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Cottage owners who don’t want part of the future
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The last week saw me visiting three owners and four cottages right across the area we serve. One sent me packing with the usually fatal but kind remark that if they were to use an agent, it would be us.. which was a real pity, as they seemed switched on and bang up to date with the latest technology. Their really delicious cottage was in the area where a couple of the pictures were taken below. I could taste the disappointment as I drove away, but the method of dismissal was pleasant and done with such expertise that, despite coming away empty handed, it was a very pleasant half day out.
The second visit a few days prior was to Pheasant Cottage on the edge of the S Shropshire Hills. The owners were not so up to speed with flashing lights and the modern this and that but listened and were keen to engage and get things going. This, again, is a pleasant experience but better, we managed to get the contract. The cottage will be up on site shortly. I think I could stay there… then again, that is the quality test for all our members’ holiday lets.
The third was an off chance in development meeting on the edge of the river in Ludlow. If this one comes off it will be a really good one for us (meaning: a good relationship with the owners and healthy bookings).
But the fourth (all in a week) was quite upsetting, because a barrier to our ability to work for what were clearly hard working and keen people rose up and wrecked the deal.
They had been with one of the costly inflexible and restrictive major legacy agencies; their holiday let was really attractive with a heated indoor swimming pool, a large garden and other goodies. This can command in excess of £1300 a week. I drove across in high spirits hoping something good was on the cards.
I met the owners who had already visited us in our Leominster office and took photos etc:. At the time, I said that it was essential that we could communicate by e-mail but did detect some reticence.
Only when I returned did it turn out that there was no wish to use e-mail and, if we were to do so, we could only send e-mails to a third party who would pass them on by checking daily, when he was not away.
High cost exclusive legacy agencies can work using post and telephones but we cannot afford such overheads and the need to avoid double bookings rules out the delays using physical postal services. They also rule out the use of a third party who may or may not be away.
Despite sending messages via this shadowy person, he has never sent any receipts back and we have not heard a response from the owner who called me out to advise and take the photos. This sort of behaviour is the risk of doing our type of business… it is disappointing, but there it is. I suspect the owners already had too much on their plates and simply were unable to flex or find the mental space to find a way of keeping up or doing what is necessary. Their only other choice is to return to the legacy agency they wished to leave.
This was a mess created by what appeared an instinctive and positive dislike of engaging in a technology that many of us have been using since 1995. The odd thing is that the owners were clearly successful in business but simply refused to use e-mail as if it were a threat or something they would rather not contemplate. The implication was that it was an irritating unnecessary intrusive imposition and, yes, we were asking them to do irritating unnecessary intrusive things. It seemed that this part of the future was not for them.
I suspect they will have to return to the legacy agency they so wished to leave. That organisation can cater for owners who do not realise or wish to admit that when the future arrives, if you ignore it, you may have to pay for the privilege of living in the past.
My grandmother had a similar dislike of the telephone. When it rang at tea time, she treated it with the sort of anger that unwanted visitors can generate when they knowingly or thoughtlessly knock on the door when people are at dinner. It is a luxury limited only to the very wealthy or kindly tolerant to drop whatever they are doing or eating and welcome another to the feast.
Some people think it a strength to remain disconnected from the technology of the age. Sadly, it may work well for them in their personal worlds and, even, in their restricted business environments, but failing to engage in the the long run will leave them at the mercy of middle men and the speed of events.
It was a crying shame. All for the want of an e-mail address and the will to look at e-mails two or three times a day wrecked the deal. Although tempted to play along, I knew that compromise in this area would quickly lead to poor service and difficult owner / guest / agent relations.
We have, therefore, not chased replies from the owners and have filed away their details under the heading of ‘grim experience’. There are some things that you cannot compromise on in modern business; opting out of the Internet and e-mail comes pretty close to the top of the list.
Meanwhile, the growing number of enquiries from owners is heartening and Autumn bookings in terms of value of the stays to be taken in months to come are up 40% on last year.
What a crying shame. I really liked the swimming pool people.
Previous post about the October Cottage market can be found here
Doing people and places justice
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In the end, I did go out to see that cottage which prefers those needing care, and their families or carers. It turned out some others could also stay and, on the way, I learnt a thing or two.
The weather was filthy. En route, I visited another potential cottage for Country Holiday Lets which turned out to be good quality with a really positive owner. After a short drive from the first bit of good news and up a long hill, about a mile and a half later, I found myself in a mini deluge looking out over a view of Biblical quality. It felt as if you could see creation laid out below you. Part of the sensation or conceit that comes with a good view lends a feeling as if, in some small way, you own all that you survey. In this case, I felt that in bucket loads.
Getting a photograph to catch this feeling is virtually impossible, as you can see from this effort.
It is a rare privilege to experience such things. Being a little early, I sat in the car and looked for a few minutes only to be brought back to earth seeing the slightly bemused cottage owner, umbrellaless in the rain, coming out to meet me.
Being of less stern stuff, I leapt out of the car, complete with umbrella, and we walked over to the hillside lodge. I felt it the second visit of the day was going well.
We walked around a modern competent sleep seven lodge. It was simple and sound complete with two good quality shower / bathrooms and simple but good utilities. As we talked in the lounge diner, I kept looking through the windows; the view seemed different framed and seen from indoors and doubled up on my initial pleasure as I sat in the car and gazed through the windscreen.
I found out that the requirement was that at least one member of a party staying there had to have care need or be in some way needing assistance. This could extend from mild learning difficulties, to wheel chair users, the elderly with some mobility problems or, even, people on the mend after accidents.
For the second time in a day, I found myself talking to someone who was highly practical, focused and flexible. In the middle of our conversation, a special needs guest entered. He had learning difficulties and greeted me kindly.
He constantly spoke in a disjointed way as if sound was a comfort; it sounded like unmoderated thought in the process of creating meaning but that had not had the time or opportunity to crystallise into focused expression. In amongst this flow of thought, I could detect meaning and ideas but you had to concentrate and seek their form.
This was something very new to me. The home owner was experienced and seemed to be able to understand and construct from the flow of part formed thought what was meant. It was strange because I did not want to ignore him as we conversed and, yet, it did not seem unkind or bad manners to continue our discussion despite the background flow of thought heard as a flow of partly complete words, phrases and sentences.
Doing somebody justice in these circumstances was something I had a huge amount to learn about. In a similar but, I suspect in not as a demanding way, I felt that this new project will test us and that we will need to see new perspectives and ways of presenting and marketing this place in its absolutely outstanding location.
The visit was a rare privilege and I found myself in a new place as equally remarkable as the view. The test will, now, be to do the assignment justice.
Don’t be a dolt… use your imagination
Ring 01568 612467 for more information.
When I finished this, I realised that it was an old theme much loved by American Management consultants… but I had stripped off the self-defeating ‘management speak’. In most cases when you do this, little remains but a money making scheme for people in suits to find excuses for failure or the desired wrong ‘solutions’ for incompetent middle and senior managers. However, unwittingly lifting this stone really did reveal something quite useful.
YES BUT NO
It can be hard to ditch habits gained in better days to avoid the often fruitless and potentially damaging chasing of marginal or distant prospects.
Yesterday, we received and enquiry from someone who was setting up specialist holidays for those in need of significant care. So, how did I respond? Initially, it was one of those very positive but ‘no can do’ conversations. The art is to get off the hook whilst seeming supportive and leaving a good taste in the enquirer’s mouth.
As the conversation developed, however, I found the patient and really positive view from the person I was trying to fob off (lets be honest, that’s what I had intended), caused me to argue myself out of my original intention. After about ten minutes I concluded, if we can get bookings for a cave in the middle of Bridgnorth, surely, it can’t be that difficult to get bookings for this quite specialist niche market? The fact that Lorna and I had once run a home care agency for Shropshire and Herefordshire was a little extra that helped change my mind.
But the way Google and other Internet advertising services work can be quite daunting when you step outside of the markets you are used to. Focus is all in Internet advertising and pay per click must always be arranged to cost as little per click as possible but to have what they call ‘a long tail’. The word ‘cottage’ by itself has a short tail.
This search term is not only hugely expensive if you wish to come near to the top of the list of advertisers, sometimes around £5 per click; as there are hundreds of thousands of holiday cottages, the chance of a conversion in our area is very small. So you end up with a huge advertising bill and very low conversion. A better plan, of course, is to advertise by area. Thus, ‘hereford cottages’ is usually closer to 70p or less a click and the conversion is radically higher. This is where small agencies have a decent chance against the vast national legacy operations.
TILTING AT WINDMILLS?
The problem with the care holiday niche is that as there are so few cottages set up to cater for this niche, it is highly likely that searches will not use geographical or regional words such as ‘Hereford’ or ‘Shropshire’. Instead, they may use search terms like care holidays or cottages for people needing care
Despite this, we want to experiment because these cottages are so thin on the ground that, even if there is no regional focus, we might still be able to come high up in the rankings without paying an arm and a leg despite the missing geographical elements. Focus using the right search terms is the trick.
My mistake was to think map names was the only way to give sufficient focus. Certainly, when we started, discovering this was absolutely key to our present survival and prosperity. Had we not learnt very quickly how to use pay per click advertising efficiently Country Holiday Lets would have joined the long list of failures and wannabe agencies. In our case, we would have come crashing and lost a large sum on the way, but most failed agencies stall simply because people are not willing to invest at least £100,000 capital before entering this market.
Until the improved ppc arrangements offered by the likes of Bing, Yahoo and Google, entering the holiday booking market in the Internet age would have require closer to £ .5 million. It takes serious money to compete, head on, with legacy agencies and develop the goodwill and the confidence of owners to draw high quality cottages on to the web site.
With all this in mind, and with the benefit of being argued out of my rather over protective and restrictive approach, against my initial instincts, I reached for the phone and arranged a visit.
There’s a thin line between letting imagination override the caution that you think is based on sound experience and launching into a project that even Don Quixote would consider a bit hopeless. ‘No can do’ is not always wrong, but failing to use imagination before dismissing ideas can be just as damaging.
All this is about what idiots used to say was ‘thinking out of the box’. Their pathetic efforts to sound clever by using imported American business cliches were self defeating; the effort to make the point was killed at birth by the brainless jargon and the baggage of management speak that went with it.
I don’t deny that working this way can be a bit frightening. Who knows? This could be the start of something good.