Written by: Stephen Hargreaves | Founder & CEO
Today I’m going to share with you the biggest business mistake I’ve made, and it wasn’t an easy one to come to terms with. Bear with me while I set the scene…
Technology. We’re relying upon it today more than ever. In fact, it’s hard to imagine getting through the Coronavirus crisis without it. It’s something I’ve invested massively into in all my businesses, no more so than the Church Suites and the Hideout (you’ll find more about that one in particular in a moment) but I wasn’t prepared for just how quickly technology would move. Five years ago I invested £30,000 into an incredible movie library system so our guests at our award-winning Church Suites could watch whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted. It was genuinely ground-breaking and guests loved it. Back then it gave us an edge, but today we have Netflix, Amazon Prime and others. The £30,000 movie system is obsolete and you might be wondering if investing thousands of pounds into now dead-tech was my biggest business mistake? It wasn’t. I feel it did its job at the time and whilst we’ve had to adapt and re-invest, it’s easily ‘put right’ even if it’s expensive to do so. Sadly the lesson I learned proves how much easier machines are to fix than people.
You might remember from Chapter One that when I bought The Cranleigh in 2007 I was already involved in property? Well eight years ago I was selling one of them and had just accepted an offer. It was a small house, about 300 yards away from the Lake, right in the centre of town. It had only been on the market a couple of weeks and that morning the estate agent rang me to tell me the good news that it was sold. I walked down to the property for one last look around and as I walked up to the front door, feeling relaxed and ready for the next chapter I suddenly found myself looking at it as if for the first time. Instead of being a one bedroomed property I was happy to see go, before my eyes it transformed into the perfect space for a couple to get away from it all. A hotel just for two. It would need work, but I knew the team and I were more than capable of creating something completely unique here, we’d done it before with The Cranleigh. My dad was always the first person I’d speak to about stuff and when I told him the idea he thought it was a good one, and for me that was all the encouragement I needed. Sadly Dad died in *September 2019; I still miss him. I trusted his opinion, but whilst he’s not around to ask anymore I am grateful to him for all the advice, love and support he gave me when he was here. I know things would look very different for me now had it no been for him, so I’m taking a moment to Thank you for the millionth time, Dad.
Having chatted it through with Dad, almost as quickly as I had accepted the offer, I had to ring my estate agents to apologise and explain that I’d decided to keep 14 Quarry Brow after all. By the time I made the call I’d even secretly re-named it…it had already become The Hideout. Maybe my heart was ruling my head again as it had with The Cranleigh but it was one of those gut feelings you can’t shake and I knew if I sold it, I would regret it.
Again, as with The Cranleigh and Church Suites, quality and luxury would be key. My love for design and technology could really be let loose here to make the ultimate romantic escape. We created a special kind of opulence that most people would never be able to experience at home. As well as a luxurious bedroom and living space I worked with Phil Armstrong of Aqua-Jade Bathrooms. We installed a huge bath which comfortably fitted two people, here they could watch movies on a huge cinema screen whilst being able to reach out and grab complimentary cocktails. The space was now gorgeous. But I also thought that as well as the sumptuousness and seclusion it offered, that couples might need a little extra flexibility too. We all know it’s not easy getting a full weekend away from the kids, but one night? That’s an easier sell to the grandparents!
So the Hideout became the Lake District’s first accommodation to be targeted at one-night stays. Naturally, people could and do still come for more, but there was no obligation to do so and it was this, combined with the no expense spared fittings and service that made The Hideout a runaway success. Today we are all familiar with a more relaxed and frankly more customer focussed approach to accommodation, largely thanks to sites such as AirBnB. But back then I remember contemporaries telling me I was mad. That the cost of cleaning, marketing and investing just for a night might be ok for the odd one-off, but certainly shouldn’t form the basis for the business. It did worry me a little, these people knew their onions, but that niggle that we were onto something was stronger and I’m glad to say the risk paid off. Today The Hideaway is still extremely popular, we have a huge number of return visits and people come from all over the world to experience it.