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Darren Wingfield

Darren Wingfield

Commercial Manager

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The Accidental Business.

Posted on 25/08/21  | 

A friend of mine started a new business this year. But he didn’t actually mean to. It was an accident.

The House Move

After living in the same house, just outside a busy city for 15 years, my friend decided to move. He decided to move from the city to the countryside. Now I am sure this doesn’t happen all the time, but this particular house move – from ‘accessible’ (to the big city) to ‘remote’ (out in the country) – meant that the new property was 300% bigger than the old property, with only a 25% uplift in price. That, my friend discovered, was the price-premium for location.

Anyhow, along with this much bigger property came a new opportunity. An opportunity to create holiday studios.

Holiday Studios

The previous owners had let two parts of the countryside property out, for about two years, to walkers and historians interested in investigating the nearby Hadrian’s Wall and other similar attractions. That was the good news. The bad news was that the two studios had a ‘cheap and cheerful’ reputation. It was a side-line for the previous owners and the new owners – my friend and his family – were not happy with that. My friend totted-up a few numbers and decided that to run this business properly, repositioning it quickly, authentically and well so as to build a proper brand, would take investment. And he decided that the only way to make sense of the new offer to a new kind of customer, the only way to create something that he and his family would be proud of, the only way to create something that he and the target clientele would love, and the only way to create a sustainable busines worth doing – was to treble the nightly rate. Tricky!

Here’s how my friend tells the story of how his ‘accidental business’ came to life.

“We bought the new property in late 2020. And quite by accident really, we inherited two rather lovely, self-contained ‘spaces’ with our new home.

We imagined ourselves staying in these tiny-home spaces. We imagined beautiful, memorable, mind-blowing experiences. The likes of which we’d never experienced before. And as we are doers not talkers, we moved from ‘imagining’ to ‘doing’ very quickly.

But it was new for us. We hadn’t worked in hospitality before. So all we had to guide us was instinct. We knew what we liked about the holidays we’d had in our 50 years on the planet. And we knew what we didn’t like. That was our start point.

The Brief

The brief we set ourselves was definitely not to create a home-from-home. It was quite the opposite in fact. We craved ‘new’ – not ‘samey’ for our visitors.

And by way of a simple but useful ‘guiding-light’ brief, we wrote down the following…

“Raise Expectations. Inspire Curiosity. Make Memories.”

And that was that.

‘Raise Expectations’, to us, meant being surprising. Doing the opposite of what people might expect. Being clearly better. Thinking further and living by the mantra that ‘it’ll do’ simply won’t ever do.

‘Inspiring Curiosity’, to us, means taking our visitors somewhere new. Having things for them to discover day-on-day. Encouraging them to, for example, grind coffee beans, stone bake pizza from scratch, use and buy sustainable foods and cleaning materials, listen to new radio stations and play vinyl instead of staring at the tv, read new books, play new games, dine outdoors, sleep with the curtains open so they wake with the sunrise. A home-from-home is the exact opposite of what we wanted to create. Why on earth would I go ‘there’ to do pretty much the same as I have always done ‘here’?

‘Make Memories’, to us, was a very precise goal. I recalled my own opinion of hotels and restaurants and bars. I listened to how my friends described their experiences, too. And it was always the detail that I and they remembered. I and they would remember something very specific that the owner said. Or something very specific and personal that the chef did. And these things were always a little different. A little edgy or daring. Off-the-wall, maybe. But always different. And that’s why one of our studios has a dog hotel. And it is why one of our studios has a private riverside bar. We feed people surprising and delightful details and moments to remember, things to talk about – and to tell others.

The Accidental Business

Our accidental business was launched at the end of May 2021. June, our very first month, was 70% capacity in both studios. July 2021 was booked to 95% capacity, as was August 2021.

Reviews are almost all 5 stars across Airbnb, and direct bookings.

And we continue to learn – from our guests – with each new stay.

Of course, the timing was really good. But we’ve set the bar high now. The staycation opportunity is bigger than ever, but we wanted to position ourselves at the top of the sector for our location now and for good. Not to simply exploit today’s opportunity for a few quid. We’re a brand new, premium brand, so we had to get things right – first time. Reviews help us to understand what works and what matters most. But most of all, we remember our vision. We remember what we wrote down. On day one.

Raise Expectations. Inspire Curiosity. Make Memories.”

Why I’ve Relayed this Story

This short tale is interesting to me. It has a number of themes.

It’s a story of bravery. Having the attitude to try something really quite new at (what some would consider) a relatively late stage in life. My friend and his partner are in their fifties.

It is as story that shows how, sometimes, opportunities come out of the blue. Not from any kind of planning. And it raises the crucial question not only around if we take the opportunity – but how we take the opportunity. We can take any opportunity half-heartedly – or whole-heartedly.

And it is a story about taking the long-term view. Shifting the perception of a brand offer from ‘cheap and cheerful’ to ‘premium’ – probably the most difficult thing to do in marketing – with proper planning and a clear but very simple vision.

Eight months ago (at time of writing), my friend was in an entirely different kind of business, and a city guy. Nowadays, life is very different for him and his family. The way the family makes money is different. And they are happier than ever.

Opportunity can arrive anytime. At any stage of life. All you have to do is to notice it – then embrace it.