After 27 years of running his own training consultancy, Bill Sayer was semi-retired and, as he put it, “bored”. Bill’s wife Lynn, an account director of a call handling company, also had ideas of doing something different.
Bill commented: “I wanted to be busy doing something new but I just hadn’t found the right opportunity. Ideally, we wanted a complete change of lifestyle. The perfect role for me would be to work in the summer and to be able to take winters off but I knew that positions like that are virtually impossible to find. I’d have to create my own.”
Having previously started his own business from scratch, Bill knew only too well that in the first few years of any new venture you can make some very expensive mistakes. Now in their fifties, Bill and Lynn felt they did not have the time to recover from ‘expensive mistakes’. Bill was also certain that he had had enough of being a sole trader. While they had never worked together before, neither of them ruled out the possibility.
“By chance, a fellow caravanning friend came round one evening for a drink and mentioned that The Camping and Caravanning Club were offering franchises,” Bill explained. The opportunity ticked every box for Bill and Lynn. They applied to the Club that very same evening.
After attending an open day and going through the recruitment process, they were accepted by the Club, and Lynn and Bill started looking for a suitable park. They sold their house so they would be able to complete immediately they found the right one but it was to be another two years before they were able finally to realise their dream.
“We remained very optimistic but during the period we were looking very few parks came on to the market. We eventually found one called The Millpond set in an idyllic spot in Herefordshire. It was a 26 acre underperforming park, with a three-and-a-half acre fishing lake, which needed much investment and improvement,” Bill said.
An instant decision was made and within six weeks they were the new park owners. The first winter saw them installing a shop, a new reception area, an upgraded shower and toilet block and better roads. They also increased the number of hard standing pitches with electric hook ups and generally improved the campsite’s appearance with some excellent landscaping.
“However, all the hard work has been worthwhile because from the time we opened here in Hereford in March 2008 our site has been very successful and our life just fabulous. We have a wonderful campsite in a beautiful area,” they commented.
Lynn and Bill moved from Northampton to Hereford and “absolutely love it”. “The business and our lifestyle here continue to tick every single box for us. We love the area, the local people who were very welcoming and supportive and our visitors, who come from so many different places. In fact, we would continue to live here even without the park,” they said.
“Not that we ever want to retire, we love it so much that we’ll probably carry on working until we are too old to do it any more,” Bill added.
Being part of the Club’s franchise has many advantages, not least the national and international marketing, the inclusion in the Club’s annual directory for its 500,000 plus members and the website, as well as the centralised advance bookings system.
“The franchise promotes our site to holidaymakers in a way that a lone operator could never hope to achieve. We certainly wouldn’t want to be alone running a completely independent site. It’s a great feeling to be part of a team, so that when we are on holiday in the winter, perhaps sipping a G & T by a pool, we know that Club Rez is taking bookings for us while we’re away,” Bill said.
Bill and Lynn both say that, leaving aside the lifestyle advantages, the Club franchise is a great business to have. They comment: “This has been a solid investment. It has been hard work but the returns are very good and the ability to build repeat business is excellent. We have one customer who has returned 17 times in the last year. Neither we, nor the park are perfect, but we guess we are doing most things right!”