Extraordinary Holiday Cottages in Suffolk (and Tuscany!)
Extraordinary Holiday Cottages. According to the old advert, The Halifax gave us extra. And that’s what we have always aimed for at Woodfarm.
I do a lot of thinking whilst running this little business of mine. One of the things that I think about is why, over the decade since I started Woodfarm, it has exceeded all of my expectations. I think it’s all about providing extraordinary holiday cottages, as opposed to ordinary. This little paperweight on my desk was a present a number of years ago and it’s a constant reminder to me of how we go about doing what we do. I hope you find it interesting.
I’ve always tried to be transparent when marketing the business, and in everything we do. I think people like that. All I ever tried to do from the start was to provide accommodation that I’d want to stay in, give a warm welcome and provide as many extra touches as we can think of, to make things special. On top of that we spend a lot of time finding out about the places that our guests can go, and the things they can do whilst staying with us. It’s not difficult.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it ain’t rocket science! Maybe I should stop right here in case all my competitors read this and suddenly start beating us. But I wanted to try and crystallise my thought process for you, dear (hopefully interested) reader, so that you can see where I’m genuinely coming from as a business owner.
If I can put these thoughts down lucidly for you, then maybe then it’ll go some way to explaining why our guests love what we do and keep coming back. Maybe you are one of those guests, in which case I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Genuinely. Without you, I’d be in trouble. Or maybe you are someone who is really delving into why you should come and stay with us? In which case, welcome. Grab a cuppa and read on.
I wrote this early in 2020, just before we finally left the EU. I’m more than a little intrigued as to why we have continued to beat our performance as a business, year on year, since the referendum in 2016, when there is so much doom and gloom out there. And I think it boils down to one thing: extraordinary holiday cottages, not ordinary.
I’ve touched on this subject before, but I wanted to focus on the extra little touches we have become known for. Again, it isn’t hard to do! As I said, all I have ever done is to provide accommodation that I would want to stay in. That’s it! Secret revealed! We have added all the little touches that I would like. I am human. You are human. So we should more or less appreciate similar touches, right?
I know we’re all different and that it’s subjective, but in general I think that holds true. At the risk of getting all cliché on you, we try to please most of the people most of the time. I truly believe that we cannot please all of the people all of the time. But you won’t stop me trying. And ten years in now, it seems to have worked for us.
We’ve always been dog-friendly. Since the start, that was one of the major ‘selling points’, or USPs. In the early days though I used to be really worried that we shouldn’t put off non dog-owners. But over time we developed such a stronghold and a reputation within that market that I stopped worrying about it. We still have plenty of guests who don’t own dogs and they seem to keep coming back. Again, this isn’t rocket science, we just make sure that we have a very strict cleaning and maintenance regime, and target responsible dog owners.
So being dog-friendly is very much our market. One of the major things for dog owners is that we have extraordinary holiday cottages, that happen to welcome dogs. In the early days I used to get a lot of feedback from guests who would tell me that they struggled to find somewhere that accepted dogs, let alone welcomed them. Or somewhere that didn’t feel as though they were staying in a kennel!
So what is it that we do to attract dog owners? Well:
- We openly welcome your dogs, usually before you humans, as we know that many guests treat their dogs like family.
- We welcome up to three of them and more by arrangement if possible. We started with two, but soon found that a lot of people have three. We restrict numbers purely to maintain our high standards.
- We provide dog bowls.
- We provide dog towels.
- We have fully enclosed Gardens with every Cottage. The Barges are a bit different of course.
- We have a fully enclosed two-acre meadow at Woodfarm HQ, for the exclusive use of our guests.
- There’s a smaller section within the meadow for nervous or less agile dogs.
- We have ‘Mucky Pups’ Shower Stations in each garden.
- We provide sensitive dog shampoo with the Shower Stations.
- Your dog gets yummy dog treats with every stay.
- We have optional dog hampers if you want to treat your four-legged family.
- VIPooches; this is where your dogs return free on your next stay.
- Dog-friendly pubs all handpicked for you.
- We have loads of info on vets, dog-friendly beaches, walks etc.
Ok, that’s the dog-friendly stuff. What else do we do to make them extraordinary holiday cottages?
Five Star Reviews
At the time of writing (February 2020) we have almost 400 Five Star Reviews on TripAdvisor, almost 100 on Google, and over 200 on Facebook. I was really worried when we first listed with Tripadvisor, just in case we hadn’t got it right. The other review platforms followed and I had the same worries. But with around 700 Five Star reviews at the time of writing, we’ve got something right I think. I don’t mean that arrogantly at all, but we have all tried as a team to excel in what we do. At some point I’m sure someone will think we didn’t excel, but I’d hope that when that day comes, people will say to themselves, “They’ve got 700 Five Star reviews, and one that’s not so great. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
Visit England Gold Standard Awards
We have these for every Barn and Barge and have done since we applied to the scheme. So how does that come under extraordinary holiday cottages? Well to put it simply, if we didn’t give you extra, we wouldn’t get them! I think of our Five Star reviews as the place where our guests give us the thumbs up, and the Visit England Gold Standard Awards as our industry regulators doing the same.
This is a big favourite of mine. Having fun on social media, NOT selling to you. Social media may not be your thing and that’s fine. Personally, I get really frustrated when people just use it to sell their products or services. Yes we run ads on there, and we do get business from it, but I’m talking about organic social media activity. The posts. And this is where I just have fun. I post as much as I can about Suffolk (and Tuscany now), nice places to go, yummy food and drink, that sort of thing. I like to post nice photos when I take them too. But I really like to have a laugh on there. And people like it! It’s so dull when all you see is businesses, especially small ones like mine, just telling you what discount they are offering or just showing you what they have to offer. Maybe I’ve got it wrong, but I enjoy myself and a lot of people seem to like it, so I’ll keep doing that.
For years now we’ve given things away with our name on. We have dog-poop bag holders, which I think is the first thing that we gave away. As I’ve said, our biggest market is the dog-friendly one so this seemed like a good idea. And it was! We have given away thousands of these now. If you’re reading this and you don’t have one but would like one, just ask me. You can have one. Or if you are a previous guest and you’ve broken, lost, or worn yours out, give me a shout. I’ll send you another.
We’ve given away lovely mugs for years too, and again, thousands of homes have these. There have been several versions. First we had Woodfarm Barns. Then we had to get some with Woodfarm Barges on. Now we have both brands on one mug just to make life easier and to ‘cross-sell’ the brands.
Then we added our fabulous Woodfarm Travel Cups to try and do our bit to cut down on the use of single-use, or paper cups. These have gone down a storm and I personally use mine all the time!
We also introduced our double-sided Barges & Barns Trolley Coins in 2019 and they were an instant hit too! They make a great little key ring as well.
Lastly (but not finally), guests can become part of the Woodfarm family with our specially designed custom sweatshirts! We do have to charge for these as they are a lot dearer, but we only charge what they cost us to buy and send to you. If you’d like one, do get in touch. They’re £30 each.
Why do we do it? Because it spreads the word. Our brand is present in thousands of households and we get recognised. At the end of 2019 we heard from a guest who was using their Woodfarm Travel Cup whilst wandering around a Christmas market in Germany, and they got approached by another guest who recognised the brand! As a marketeer and business owner, I loved that, and it sent shivers down my spine!
“Where everybody knows your name”
I’ve always thought of this as the ‘Cheers Factor’. Remember the TV theme tune that said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to get away, where everybody knows your name”? We all love to feel that we are recognised and welcomed. It’s a basic human emotion. OK, I can’t guarantee I know all of your names anymore, but I’m pretty good with faces so if I seem like I remember you when you come back, it’s because I do. In the early days, I’d associate returning guests with their favourite Barn, but I struggle to do that now because of the sheer numbers. But I really do have a knack for remembering people. And people like that.
FREE BREAK Competitions
This is an interesting one. We’ve given away a lot of FREE BREAKS now over many years. There isn’t a catch, we do it to promote the business. I do have to juggle the promotion versus giving away too much but hopefully I’ve got the balance right. I wrote extensively about this in a blog post in 2019; you can read that if you wish to. But it’s another example of extraordinary holiday cottages I think, as we don’t see many people doing it. Certainly not as regularly as we do!
As I said, we have grown year on year since we started, and we have exceeded all the expectations that I set myself and for the business. We must be doing something right for that to happen. I think it boils down to this; I have never focussed on financial targets or making money. Genuinely. All I have ever done is to focus on attracting as many guests as I can, and making sure they have a wonderful stay, want to tell their family and friends, and they want to come back. That’s it, folks. It is a very simple philosophy:
Stay. Relax. Share. Repeat.
Extraordinary holiday cottages in Tuscany
Hopefully, our forthcoming Holiday Cottage in Tuscany will be the start of great things. Although we only have one in the pipeline as I write this, we have had a LOT of interest in the progress of the renovation. And the feedback we are getting is that people are interested because it’ll be a Woodfarm Cottage. They know what to expect. We are spending a LOT of money on it to make it extraordinary, and we already have a great colleague out there who will look after you in the Woodfarm way!
I think other than getting the accommodation right, ultimately it comes down to providing great customer service, which is not difficult! Hopefully, you’ll agree that we are doing everything we can to give you extraordinary holiday cottages!