Winfield and Edward Clark have taken charge of their family business Clark’s Inn & Restaurant in Santee. Their father William “Bill” Clark and his wife Tricia have decided to turn the day-to-day operations over to their sons who are being assisted by Kittie Collier, a close family friend who serves as general manager.
The property belonged to Bill’s father and when the senior Clark returned from WWII he transformed the site into an opportunity to serve his community and travelers along Highway 301. Opened in 1946, Clark’s Inn & Restaurant later relocated near the new construction of Interstate 95 proving an astute move that positioned the business for success.
Winfield, kitchen manager, said, “We’re probably one of the largest employers in town.” While Clarks experiences the same high employee turnover of most hospitality businesses, Clark’s has people who have been with them close to twenty years and two that have been employed for more than forty years. They have retained 25-30 people for three years or more.
Featured in Southern Living, Clark’s Inn & Restaurant is an un-franchised experience for guests. The Inn offers 75 rooms, as well as suites, apartments and meeting rooms. The property has a landscaped courtyard, pool, full bar, three dining rooms and a gift shop that appeals to shoppers who seek gifts with Southern charm. The restaurant also has Southern appeal, featuring recipes introduced by Helena “Sweetie” Clark, Windfield’s grandmother.
Kittie Collier, general manager, oversees the success of the Inn. “Winfield and Edward treat me like a sister and it makes for a great working environment,” Kittie said. “I really feel honored to work here. The Clark’s have done a lot for the Santee area.”
While business is good, the Clark family is always looking for ways to improve and expand. On a trip, Edward became intrigued by the consistent use of branding he saw employed by other businesses. This made him wonder how they could more effectively apply their own branding.
Edward reached out to the Orangeburg Area SBDC where they met business consultant and marketing specialist Starr Dunbar. Dunbar showed them how to refine and capitalize on their rich company brand in ways that would make the inn and restaurant appealing to several target markets. They talked about brand awareness and marketing strategies and came up with a plan. Soon Edward was implementing their branding on all their communication tools including printed and digital materials.
“To be in business as long as we have, it has been necessary to stay flexible. We need to understand the changing motivations of travelers and what brings people through Santee,” Edward said. “We compete with national hospitality chains off the interstate, but we still manage to appeal to snowbirds migrating away from harsh winters. We appeal to golfers who travel from as far away Canada and we have families on their way to beaches farther south. These are seasonable groups, but they are consistent and loyal.”
Dunbar suggested they try reaching out to bird watchers, hunters, people who fish and other types of outdoor enthusiasts like kayakers and bikers.
“We’ve been surprised at some of the suggestions Starr has made. Sometimes we need a fresh approach and maybe a new way of looking at things,” Edward said. “We have a great logo, but I’d never thought of it in terms of a brand. Now we include on everything from golf tickets to flyers. We began to highlight the history of our business more consistently. We’ve started having raffles for weekend getaways and golf packages, which has proven to be a great way to build our contact list.”
All this means Edward now has a more immediate and manageable way to communicate with customers. He can more readily get feedback and be more in tune with what visitors to his property are seeking. He attributes much of this insight to time spent with his SBDC consultant.
“All of these things came from our interaction with Starr from the Orangeburg Area SBDC,” Edward said.
“It has been an absolute pleasure to assist the Clark family with their business,” Dunbar said. “Often established businesses come to the SBDC when they are suffering. How wonderful to work was a solid business like Clark’s Inn & Restaurant. I enjoyed helping them reach new markets and expand their brand appeal. Edward and I make a super team and I’m excited to see what else our creative minds will come up with.”