A start-up five hut retreat on the border of the Snowdonia National Park.
With backgrounds in fine art, Mark Barrow and Jonathan Gooders moved to the countryside and renovated a cottage before turning their attentions to hand-building shepherd, poachers and gypsy huts. Their adults-only site launched in late 2021 and sprang to fame after being featured on BBC’s Interior Design Masters. We talk to Mark.
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
Both Jonathan and I have fine art backgrounds – Jonathan is a painter and sculptor and I specialise in modern British art and original vintage movie posters (www.picturepalacemovieposters.co.uk). We also ran a bespoke conservation picture framing business in Wimbledon for over 15 years, dealing with top West End galleries and museums.
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
We had decided on a lifestyle change and knew we wanted to move to the country (I grew up in Gloucestershire). After buying and renovating a cottage, we started the build of the huts, which in total took just under two years. We opened in November 2021.
How did you research the business before entering it?
We spent around six months researching the market; what was already available and how we could use our skill sets to create something unique.
Tell us about your location and site
We’re based just outside Pwllheli on the glorious Lynn Peninsula in North Wales, near the border of Snowdonia National Park, with the famous Italianesque village of Portmeirion on the doorstep, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Each of our five hand-built huts overlooks our own private lake, which is host to an array of wildlife, with uninterrupted far-reaching views to Yr Eifl (The Rivals) mountains in the distance.
How did you tackle getting planning?
We initially put in a pre-application document, which received a favourable response, then after purchasing the house applied for full planning with a 20 page supporting document. There was a slight issue after planning had been provisionally granted about a floodplain nearby (which had never in reality flooded), so we had to adjust the placing of the huts, but in fact this worked out better anyway as each hut now has a view of the mountain range and the lake.
How did you finance the project?
Mainly with our own funds from the sale of our previous house and a loan via the Development Bank of Wales.
What glamping accommodation do you offer and why did you choose it?
We have five hand-built (by us) huts; one shepherds hut (which is the largest), two poachers huts and two gypsy huts.
We are open all year and our choice of the three styles of huts and the way we designed the interiors was with this in mind (each has a wood burning stove for example).
What occupancy levels and price per night do you achieve?
Our prices range from £115-£145 per night, depending on the hut. Two of our huts are dog friendly and those have an extra £10 per night charge. We opened in November 2021 and were full over Christmas and New Year and have been steady ever since. Our main target is long weekend stays and as we’re adults only we very much appeal to couples looking for a rest and recharge.
How did you work out your brand and how do you publicise yourself?
Because we both have backgrounds in fine art we had a very clear idea of the look and feel we wanted to project, based on the target audience we wanted to reach, so that defined the brand, look of the website etc.
We are registered with a few of the more specialist portals, but most of our bookings come via our own website. We’ve also been featured in numerous magazine articles and included in The Times Top 25 Best Glamping Stays in the UK, The Guardian Top 10 Best New Glamping Sites and The Sunday Telegraph Top 10 Wild New Stays in Britain. We were also used by the BBC for episode 5 of the last series of Interior Design Masters.
How would you describe your ethos and unique selling point?
We try to be as sustainable as possible and offer a high end experience. We treat each guest as though they were the first and try to make them feel special. The most obvious unique selling point is our location and the surrounding area, so we very much encourage people to explore and experience that during their stay, though some guests just want to chill and spend their whole break in the hut.
How did you choose your interior decoration?
Mainly as a result of being featured on Interior Design Masters. We’d already done the initial fit out, installed the hand-built kitchens etc. ready for the TV team to come in and do their thing. It was a great experience, but we then spent three and a half months after filming going back over each hut to bring them up to the standard we were happy to present.
The designers did a fantastic job, but they only get two days, so the finish wasn’t to our level. We have also completely redesigned two of the huts from scratch ourselves.
What challenges have you faced?
Where would you like to start! The pandemic of course has effected everyone to a greater or lesser degree and was something none of us had predicted, but having relocated lock stock and barrel, there was no plan B, so we had to make it work.
Initially we had planned to build two huts and get the business started, but when the opportunity of being featured on Interior Design Masters came up, we had to plough on and complete all five huts. There were long 15-16 hour days, seven days a week!
What are your plans for next season?
To continue to build our reputation and to introduce some unique experience based breaks working with other small businesses here in North Wales.
Describe your average day mid-season
Fairly relaxed. We work with a specialist cleaning company who do the clean between changeovers, though we always do the dress ourselves as we feel it is very important to include the personal touch and guests do notice and appreciate it.
Do you enjoy the business?
We love it! As Churchill said: “If you find a job you really love, you’ll never work again”. Well that’s not entirely true of course, but the sentiment certainly is. It is great to be able to share this wonderful part of the world and know that our guests leave us feeling uplifted and recharged.
What are you most proud of?
Just how much we have managed to achieve in a relatively short timeframe, given that we have done it all pretty much single handed.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We focus our attention on giving people the very best experience possible, but as mentioned, we will be developing specific bolt-on offerings later in the year – watch this space!
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Research, research, research. Since we started our journey nearly six years ago, we have noticed an enormous explosion in glamping, especially during the past two years. It seems like everyone and their granny thinks it’s easy money and all they have to do is stick a pod or yurt in a field.
There seems to be a bit of a saturation of a lot of the same stuff at the moment, all chasing the same market. I expect a number of the newer sites to drop off over the next two or three years as many have gone in with the wrong idea or not properly researched just what it takes to establish and run a successful glamping retreat.
Brook Cottage Shepherd Huts
Gwynedd LL53 6RR