A nice holiday in California and frustration with the lack of places to stay in the UK convinced Jude Dalton to start New Forest Living. Here she explains how her business has the edge on Airbnb.
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I started out at Art School in London in the 70’s studying Three Dimensional Design and went on to create a commercial interior design business which I ran for 15 years, after which I left the city and relocated to the tranquil New Forest in Hampshire. Wanting horses may have had something to do with it.
What was your motivation behind starting the business?
I enjoyed a very laid back holiday in California, easy living, staying in some very cool private homes. When tracking down local holiday cottages for friends, I found there was a distinct lack of stylish boltholes.
At that time local holiday cottages seemed to be just a base to come back to at night, not special enough to be the core of the holiday. So New Forest Living was born, hand-picking the most attractive holiday homes in the area.
When did your business launch? Do you have any employees?
The website was first launched in 2007 and has gone from strength to strength. It’s a family orientated business with my daughter coordinating the marketing aspect. I also have a brilliant sales and operations team, supported by a smart agency for all things web.
Our office is a Seventeenth Century converted Bakers Loft on the historic Quay in Lymington, a creative and friendly place to work, its like coming on holiday very day.
Jude with her daughter Gemma, who works with her on New Forest Living
Why did you choose to focus solely on the New Forest?
Predominantly because it’s such a diverse region, with a stunning coastline, historical places, the iconic ponies and great recreational opportunities. The gals in the office are locals too, we love the authentic forest way of life and so can offer our visitors our insider knowledge.
Who is your target audience?
People who are looking for worthwhile holiday experience, who are open to discovery and who select holiday properties from a lifestyle perspective, idyllic boltholes by the river to large swish country houses.
What do you offer that helps you stand apart from your competition?
We offer a really personal and bespoke service to both our cottage owners and holidaymakers. We know the locality and interior of our properties inside and out.
How did you develop your relationship with the property owners, to be able to include them on your site?
At our core we are a marketing company, being local is a huge advantage being able to read the local market. We view an owner’s property as unique and an individual business rather than a commodity. Our objective is to implement a marketing plan attracting their best audience and working together to achieve their holiday letting goals.
Your website is obviously a hugely important part of your business. How did you commission the website, what were the costs and how do you promote it?
The web site is now on its fourth incarnation and likely to be re invented again for 2016. The original site was fairly static, so not a huge outlay, now we have achieved a CMS model which means we can be instantly creative with the content. Our digital marketing is a combination of our in house marketing and a specialist SEO company.
The New Forest is a rich and varied area
What have been the main challenges you’ve faced in starting and growing your business?
Relating to and responding quickly to the frequent changes in visitor aspirations and the expectations and needs of our holiday property owners. Its all about identifying trends and gently re - positioning our business model to make it work effectively for everyone.
What are the main challenges faced by your industry overall?
Giving people the quality experience combined with tangible benefits of a break away in the UK. The holiday home itself becomes the destination, the fabulous restaurant overlooking the Solent becomes the venue, making it easy to see the product, easy to book, easy to find places to go and things to do at all times of year.
There’s a lot of talk about ‘aggregation’ websites like Uber, Airbnb and Facebook which are built around products or services they don’t actually own, just like New Forest Living which promotes properties owned by other people.
What are your thoughts on the growth of this kind of business and where do you think it will go in the future?
With Airbnb and the sharing economy , individuals offer underutilized resources , but what's on offer can be unregulated, both in terms of safety and who you are actually handing over your hard earned to.
Should an entire class of business activity be exempt from safety regulations or taxes just because individuals are offering services through the internet marketplace on an ad hoc basis?
If advertising your property and booking through Airbnb remains viable when operating on a level playing field, for example the insurance and safety procedures are mandatory, then great.
Airbnb is hip and happening and worth a cool $20 billion, but how much of a bargain is it with between 6% and 12% of your rental + the owners fee of 3% winging its way back to Airbnb? A great idea but will it become devoid of style as the focus is just to make more billions for its investors.
You set up this business as a mother-daughter team. Tell us about that?
Families often have shared experiences, with creative genes and similar goals. Gem had tangible skills and design experience to bring to the business and she focuses on branding, property styling and coordinating off line and digital PR campaigns, adding real value to our business.
What’s your advice for anyone looking to start a business?
Positioning. Making your offering more valuable and different from others in a similar field. Remembering that you can’t be all things to all people, so look for your best customer and design a proposition that solves their wants and needs.
What’s your favourite property on your books?
It’s a very hard call as each of our properties has its own charm. Whether it’s ponies at the garden gate or breathtaking views across the Solent...we would happily reside in them all.