The Thetford Forest site of The Camping and Caravanning Club, winner of the prestigious “Park of the Year 2009”* leisure industry award, is owned and run by a family firm. The campsite was chosen by readers of the Motorcaravan Motorhome Monthly Magazine, in the face of stiff competition from thousands of campsite owners across the UK.
The Franchisees are Dawn and Rob Muggridge, Rob’s sister Julie Purnell and her husband Neil. They are all good friends as well as relatives and have also enjoyed many camping holidays together. As children, Julie and Rob were taken camping every year by parents Ann and Mike, who are keen and long-standing members of the Club.
The Thetford Forest family firm were experienced campers but knew little about franchising until they were about to become part of it. They were totally convinced that buying a Club site was exactly what they wanted to do - unlike most franchisees who conduct extensive research into several options before making any commitment.
Previously working successfully and happily in jobs they enjoyed, none of the four had any thought of starting a new business, individually or together, let alone a franchise in the camping sector. Back then Dawn had a catering company, Rob had his own building business, Julie was a catering manager and Neil was a customer service manager.
Despite not actively looking for a business idea, they were excited when an unexpected opportunity presented itself in the form of an advertisement for new franchisees spotted in the Club’s magazine by Ann and Mike.
The opportunity seemed irresistible as everyone agreed that having a Club franchise was achievable and offered great potential. The venture could be very successful with everyone working together and pooling their experience, skills and talents.
Dawn explained: “We liked the prospect of a more outdoor type of life. With six children between us and a forest on our doorstep, we consider ourselves very lucky. We also liked the idea of having our own business but with support from the Club, with its great experience in the field and methods that have been thoroughly tried and tested over many years. As members, we already knew what we would be buying into and had great confidence in the organisation and our ability to make it work,” Dawn explained.
They approached the Club to find out more about how the franchise operated, followed by a formal application and meetings to ensure that both parties were in harmony. They were accepted and, formalities completed, set out to find a site. They looked at several, mainly in the South East, before considering East Anglia.
Dawn takes up the story: “We had very limited time to see this site but the minute we got to the gate we all knew that this was the one for us. It was so beautiful, very well maintained, with plenty of space and great potential. You could almost say it was love at first sight.”
Since buying the franchise in 2006 as basic acreage with a run-down toilet block, the family has invested much time, effort and money in installing new facilities and improving others to create today’s award-winning holiday site with 150 pitches, an avenue of mature birches, a shop, games field, playground, laundry room and fishing pond.
Dawn admitted that she had never even turned on a computer before joining the Club’s network but she soon mastered computing. There was a great deal to learn about the Club and its systems but the comprehensive training programme covered every aspect of running a successful business. In addition, the franchise team at head office provided on-going support and was always available to offer advice and guidance.
As well as the four franchisees, Rob and Julie’s parents Ann and Mike live on site and help when needed.
They are wonderful with looking after the grandchildren and are willing to do anything from office admin to helping with pitching and cleaning. There is no division of chores and everyone is equally involved in the business, trained to do every task so that if someone is ill, for example, another person can step competently into the role.
“We can all multitask and turn our hand to almost everything. There are a few physical limits on some of the heavier jobs that “we girls” don’t do,” Dawn explained.
Everyone in the family was surprised and thrilled when they were told they had won the “Park of the Year” award – especially since they didn’t realise they were in the running. Dawn said: “We are very proud and excited and especially touched that so many of the magazine’s readers chose us from every other campsite in the county. It is such wonderful recognition.
“Our success is the result of team work. We thoroughly enjoy what we do, in beautiful surroundings. We are open throughout the year so we have a constant stream of visitors, who are always very interesting and come for the wildlife walks, peace and tranquility. We want our customers to have a fantastic holiday and we try to ensure they achieve that.
“We all think that it’s what you put in that reaps rewards. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for putting us forward for the ‘Park of the Year’,” Dawn concluded.
* “Park of the Year” - Motorcaravan Motorhome Monthly magazine’s awards are held to reward manufacturers, dealers, sites and companies who have done a great job throughout the year. Awards are made based on readers’ comments and suggestions, together with expert opinion from the sector.