mountain bikes made by Cannondale.
Villarreal employed Simon the Muralist (Simon Whiteowl) to create the murals that lend a nod to science, forestry, and the free-spirited coastal fun. The murals reflect an art style of the 1960s-1980s, each with its own story to tell. Be sure to look at the “I Love You So Much” and “Not Fade Away” (from a Grateful Dead song [originally a Buddy Holly tune!]) that animate the decades of life and spirit of the Inn. Around the corner you will find a Star Wars mural with a Star Trek “Landing Party” mural on the south wall (look for the new themed Star Trek room in the near future)
While branding may be the golden thread that binds the elements of business into success, fun is what keeps you going day-after-day. It doesn’t hurt being awarded Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor for 2016, 2017, and 2018; or attracting and hosting European visitors and celebrities such as Woody Harrelson and the craft-beer godfather, Steve Dressler. All testaments to excellent service, creative and effective branding, and lots of FUN. “It’s a blast” Villarreal said. WE AGREE!
How does this fit into Economic Development? “Branding is a simple concept to understand yet sometime a painstaking process to implement,” as outlined in Web Marketing for Dummies (Book 1, chapter 3). “Branding is simply getting prospects and repeat customers to see and remember your product as the only solution to their specific problem or need.” The Itty Bitty Inn is an excellent example of how to build and leverage a brand to revitalize, stabilize, and expand a small business in a very competitive business sector. It also demonstrates that branding can be a very creative and fun process. If you need help identifying a brand or just want to talk about branding ideas, please contact SCDC and we can help get you headed in the right direction.