Getting to the top and staying there has to be on the minds of most business owners. So how can this be done, especially if you are a small fish in a big pond. An independently run boutique B&B on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset seems to have found the answer and is the smallest business to achieve the sought after quality accolade of Hospitality Assured.
We’ve all dreamed of giving up the day job and running a bed and breakfast by the sea and in 2014 that is exactly what Lyn and Jason Martin did. So what does it really take to live the dream and make a successful business? Here, Lyn and Jason share their secrets. They sold up and bought a beautiful Regency house in Lyme Regis. With the rich local coastal landscape, a delightful property and delicious local Dorset and Devon produce to hand they were off to a great start. And, behind it all, they also had a passion for quality continually driving them forward.
After the initial shock of lockdown had subsided, future bookings remained strong so despite uncertainty and cashflow concerns, Lyn and Jason Martin decided to use the downtime to refurbish their property and plan improvements to services. To help strengthen their business and to really focus their minds they signed up to be assessed by Hospitality Assured, thereby providing a solid framework for them to work within. Their dedication and vision really paid off and, as a result, April saw the fruits of their labour flourishing once again – they were delighted to receive a gold award as South West Tourism’s B&B of the Year. A week later this was crowned by quality accreditation from Hospitality Assured – a coveted award that recognises excellence in customer service combined with outstanding quality.
On receiving their accreditation, Jason and Lyn said, “We’re overjoyed to hear that we’ve met the standards of excellence set by Hospitality Assured and whilst the programme has been hard work, we really feel that we have a stronger business as a result. The support that we’ve received has been invaluable in creating a robust structure to help us move the business forwards. Now that the HA processes are engrained in our business, we look forward to working on further improvement (after a little celebration!).”
Impressed by their enthusiasm to provide all guest comforts combined with the attention to detail Trisha Bennett, the Hospitality Assured assessor said “Dorset House cannot be described as a B&B but rather a home from home. Jason and Lyn are so passionate about their business and about giving a real bespoke service to their guests. Good planning and the desire to please are evident.” Even before guests have left home, all of their requirements have been taken care of, including suggested itineraries based on their interests, bespoke menus created to suit their palates and even the best route to Dorset House are all vital components that are covered in a pre-arrival call.
Lyn and Jason’s top 10 tips for anyone who would like to follow in their footsteps are:
- Learn from the best – and from the awful as well! Go and stay at as many other places as you can. Book in as ordinary guests to get the true experience of a place.
- Seek out the trends that apply to your target customers, in particular.
- Know your target market. Aim for a type of customer that you know and understand e.g. the luxury market, walking breaks, dog friendly, or families. Whatever, you choose, remember that you are selling an aspirational ideal – how your customer might like to live.
- Breakfast is all-important – sometimes it feels like you’re offering breakfast with a room attached, not the other way round. Ninety-five percent of Dorset House’s reviews mention their breakfasts – local seasonal breakfast specials always go down well.
- Get one big table and sit everyone around it. A group of strangers soon turns into something like the best dinner party ever with everyone having a wonderful time.
- Understand the reason why your guests are there. Have they come to walk, or to visit restaurants? There’s a big foodie scene in Lyme Regis with River Cottage HQ nearby and Mark Hix’s Oyster House in town. Try to find out in advance what guests are planning so you can offer them what they need, whether that’s booking a taxi or checking on fossil hunting walk times.
- Know and love your area. Go out and eat everywhere and visit everything locally so you know what to recommend and can be genuinely enthusiastic about it.
- Quality. Don’t start with the price; start with the taste and feel of things. Quality is all, it’s better to get it right rather than simply match a figure on a spreadsheet and it’s good to show a generosity of spirit in the way you do things. Any cost savings have to be behind the scenes. Lyn used to work for a luxury car brand and learned to invest money in the things that customers touch most, so now that means spending more on quality towels, mattresses and bedding for guests than we would for ourselves.
- Learn all the time. Go to hotel shows, got to seminars, look all the time at what’s going on. Listen, adapt and understand what different people want. Copy ideas that work. Continual improvement is very much on the Hospitality Assured agenda that they work to.
- Treat it like a business. You have to know whether you are a lifestyle business or a business business, and stick to it. Either is fine, but you have to be clear which you are. Know what works for you. Dorset House is a business business – having a big mortgage is a big motivator there! The beauty of B&B is that either way, it’s your own set-up and you can make your own decisions. Even though Dorset House is not a lifestyle business, it provides a lifestyle that’s different from what Lyn and Jason had before – and they love it!
As an overriding tip, Jason would recommend that every customer-facing business should take the opportunity to go through the Hospitality Assured accreditation process as it is a wonderful starting point on the route to excellence and is the mainstay for remaining at the top. “Hospitality Assured is now at the centre of all our important documents and processes. Quality and continual improvement are key. Everything that we do links back to the Hospitality Assured structure which is, and always will be, in our minds the whole time ensuring every guest enjoys a top quality experience.”
With such a high endorsement, Dorset House is definitely the place to stay for anyone visiting the area and shows that whatever your size you can always ‘think big’!