With a mantra of ‘Retreat, Relax and Reconnect’, Acorn Glade offers a luxury, adult’s-only escape
Open Air Business talks to husband and wife team Richard and Julie Arme about their new life managing an award-winning eco-friendly glampsite, which places emphasis firmly on peace and tranquillity.
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
It was a joint lifestyle choice to steer away from stressful careers and look at ways to spend more time with each other immersed in the great outdoors. We enjoy travelling, so we loved the idea of hospitality as a way of combining our strengths and talents; even though neither of us had any previous experience in the industry. We then set about looking for a site with that special ‘wow’ factor, and then realising its potential with a huge amount of vision and hard work, culminating in the opening of Acorn Glade in July 2014.
How did you research the business before entering it?
From the outset, we carried out a huge amount of research. Our main aim was to create something special that we ourselves would enjoy staying in, so our market research had to include visiting and staying in similar accommodation. We did find that glamping was often difficult to research. At the time, it was a relatively new industry, but there seems to be a lot more information about now online, at shows and exhibitions, and, of course, in magazines like this one.
Tell us about your location and site
Acorn Glade is a quiet, picturesque site with romantic accommodation set in woodland and wild flower meadows around a small private fishing lake. The site is a designated Local Wildlife Site with plenty of interest for nature watchers or just peace and quiet for those in need of relaxation. We are located on the outskirts of a rural village in the Vale of York, only 11 miles from the historic City of York, a great location but with challenges for those who rely on public transport, which is fairly sparse in the area.
How did you tackle getting planning?
Local Authority Planning and Building Control was certainly a challenge as you can get totally tangled up in the system. For us, it helped that Julie had experience as a professional in the construction industry, so we did not have to rely on consultants. We wanted Acorn Glade to be operational for the Tour de France, which passed near to the site in 2014, but missed it by a few weeks due to red tape hold ups. We did need to compromise on the size of our amenity building to adhere to Building Control requirements, but we are generally happy with our design and layout.
What accommodation do you offer?
Acorn Glade has two spacious yurts, a 100-year-old gypsy wagon and a cosy log cabin. All our accommodation is off-grid, with lighting provided by solar-powered lamps/fairy lights and heated by wood burning stoves (coal burning stove in the gypsy wagon). We chose our accommodation to provide a good mix that would appeal to different people, and we have found that everyone has their favourite. We also wanted the units to be practical, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing to complement the site. Our yurts are beautifully made with a light and airy feel, and the log cabin and amenity building are solid and well insulated, having been sourced and built by a local company.
The gypsy wagon was a bit of an impulse buy, but after spending time renovating and restoring her to provide unique and comfortable accommodation, she has proved to be a really popular addition to our site.
Describe how you researched and sourced your units
We researched many types of materials for our yurts and log cabins to enable us to find the perfect balance of sustainability with practicality and comfort for our guests. We chose uninsulated yurts; they can easily cope with the great British weather for three seasons of the year, and we are happy to take them down over the winter – sometimes the insulated ones can smell of wet sheep. We designed the log cabin ourselves, bearing in mind that it had to be robust and insulated to provide all year-round accommodation without looking like a garden shed. After visiting other glamping sites, we decided it was worth investing in the amenity building to offer really good quality showers, toilets and a communal kitchen.
How do you publicise yourself?
Richard’s business management and IT background means that all of our marketing can be carried out by us in house. Our main marketing vehicle is social media, and we consider it a huge achievement that our Facebook page has generated over 20,000 ‘likes’. Creating followers by organic growth on social media is a slow process at first, but if you have a really good product with a strong visual presence, people will talk about it and tell their friends about it, and the interest soon snowballs into an enthusiastic audience. This means that we have the ability to specifically target all those who have already shown a definite interest with news, articles, and last minute special offers. We also make a point of showcasing photographs, particularly those that have been sent to us by guests, many of whom are talented photographers.
Our next biggest source of bookings is internet searches, and we do spend time ensuring that SEO rankings are kept high by continuously reviewing this data. We are also lucky to have had some very favourable publicity by local and national press, for instance, being named in the ‘Top 30 Glamping Places to stay in the UK’ in the Sunday Times Supplement has been brilliant publicity.
How would you describe your ‘style’ or unique selling point?
Acorn Glade offers the ultimate romantic break, a grown-ups-only site with wildlife, board games and no Wi-Fi. This is perhaps an unusual USP in the age of internet accessibility, but is emphasised by our mantra ‘Retreat, Relax and Reconnect’… Retreat to a beautiful setting for a relaxing glamping experience to reconnect with nature and each other. At the heart of our business is also our commitment to eco-tourism, sustainability and conservation. We have worked really hard to provide a site that has been described as a ‘Pocket Paradise’ and ‘Yorkshire’s Hidden Gem’.
How did you choose your interior decoration?
The accommodation units are themed around their names, Poppy, Daisy, Bluebell and Rose, and it is Julie’s design flair that has created a comfortable and outdoorsy rustic feel with plenty of attention to detail and unique personal decorative touches. We try to be as sustainable as we can, and have upcycled much of our furniture and made some great outside pieces with bits of trees and the pallets on which the buildings were delivered. We love showing guests into their accommodation and hearing them say ‘Wow’ when they walk through the doors.
What challenges have you faced?
Having decided to keep Acorn Glade to a size where we can run it on our own, we have had to become experts in so many different areas and found talents that we didn’t know we had. We often consider our biggest challenge is to balance looking after the site with not disturbing our guests enjoying the peace and tranquillity. There is always site maintenance to do, but we do try to refrain from using noisy equipment where possible. This means that on our ‘change over days’ it can be a challenge to make the accommodation ready for new guests as well as grass-cutting and carrying out repairs and improvements.
What are your plans for next season?
We always have ideas for improvements floating around, but are keen to keep the site simple and not to change what our guests describe as ‘perfect just the way it is’. Therefore, our plans are to do what we are currently doing, but even better.
Describe your average day mid-season
Acorn Glade is run by a two-person husband and wife team, so on a day-to-day basis everything from cleaning and wood chopping to laundry and site maintenance is carried out by us. Our change over days can be quite hectic, but as we are open seven days a week the other days can be quite varied. On those days, we tend to concentrate on the ‘behind the scenes’ activities such as marketing, sourcing supplies, repairs, and lots of ironing. We live on-site and check on facilities regularly, and inevitably chat to our guests about the site, the wildlife, and what to do in the local area. It’s great that we have the flexibility that if there isn’t anything pressing, we can sneak in a ‘date-day’ to York or the east coast.
Do you enjoy the business and why?
We totally love what we do. We enjoy being in control of our own business, challenging ourselves to take on so many different roles and just working in such a beautiful place. There is no question that it can be hard work and our hourly rate is probably far below the minimum wage, but when we chat to our guests and they are so enthusiastic we do feel so proud and fortunate.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We are asked all the time if we would consider hosting weddings and other ceremonies, but our planning permission prevents us offering this. We do have rather a lot of private celebrations here though, proposals, honeymoons, birthdays and anniversaries and we like to help with surprises by decorating the accommodation with homemade bunting.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
A practical piece of advice would be to make sure you have totally watertight terms and conditions before you start taking bookings. But apart from that, make sure you enjoy what you are doing and totally believe in your product.
What are you most proud of?
We are so pleased to have a number of awards including a Trip Advisor Green Leaders ‘Silver Award’ and ‘Certificate of Excellence’, and to be a finalist for the 2017 REYTA (Remarkable East Yorkshire Tourism Awards). We probably have our proudest moments when we get feedback from our guests congratulating us and saying how much they enjoyed their stay, and that they will be back very soon.
Fron Farm Yurts – 01994 419803
Sharps World of Wood – 01759 305566
Sharps World of Wood – 01759 305566
Kidd Lane, Melbourne, York, YO42 4QF