Cyndi Robbins – Theresa Samson Award winner
The Theresa Samson award honors a successful woman business owner or primary manager, for her business success, career achievements and contributions to the community. Businesses led by women are and will continue to have a noticeable impact on the economy. This annual award helps inspire the continued growth of women leading businesses in our community.
The world comes to the Poland Spring Resort
Written by Toby Haber-Giasson | Photography by Lauryn Hottinger
The Chamber has created a problem for Theresa Samson award winner Cyndi Robbins: cognitive dissonance. She just doesn’t see herself as a “successful woman business owner” who operates a top Maine resort, restaurant and ancillary businesses. In her mind, she is simply the surviving half of a perfect partnership she forged with her beloved husband Mel Robbins 35 years ago.
Successful woman business owner
This kind of story usually begins in the mailroom; for Cyndi Robbins, it began in the dining room. A young Cyndi Sievert got a job as a waitress for the Poland Spring Inn. Developer Mel Robbins moved up from Boston to make some real estate deals with the property. He fell in love with Maine, so the story goes, and with Cyndi; the two married in 1975. They gradually leased more buildings on the resort grounds, until they operated it all. In 1982, Mel and Cyndi became co-owners of the Poland Spring Inn and Golf Course. Together, they gradually restored the facility, as well as its popularity.
When Mel became ill with Alzheimer’s, Cyndi had to take over. Though she insists she simply continued the pattern they had established, Cyndi has responded to unforeseen changes in the market and the region, and has taken on new opportunities using her own business instincts.
“Cyndi doesn’t see herself as a businesswoman,” says longtime employee Sue Joncas. “She just does what she does.”
Of all her accomplishments, Cyndi Robbins is most proud of making Poland Spring Resort profitable again.
“When I came here, the buildings were dilapidated, and the hotel had very few guests,” Cyndi recalls. “After 45 years here, the property is in great shape, and it runs year-round. The golf course is well-respected. We have a driving range, disc golf and mini-golf, and I turned Cyndi’s Dockside into a thriving restaurant.”
Cyndi traces her success back to her husband’s business strategy. “Mel ran the front of the house; I ran the back.” While Mr. Robbins took reservations and provided the entertainment, Mrs. Robbins oversaw the kitchen, housekeeping, and maintenance. The Robbins family made the inn feel like a ‘home away from home’ for its all-adult patrons. The inn also had its share of international guests. In the hospitality business, Mel used to say, “The world comes to you.” And the world did; rooms were always sold out, because Mel offered a discount to guests who booked their return vacation before they went home.
“He told me, ‘When I die, just do exactly what I did and you’ll be fine’” Cyndi recalls.
But Mel didn’t foresee many market changes that would come about, like a state mandate that all hotels in Maine must be family resorts.
“I had to change everything,” Cyndi recalls, and she did. “We added swings, mini-golf, a driving range, a kids’ playroom and gameroom. We’ve embraced it.” In fact, the resort has developed a thriving niche with family reunions, accommodating multi-age groups.
Mel also didn’t foresee a casino being built in Oxford, just up the road, drawing a contingent of gamblers looking for nearby lodging in the winter.
Before the casino came, we were 100% seasonal. Everything would shut down after October. Then when the casino came, we remodeled the Lodge, and kept it open year round.”
And Mel didn’t know Cyndi would be offered a restaurant and marina up the road, at a bargain price, on the day after he died. It was Cyndi alone who created Cyndi’s Dockside restaurant; she then renovated and winterized it for year-round business.
These business achievements belong to Cyndi Robbins alone.
Contributions to the community
Cyndi Robbins gives in so many ways the public doesn’t typically know about. She started the resort’s Maine Veterans program six years ago, giving free hotel stays and meals to military families for R&R time before or after overseas tours. The Maine Military Network and Family Assistance Center determine eligibility. Together, their efforts have accommodated over two thousand people- veterans, their spouses and family members- over the last six years, for weekend or 5-day midweek vacations.
Mel loved the history of Poland Spring and wrote several books about its fascinating history. Cyndi also became enthralled with the lore. As Director of the Poland Spring Preservation Society for 15 years, she has helped with fundraisers as well as weddings, concerts, golf tournaments and tours at the Maine State building and the All Souls Chapel. Cyndi is also on the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Shakers.
Ever since the 1975 fire, which destroyed the historic Poland Spring Inn, the Robbins have donated the resort and dinner for the annual Spring Fling Dinner Dance, to benefit the Poland Fire Rescue Benevolent Association.
She also supports the local food bank by donating 100 turkeys each year to needy local families. In recent years, Cyndi and her friend Suzanne Grover have run the Annual Golf for Food Golf Tournament, where the resort donates the food and the golf course. This past year, it brought in $14,000 for the food bank.
And this one’s personal. When Cyndi’s husband Mel was nearing the end of his life, she turned to Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice (AHCH). After experiencing the excellent care they provided, Cyndi gladly joined their board soon after Mel’s death in 2007. When Jim Bouchard, Director of Marketing and Development, eyed Poland Spring Resort as a new location for AHCH’s annual Autumn Night Out fundraiser, Cyndi agreed to chair the event. She donated the facility and used her contacts to cover all costs through sponsorship, so that 100% of the proceeds would go to patient care. At this past October’s event, AHCH raised $71,000, the highest ever.
Bouchard says of Robbins, “She takes her responsibility one step further in everything she does- Cyndi has embraced us as an entity, because of what she got from AHCH, and also who she is.”
Contributions to the business community
Cyndi looks beyond her resort to the broader community. She serves as Chair of the Poland Community Economic Development Committee (CEDC), which is dedicated to develop the Route 26 corridor to bring more services and job opportunities to the area. Her vice chair, Joe Cimino, describes Cyndi’s style as “very proactive” in their efforts to capitalize on increased traffic between the Maine Turnpike and the Oxford Casino.
She is also a member of the LA Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Council and treasurer for Golf Maine. Cyndi is Chairman of The Gems of Rote 26, a collaboration of the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, Maine Wildlife Park, Poland Spring Resort, Poland Spring Preservation Society, Poland Spring Water Museum, and McLaughlin Gardens.
Impact on the economy
Cyndi has corralled all these singular opportunities to create a multi-strean draw for visitors who want to eat, golf and shop in the area. This, in turn, provides job opportunities for local residents.
Sue Joncas has been Reservation Manager at the Poland Spring Resort for 30 years. “It’s my dream job. Many guests feel like family, and it’s fun to know you will see them next summer. Who isn’t happy about that?”
Sandy Andrews, who has logged 36 years as Head of Housekeeping, thinks she has the best boss. “Cyndi has made up beds with me, and she still would, if she had to.” The resort also employs many students from Poland Regional High School and Gray-New Gloucester High School.
Inspiring the continued growth of women leaders
What do women bring to business? “Passion, more than money,” Cyndi says. Through her work on the Poland CEDC, she takes a special interest with women seeking to open businesses in Poland.
Cyndi loves to take people under her wing. When Reservationist Laura Brown went to college to study hospitality, Cyndi encouraged her. Then when Laura needed a project for her Masters degree, Cyndi allowed her to open a new business from scratch: the Fenn Ice Cream Shop, located next to the driving range. Laura was able to experience designing, purchasing, licensing, marketing, and staffing the latest business at Poland Spring.
That’s how Cyndi Robbins pays it forward. This Maine businesswoman looks out for her properties, her staff, and her neighbors, balancing the interests of the resort, the town and the region. That’s what makes her a true example of success, and an inspiration to both men and women in business.