"Letting the complex helps build our future - it's just a bonus that we enjoy doing it..."
How did you get into holiday letting, and why the luxury market?
Dad owned the farm - and it was really the best situation for all of us - to renovate and turn it into holiday lets. In terms of deciding to go into the luxury market - being in Great Tew and the OX7 postcode means the competition is incredibly high. If you’re not hitting that level of luxury, then you’re not necessarily going to do as well.
How did you go about decorating the property?
We bought all the furniture ourselves; we think sometimes when you go to a holiday let simplicity is best... By the time you’ve got all of the guests' clothes, food, children’s toys in - it actually becomes what they want it to be. It also makes it easier to clean! So all of our linens white, the walls are white, the furniture is a really good quality, but it’s all quite a neutral palette. It’s all about a balance of making it look cosy, but also making people feel comfortable and not like their amongst other people’s things. Style is such an objective thing that we've kept it neutral so it doesn’t really offend anybody. People can then make it their own space.
What's most important to you when it comes to your properties?
The quality of the properties and everything within it is incredibly important to us - the furniture we buy is all tried and tested by ourselves - we all own a piece of that furniture! We’re lucky enough that it’s our lifestyle level as well, and it is at the level that we will always rent ourselves! We used to stay every new year in properties in Cornwall and increasingly found it difficult to find something that we all liked and was at the level that it should be - we wanted to ensure that nobody felt like that with the barns. Obviously there’s people that come for an 80th birthday party, and it’s their holiday for the year, and it is expensive and that’s that. But there’s some people who will come and it’s a home away from home, and they’ll come for 2 weeks and they won’t think about the price. But those types of people need to feel comfortable in the environment and qualities really important.
What made you decide to go dog-friendly?
We have an army of labradors between us and we found it incredibly difficult to rent anywhere with dogs because we all had a dog each at the time! We just felt that we would be a bit hypocritical if we didn’t allow dogs. We’ve got beautiful walks, we’re in the Cotswolds, most people own a dog - so it all made sense. That was another reason we kept the houses at neutral and as clutter free as possible - we reduce the risk of it being ruined by any pets.
What do you do that’s special for dogs?
For dogs, we do a dog pack - which is complimentary - but we charge a £50 surcharge for the dog which is a bowl, a lead, poo bags our t&Cs on a business card so that there’s no debate on the rules, and then normally we give them a snack bar or peanut butter dog cookies if I have time to make them. So essentially, we say we’re packing for a dog, just in case they forget their items but it’s also a gentle reminder that dogs should be on a lead, and that they should be picking up the poo, etc.
How do you make holiday letting work within your busy business lives? Do you each play different roles?
Tillie - I have a more practise management, business role in a company, but I do the changeovers of the barns, so it’s quite clear cut that Monday’s and Friday’s are the days I’m solely at the barns - but obviously it’s not always as clear cut as that and there’s always a merge. Ultimately it’s our future and I will probably leave what I’m doing now behind or reduce it significantly, and therefore the properties are always my priority.
Laura - I’m a mum of 2 young children, one of which starts school in September which increases my time, but the beauty of technology means that I don’t have to be in an office so between an iPad and a phone I run that side of the business. And it also means for Tillie, she’s involved in running that side of the business because similarly she only needs her iPhone. It fits around both of our lifestyles - we are guilty of perhaps not turning off so I’m very often responding to emails at 10/11 at night because we’re not office based, but again, we are finding that that is bringing us repeat business because people want to be booking holidays when they finish work, or when they’ve put their kids to bed, or they’re trying to plan a big event and that’s when they can be in a whatsapp group with everybody. And I think we win out on that - for that reason. Although it’s something we’d like to be able to say ‘let's draw a line and not answer anything after 6pm', this industry doesn’t work like that. It’s flexibility, everyone has busy lives whether it’s with children, work, parents, family and you can’t clear cut everything in between 9-5 Monday to Friday and if you don’t offer flexibility in the time you haven’t responded they could have gone somewhere else!
Do you find blogging has its benefits for your holiday lets?
We do blog regularly - and have a lot of engagement with our database. We try not to make it too focused on what’s happening - so we’ll do a ‘what’s on Christmas’, ‘what’s on Easter’, etc - it’s information that doesn't go out of date - so i.e. a recommendation on a restaurant - it’s kind of a bible for them to refer back to and always current. It’s also slightly lifestyle - we talk about the books we’ve read and anything that we do in our downtime too. It’s finding different niches. It’s about treating it as a community for guests. It’s keeping it interesting and diverse so it interests everybody. Because we’ve had so much contact with guests, they get to know us. With Soho farmhouse on the doorstep, and with a lot of guests staying to use Soho farmhouse, we are increasingly bumping into our guests - and it's nice to chat!
What do you enjoy most?
Every weekend and day is different - it’s lovely for us because we’re local so we see everyone enjoying our properties, watching the kids play football on the lawn etc. Those properties were derelict for such a long time and it was such as waste because it’s such a beautiful spot. We do sometimes get nervous because they’re ours and we love them and we don’t want them to get damaged, but to see people enjoying them really is rewarding and makes it all worth it.