A year ago, we launched our B&B accommodation! It was a huge challenge to completely renovate the upper floor whilst still running the downstairs business – but we did it! Five brand new bedrooms, each named after one of our favourite beauty spots; all individually decorated and kitted out with high quality furnishings and fittings. We added stylish bathrooms, Sealy beds, coffee machines and special blinds to keep the local midges at bay… We papered, we painted, we carpeted, we cleaned. Each room was stocked with locally sourced toiletries and fluffy towels. Linen was pressed and pillows plumped. And we loved the results.
Luckily, it wasn’t just us who loved them. We opened the doors and the occupancy rates flourished.
During our first year we have welcomed over 1,000 guests and sold over 640 rooms. Our visitors have come from all over the globe including Switzerland, Singapore, New Zealand, the USA, Spain, Canada and Belgium, as well as UK guests taking some well-deserved time out in beautiful Cumbria. We’ve served breakfasts, lunches and evening meals to hungry travelers (and their dogs!) 7 days a week and it’s been lovely to meet each and every one of them – hearing their stories and sharing their lives, even just for a tiny snapshot in time. Thanks to our lovely guests we’ve already achieved a 9.4 rating on Booking.com and we currently have a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor. We’ve also been finalists in the Family Business Awards, shortlisted in the Hidden Gem category through Eviivo and been finalists in the Carlisle Living Awards. We were thrilled to be awarded the Superior Quality Award by Cumbria Tourism earlier this year, an accolade that is bestowed on only a handful of venues in the county, and we have also made it through to the finals of Cumbria Tourism’s prestigious awards in the Best B&B category. The winners will be announced on June 19th. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed.
We have also started working with the fab team at Stay in a Pub, set up some great partnerships with several third-party walking companies and are in talks with Lake District Carlisle Airport. We will be looking to apply for our AA accreditation shortly so watch this space!
Behind the scenes, we’ve been carrying out a spring clean, repainting the public areas and hiring seasonal staff to cope with the upsurge of customers. Our outside terrace bar has already seen plenty of action this year and looks set to be a good draw over the coming months.
Thank you to our team of fantastic staff who work hard day in, day out, to make our dream a reality. We couldn’t do it without you. And thanks to all our customers and guests – without whom we’d have an empty building, a shell with no heart or soul.
As we speed into Year Two of our B&B adventure, here are 12 things I have learned.
- Hire good staff. You can be the most insightful visionary in the world, but without a team to back you up, you can never deliver on your customer promise.
- Network. It can be hard to take time out of the day to day running of your business, but mixing with other like minded professionals offers opportunities, potential partnerships, inspiration, peer support and new friendships.
- Choose your partnerships carefully. Align your brand with businesses that have similar values and ethos. By working together you can achieve lots more.
- Attend industry events as often as you can. When you live and work in a remote area it can be hard to meet up with suppliers and industry trends are sometimes slower to reach you. Stay up to date with new practices and technologies, make new contacts and meet up with potential suppliers.
- Invest in your people. Things change quickly so keep your staff up to date with relevant training. Identify areas that they are interested in and expand their knowledge and responsibility. The more you encourage them, the longer they’ll stay.
- Your local community is vital to the success of your business. Work with them, consult with them and bring them along on your journey. They can be your best ambassadors or your worst critics. Value each other.
- Ask for help. Bring in external consultants to help with specialist areas. It will free up your time to concentrate on the day to day running.
- There are never enough hours in the day.
- Sometimes there is a wrong way to hang wallpaper.
- Do something you love. Life is too short to spend it working in a job that makes you unhappy.
- Engage with your guests. Don’t hide away in the office. Building a personal relationship makes all the difference in terms of understanding your customers, encouraging feedback and ensuring that they have a good experience.
- This is the only place that I want to be. It’s a great time to be living and working in Cumbria and running a family business has proved incredibly rewarding. We’re delighted to have put The Sally back at the heart of the community and we look forward to welcoming lots more visitors in the future.