Laura Saccio continues to combine her love of travel, the outdoors, and caring for others by operating Bird Rock Hotel and Earthbox Inn

For Laura Saccio, business, finance and management were always an integral part of her life. Growing up, her family owned the largest stock brokerage firm in Portland at that time, and later she went on to receive her masters in international management. After the birth of her second daughter, Saccio and her family began the search for a small hotel to run, allowing her to balance a career and raise a family. The search came to an end in 2001 when Saccio purchased the now Bird Rock Hotel, followed by Earthbox Inn two years later, and has since become a prominent business owner on the island.

Prior to owning Bird Rock Hotel and Earthbox Inn, Saccio had owned a whitewater rafting company in Oregon. Saccio said she had a “rebelling phase” in her 20s, becoming a whitewater rafting guide when she was on the path to work in the realm of business and finance. However, she eventually eneterd that realm by owning her own rafting business, and later she worked in financial management before making the decision to look for a hotel to purchase. Saccio and her family knew they wanted to continue living in the Pacific Northwest, and they had their eye on the Puget Sound.

When a property became available on San Juan Island, Saccio came to scope it out but found it wasn’t going to fit into her plan. However, while she was on island, she came across the now Bird Rock Hotel and reached out to the owners to see if they were interested in selling their business.

“Coincidentally, [the owners] had moved to Anacortes the year before and were trying to run it remotely and that was very challenging for them, so they were interested [in selling],” said Saccio. “We felt the property could fit very well for us.”

Despite never having owned a hotel before, Saccio found that many of her previous experiences served her well in operating the two hospitality businesses.

“Life is a story and you take all of your previous experiences and pour them into whatever you are [doing]. Since [my experience] had been taking care of people whitewater rafting in a much more intense environment, it seemed a pretty easy transition to taking care of people in a fixed, beautiful location like an island,” said Saccio. Additionally, her degree in international management was very useful when interacting with guests from around the world.

Over the years, Saccio has faced many highs and lows while running her businesses. Her first big challenge came in 2009 when the market crashed and unfortunately coincided with challenges in her personal life, including her divorce and subsequently becoming a single mother. The next difficulty that Saccio would face was the COVID-19 pandemic, which greatly reduced guests as well as staff; at one point, the hotel was run by just her and one other staff member for a three-month period. Despite the toll that these events took, Saccio regarded these difficult times as opportunities for evaluation and growth.

“As with a lot of challenging times, it gives you an opportunity to reflect and try and figure out how you can take your personal system and your work system and make them stronger going forward. So I had to do a lot of thinking on my feet and then you know, things got better,” said Saccio.

One of these business model adaptations that was made as a result of COVID-19 was turning the Bird Rock Hotel from a bed and breakfast into a remote boutique inn, similar to an ‘advanced Airbnb,’ as put by Saccio. With staffing already a unique challenge for many businesses on the island, Saccio’s new model made great strides going forward.

However, for Saccio, her staff has been one of the biggest highlights of owning the hotel and inn over the last twenty years. She takes pride in often hiring employees for their first job, modeling for them a healthy, fun and respectful workplace while teaching them responsibility and ethics as an employee. Additionally, Saccio remarked on the joys of working in hospitality and creating memorable experiences for her guests.

“It’s really, really fun in the hospitality industry because most people have a fantastic time,” said Saccio. “Being able to share this beautiful, amazing place that we have and share the love of travel that I have with so many folks year after year, it’s just soul food.”

When asked to give advice to future business owners, Saccio listed a number of aspects to consider, the first being timing. Especially when living on an island with a seasonal economy, it is crucial to consider when your business will be most successful and to plan opening at the beginning of peak season rather than the tail-end. She also reiterated the importance of finding staff that you ‘gel’ with and with each other in order to uphold the brand image that you want to create for your business.

Lastly, Saccio mentioned that business is inherently risky, but without taking the first leap, young businesses will never grow. She offered a bit of comfort to those who are worried about taking the first step.

“I’ve had numerous sleepless nights over the last 25 years, and I have a couple of mantras that I tell myself: ‘I don’t know how this is going to work out, but it always does,’” said Saccio.