Until the last year or so I have been busy building our small family business up.
Literally almost brick by brick.
But not quite!
We’ve went from 2-3 places to 8-9, 250 miles apart in the last 2 years or so. Make that 258!
That’s a fair few extra beds to fill.
Especially when you’re relatively new to the industry and with no direct support.
Or MENTOR as I see many call themselves these days who are positioning themselves as self claimed experts.
And especially now that ‘you know what’ is in our lives!
Fair enough, it’s not the Hilton empire.
Or even the Travelodge.
But I’m pretty proud of what we have now.
It feels ‘about right.’
But filling them now is harder than ever.
2-3 years back I was so busy moving furniture in our camper van or with a paintbrush in my hand that the thought of websites, marketing and social media was the last thing on my mind.
Step a little further back, around 5 years, and I had just left my role in engineering in the oil and gas industry after losing my contract with Shell.
After that I worked for 6 months in Northumberland.
Around the same time, after being a traditional landlord for over ten years previously, I started to ‘Airbnb” our Aberdeen flat between my weekends staying there with Sonny & Lola.
Just to try to cover some of the bills.
And that’s where my self catering, serviced accommodation, hospitality journey started.
The reason this came about is that my last tenant refused to pay his rent.
And when he refused to communicate and I had to punt him out though the courts.
Before resorting to that I tried to resolve the situation between us.
Man to man.
But the naughty boy had become the scarlet pimpernel of Aberdeen all of a sudden once I realised his missed payments.
Not answering any of my phone calls or messages.
I went round to the flat on more than one occasion when I was in Aberdeen up spending time with my kids.
As per the agreement I gave him 24 hours notice before a visit.
No reply or response back.
Knock, knock. No answer!
So I went in.
Saturday morning. Last nights take away tray still out, a warm empty cup and todays newspaper!
There’s only one way in and out of this place.
No trap doors!
How did this guy get out without me seeing him?
I checked in cupboards and wardrobes!
He was nowhere to be seen.
A modern day Houdini!
It’s not a great experience having to remove someone from your place but it was nice having my old place back once the eviction process was complete.
We had previously been staying mainly at Angela’s place, a lovely B&B called the Adelphi Guest House when I was visiting Aberdeen to see my kids.
We all have fond memories of there, it forced us to spend time together (not being able to hide away in a bedroom, etc and me not getting distracted into some DIY or housework) and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Anyway in true fashion I am diverging loads and got lost!
So why am I writing this?
In the last year or so we have stopped adding to our self catering portfolio so much (well, apart from the Aberdeen 3 bedroom apartment we added mid lockdown).
It wasn’t a conscious decision.
Just no more opportunities have come our way.
So I have had a little time to focus on how we fill our places.
And get our income.
To pay the mounting bills and expenses.
Like I said at first it was Airbnb.
Then I added a few other OTAs (online travel agents).
Or I should say listed our places with a few more of them.
They’re kind of like a necessary evil.
They get you bookings but they take a whopping 20% of the guests and my money.
When you operate on tight margins that is a big percentage.
Or when a company or worker has to pay for digs or someone has saved up for a holiday, inevitably the owner will be adding some of that percentage onto their price to cover the costs.
So YOU end up paying more because of THEM.
I am the front desk, the maintenance man, the decorator, the gardener, the ‘gutter clearer outter’, the invoice team, the guest communication, the marketing team!
You get the picture.
I do this to learn, and to understand what is involved when you need to outsource work. And why it costs what it does.
But mainly to save money.
Especially this year with things being much tougher.
Apart from my amazing cleaning teams and support from trusted tradesmen I try to keep as much in house as possible.
So why give 20% to a third party?
Surely the best relationship for both owner and guests is a DIRECT one.
With no middle man.
But especially no multimillion pound company dipping their hands into the pot and complicating things when customer service, cancellations, etc are involved.
It’s just a bad set up and inefficient.
And nobody likes that.
And that’s where marketing and social media comes in.
And that’s something I’ve tried to get a grip of this year.
Because I have a little more time with not doing places up.
I’m not really much of a social media person privately.
In fact to be honest I hate it. It takes up precious time.
But I’ve set up Instagram accounts (I lost the will to live with that after a good few months of persevering), LinkedIn accounts, YouTube accounts, even bloody Pintrest! All times
I even set up our own website at the start of the year, pre lockdown.
It’s been a slog, I REALLY don’t really enjoy it (apart from the engagement from people) but it is paying dividends.
And it has DEFINITELY helped us survive lockdown.
The OTAs shut up shop.
All of our calendars closed by them.
Both during the main lockdown, then during the second UK lockdown.
So anybody who needed accommodation (key workers, normal workers away from home, folk relocating, folk flooded out of their homes, etc) could not find it as easy.
So they look online.
Have to look a bit deeper.
They speak to friends.
Ask on Facebook.
Look on Facebook.
During the ‘big lockdown’ we took a fantastic booking from a family returning to Scotland from the States. The guests sister, I think, told her of us after she heard of us via Facebook.
Before that an Aberdeen mate returning from Bahrain booked with us after finding out about our business though Facebook.
I took a months booking in South Shields from contractors working locally, they heard of us through Facebook.
And then yesterday.
The phone rings.
An international number.
“It will be another sales call”
Should I pick it up?
I did, and it was a real person.
Asking if we had any availability in South Shields.
I had actually taken an enquiry though Facebook the previous day and guessed it was the same guy.
And it was. A nice sounding lad coming to the UK for business reasons.
So we spoke, we CONNECTED.
When they first contacted us by messenger their budget was low.
However after they did more research they understood the local accommodation market better, their budget was revised and we were closer to an agreement.
And today the have confirmed their booking and made the payment.
Well 3 actually as I also spoke to his colleague who he is travelling with.
Because we connected.
And after they confirmed we had a video call.
We spoke about football (he is a Liverpool fan), the local area and the great beaches in South Shields.
And I asked how he heard of us.
And he said it was through the internet.
They were REALLY struggling to find somewhere to stay.
But they did.
They have and they found us on Facebook.
So thank you to everyone who is reading this.
Supporting a small family business over the big boys.
Over the ‘necessary evil.’
You really are making a difference to us.
Every time you like a post, comment on a post, share our page, etc.
And next time you travel somewhere and find the place you want to stay.
Try finding the company on Google or your favourite search engine.
Find a phone number.
Call the place or person.
And you never know you might be able to help each other.
Have a great Saturday night folks and thanks again.