Owner Spotlight: Taking Over the Family Business
Hi Charlotte. Thanks so much for chatting with us today and congratulations on earning your Certificate of Excellence for 2018! Can you tell us a little bit about your cottage?
Thank you! Yes, the cottage is on a beautiful little island off the coast of Northumberland. It’s famous because you can walk across to it on a causeway at low tide. My parents moved here about 35 years ago and ran a shop on the island. A few years–and a few children–later, they ended up with two businesses and a cottage in the same building. I used to help out in the shop as a little girl.
It sounds like a real family business!
Yes, it’s a complete family business. My brother has a business next door. He roasts his own coffee. We make our own fudge and ice cream and we have a jewellery shop, too. And the rental is above on the first and second floors. It’s an upside-down cottage, so the bedrooms are above the shop and the living space is at the top. One lovely thing about that is the wonderful views.
Your mum must have learned a lot over her years in the business.
Definitely. One of the main things is that she made sure she created somewhere that she would like to go to. She’s a little bit picky. Cleanliness-wise, she makes sure everywhere is incredibly clean. And she thinks ahead, down to the most random little thing you’d have in your house that you might need and totally forget when you’re on holiday. 99% of guests might not need it, but the 1% that do will think “Oh my goodness, this is actually here!” Just little things like that.
We also give guests a welcome pack of coffee, flowers, fudge, wine and fresh scones from our coffee shop. So it’s a really nice opening when they arrive.
“Mum made sure she created somewhere that she herself would like to go.”
That’s mentioned in a lot of your reviews, so your guests must really enjoy it! Do you ask them to leave reviews or do you find they do it themselves?
They seem to do it themselves, really. We never set out to get amazing reviews. It’s more that we just want people to really enjoy their stay. After all, they’ve chosen our cottage for their holiday. If it was you and this was your one big trip of the year, you’d just want to have a great time with no hassle or headaches. With reviews, it’s nice that guests have taken the time to respond and write something when they could just click “delete”, you know.
Your reviews have certainly played a part in earning the Certificate of Excellence. Is there anything you think you’ve done differently this year versus last year?
I use the TripAdvisor Owner App a lot, which my mum never did. It really has been super helpful in terms of admin. Bookings and inquiries come through and then I just answer them immediately. It’s so much easier because I’m not having to go to the website and check this, this and this.
Your response rate and time is a hugely important factor when it comes to your listing doing well, too. Has the app helped with that as well?
Definitely! It’s made it possible for me to respond as soon as I get the message, straight away. If people are booking a holiday, they don’t want to wait a couple of days or a response to know it they’re going to get the place they’re interested in.
The building was built in the 1600s, is that right? What have been the biggest challenges with such an old building?
Yes, the building is nearly 400 years old. It’s listed which means there are some restrictions on what we can and can’t do in terms of modernising it and changing it. It also means that we need quite a lot of signage around the place to remind guests that they’re staying in a very old building.
“If people are booking a holiday, they don’t want to wait a couple of days for a response to know if they’re going to get the place they’re interested in.”
Do you find most guests are respectful of the building and how old it is?
Yes, on the whole most people are really good. But we do try to make it as easy as possible for people to look after it. For example, there are lots of beautiful walks around the island, so we have box outside where guests can put their muddy boots. Instead of just telling people to do something, we try to make it easy and help them to do it.
We also keep the place really tidy which helps. I think if it wasn’t as clean, people might be less careful. Like I said before, my mum has always liked everywhere to be incredibly clean.
Your family has been involved in the rental business for over 30 years now. Has the way it’s run changed much over the years?
I think reviews are the biggest change. Now everything is online, it’s so much easier for people to share their views and help other people find great options. But the essentials are the same now as they were then – making sure guests are happy and that they have a great experience.