QHow did you come to set up the Smugglers and Pirates Experience?
ADuring the 1990s I lived and worked in Oxford and had a restaurant joined onto the Oxford Story, which was a similar type of attraction to us now. The attraction bought thousands of visitors into Oxford and I admired the operation and set up, so I decide to try and replicate their success down in Brixham.
It took a long time to find the right premise and to get funding and as with all quality business it take up two years to get it properly off the ground. We are still only 18 months old so we are evolving as we speak.
QWhat recent changes have you made :
A We opened in October of 2012 and I was already planning phase two of this attraction before the paint had dried! In September of 2013 we engaged a company called Circle Creative who were the designers behind the new attraction or experience as I like to call it. They were the driving force behind the new café and shop as well. I went out of my way to employ local trade's persons as much as I could and even with the massive amount of work that has been carried out we only shut for three weeks in February of this year. We re-opened with a new brand, signage, extended and much more exciting experience, in fact whole new look .
Everything we have done is to enhance the customer experience, to offer value for money and hopefully get customers to return. The nice thing is that even when customers have looked around our attraction they can come back and use the café and shop as much as they want, you don't have to visit the Experience to use these.
QWhat is your background?
A I come from a family of builders so it felt like natural progression to study landscape design however had an opportunity to run a group of restaurants and tea rooms in the Cotswold so I decided to give a go.
I found it very rewarding and enjoyable so I then went to Park Campus College in Cheltenham to fill in my skills gaps. After this I decide it was time that I went into business for myself and opened four tea rooms and a restaurant, which was a roaring success.
A car crash made me re-evaluate my work life balance so I sold up and then went to work for Banquets of Oxford and was then headhunted by Las Duna Hotel Group which gave me the opportunity to work and live in Spain. I returned in 1998 to look after my ailing parents and then moved to Devon and bought the Hunter Lodge at Shaldon, which I turned from an antique shop to a highly successful family restaurant.
Again health problems made me revaluate and I bought the Nigel Green Estates Agency shop and created The Coffee House in St Mary Church, Torquay. It was during that time that I knew I wanted to bring my dream of The Smugglers and Pirates to reality, and here I am.
QWhat major challenges are you facing :
A I like every business are facing customers who want more and more for their money, which is not such a bad thing as it make you constantly want to improve and up your game.
We have a large amount of quality attraction in the area and so you have to stand out and offer something just that bit different to win your share of the market place. I truly believe that quality is the key to success, offering a great product with the best staff and great customer service. I have to say a big thank you to most local business who have been a great support and have gone out of their way to get our name out there
Keeping up with all new technology in terms of web site design etc. is a challenge in itself, I am not an IT fan at all but recognise that social media, apps, etc. are the way to go.
We offer online booking via our website which is a must for a modern attraction and customers also save money booking online and most web sites such as the ERTC carries different offers for the shop, café and attraction. You have to come up with new customer offers all the time, which really makes you think about the product you are offering.
I feel that family budgets are still tight and they may only have enough money to visit one or two attractions whilst on holiday, making sure that you are one of the two is a major challenge and I think that this will not change for some time to come.
Also I am committed to making us an all-year-round attraction, not just an April –to October one, but this is challenging, in terms of footfall. The winter is not great, so we are looking at different things we can do such as evening events to make sure we are open 364 days a year – I have decided to take Christmas Day off!
One thing that has become apparent to me from talking to customers is they are very worried about parking. They are so concerned that they will get a ticket if they are over their time so they often leave us before they have to. I do wonder whether a pay on exit car park is the way forward? I'm sure that would be a massive boost to the town as a whole.
QHow does the attraction contribute to tourism in the area?
AWhen I took on the building it was rather rundown amusement arcade and not doing Brixham any favours at all. It has been my intention all along not just make a name for myself and sit back and say look what I'm doing but to help Brixham's tourism offer.
I have invested over 800K into the whole building, not just the attraction but the building itself. It now look amazing with the mural we had done above our main Kings Street entrance attracting worldwide attention. I hope visitors will now come to Brixham and spend more time and more money not just with me but with the other shops and attraction. If we can keep people in the town even for just an extra hour it is a start.
We also want to get the message out to visitors that Brixham is a great place to come in the evening, this is one of the reasons I open till 9pm. It's a nice, safe family environment down by the harbour, it such a shame that the ferry's don't run till later. I'm sure if there was a market for it they would but maybe we need to create a market for them to come on board.
QWhat's next for the attraction?
A When I started I always had a three phase plan and that hasn't changed, in fact it has just expanded and grown.
We will be looking again at the Experience and seeing what else we can added to the story, what we can change to make it even better. We want to expand the café side of things as people seem to love it and we have big plans for our shop.
Luckily I have a general manger who is as forward thinking as I am so that helps with planning and idea's for the future.
Looking long term, I may set up another attraction in a similar vein elsewhere in Devon, or another business, I just have to find the right location.
What I can say is that I will never stop listening to my customers, they are the ones that drive the business forward, you have to constantly change your customer offer.
QWho is your most significant mentor?
A I can honestly say that I have learnt from everyone I have worked with. I have had some really tough bosses but often they are hard on you because they see potential in you and want you to get on. Recently I have to say that Andy Rowe from NatWest Bank has been amazing. Without him none of this would of be here and he has taught me a lot, not just about finance but business as whole, a true mentor in the sense of the word.
QHow would you describe your management style?
AFirm but fair I think sums me up. I try to get to know my team well and support them when they me. Treat each person as an individual and never be scared of employing someone who is better or knows more than you. Treat it is a learning curve as no one knows everything and you can't be a specialist in everything. I have no problem asking for help. In saying that I am not a push over. I can't abide lateness or un-professionalism.
QHow do you keep enthused and keep things fresh.
AI'm a bit like a meerkat, always watching, and listening, seeing what going on in the tourism world.
I spend a lot of time looking at other attractions not just in this country but internationally, seeing what they are doing and how they do it. I'm always thinking, "Could we do that" or "should we try this"? I never get tired of wanting to improve or change.
Listening to your customer is great way of keeping a business fresh, they are your best source of compliments and complaints. A complaint is not a slur on what you do but a chance to make a change and improve, believe me that keep you on your toes.
QWhat awards have you or the company won?
ANone so far but that's because we have not entered any yet. I have been keen to concentrate my efforts on getting things right before we entered anything but I will be thinking about entering in the future, but only if times allows.
I have to say the day-to-day running of the Experience comes first.
QWhat other organisations are you involved with?
AWe have just joined the Brixham Chamber of Trade and are a PP of the ERTC and a member of the TTA Limited.
We are not at present a member of ERA or DATA but may be looking at this in the future.
There are just so may organisation about you have to look very carefully at which ones may help or benefit you as a business and equally some have an entrance policy, so they might not want us!