When Jill Hudson saw an opportunity in the glamping market she set about starting a business from scratch – and gained a new family member along the way
I was sitting in the sun one day reading a magazine (sounds idyllic doesn’t it – believe me it doesn’t happen often!) when I came across an article about a family-run campervan hire business in the South East of England.
This struck a chord, and I immediately started scribbling figures in the margins around the article. The campervans featured were all pretty ‘ice-cream’ colours and looked so lovely with their matching interiors. I knew straight away this was the kind of business I would enjoy running. I was already a camping fan (well, not exactly a fan, but needs must…with four children of our own and usually a few extras at holiday time, one has to be realistic!) and a long time fan of floral prints, Cath Kidston in particular; I decided to kit my vans out in floral technicolour, and go for the ‘glamping’ market.
Next came the market research – I produced a small questionnaire, and distributed it to about 50 friends, and friends of friends. How much would people expect to pay? Would they like the Cath Kidston interior? Would this type of holiday appeal to them at all? The results were encouraging, so I continued my research by looking at similar companies on the web, noting what they charged and what was included, and rang a few up pretending to be a customer to see how booked up they were (if that was you I rang, I’m sorry!)
Armed with my fairly amateur research, I drew up a business plan which included financial forecasts for the first two years, and went off to see the bank. I should say at this point that I was an accountant in a previous life, so putting together the business plan was not too challenging for me, although most banks produce clear guidelines of what they expect to see in a business plan, which are quite easy to follow. They advised me to remortgage in order to raise the necessary funds – I wanted to buy two brand new Danbury T2 VW campervans – and gave me a small overdraft to help with day-to-day running costs.
It sounds so easy doesn’t it? But it actually involved a lot of soul-searching and agonising over whether or not to remortgage. Ultimately we decided to go ahead, because if the worst happened and the business wasn’t a success we could always sell the campervans – they do hold their value quite well. “We” is myself and my lucky husband David, who has been mostly supportive of my venture, and is very good at checking tyre pressures!
Financial plan in place, the next thing to do was to get a website organised. Charlie from Trafika Ltd was excellent, guiding me through the process and outsourcing the masthead design, which I am absolutely delighted with.
I first saw the design on my phone on the way to see the latest (at the time) Harry Potter film with my family – I was so excited I can’t remember a minute of the film! Later that night our first granddaughter, totally unplanned and fathered by my then 18-year-old son, was born. We found out about her imminent arrival just after we had arranged the finances for and ordered the vans – so past the point of no return really. Hey ho – what is life without a challenge? – and baby Jessica is the most adorable child! I look after her every day while her parents are at school and I feel so lucky and blessed to be so closely involved in her upbringing.
Back to the website: I had to write all the copy, which was a chore, and which I am still editing! Then there was quite a bit of shopping to do – lots of equipment and Cath Kidston throws to adorn the campervan interiors. This was certainly not a chore! With all this done, we were ready for launch day. I booked an advert in a local paper and the website went live at the end of January 2011 – we were off!
Thanks to the newspaper advert, the phone began to ring quite quickly, and I soon had a few bookings – the first hardy souls went out in February half term and had a great time. Gradually the website became more prominent, and I haven’t needed to do any newspaper advertising since. Bookings have come in steadily, and although I haven’t yet been fully booked, I have had enough business, particularly in school holidays.
So now I am the lady who cleans campervans, and a full-time granny. I am also trying very hard to get to grips with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), and learning terms like onsite and offsite SEO, pay per click, natural listings, and so on. Then there’s Twitter and Facebook…oh, and now Pinterest – there just aren’t enough hours in the day!