A Q&A with the man who developed the first ‘pod’ 15 years before the term ‘glamping’ was coined, and now runs the UK’s leading glamping business franchise
Name: Charles Gulland
Company: Wigwam Holidays
Contact: 0131 450 7126 / www.wigwamholidays.com
As a Scotsman, it really does have to be whisky, of course! You will see me nursing a chilled glass of Heineken from time to time, but whisky is what I enjoy the most. Of the many Scottish whisky labels Glenlivet is not only a great whisky, it is also the name of the location of our newest site, which is opening in March 2017!
Last holiday destination:
My last holiday was actually a ‘staycation’ and spent in a Wigwam at Strathfillan, a fabulous site in the Trossachs National Park. Before that I spent a week in Italy around Lake Como, one of the most stunning locations in Europe.
Cats or dogs?
Definitely dogs! There’s never been a better phrase: ‘dogs are man’s best friend.’ Fantastic company, the perfect guest to sneak off to the pub with and, best of all, great company on an early morning run!
Current TV must watch:
I watch anything that involves building and design, so ‘Grand Designs’ features very highly on my TV list. ‘Countryfile’ is a firm favourite as the preservation of our rural landscape, along with access for all to the countryside, are very much part of the core values of Wigwam Holidays.
Something people may not know about me:
I used to be a beekeeper! My childhood was spent on the fabulously beautiful Fair Isle and also in Caithness. When I was 14 years old I inherited £200 from my grandmother and used it to buy two beehives. Not only was it an incredibly relaxing hobby, it was also very lucrative for me at the time, netting about £200 worth of honey every year. That was perhaps when the entrepreneurial spirit in me started.
How did you get started in the design and build of ‘pods’?
After escaping a career in accountancy, I trained as a designer at Hooke Park College, Dorset, which was established in 1989 to research the profitable use of home grown timber in design and construction. The sustainable use of timber is a principle that has subsequently become central to the ethos of our business. At Hooke, I designed a wooden camping cabin made entirely from forest thinnings. I made prototype models of my design and took these to the Royal Highland Show, after which I was offered the position of designer in residence to the Countryside Commission for Scotland. I was tasked with designing low cost accommodation for walkers on Scotland’s long distance footpaths. At this time the option for walkers was limited to camping, bunkhouses or hostels.
We built our first camping cabin in 1994 and piloted the first network on the West Highland Way the following year; the wooden ‘Wigwams’, as they were baptised, were an immediate hit with walkers and Scotland’s outdoor community. It soon became apparent that the demand and the market was actually far greater than anyone had realised.
What did you see in the ‘pod’ concept?
The design was in response to providing a low cost but comfortable accommodation option for walkers. They were made entirely from forest thinnings in a workshop near Perth and I set up the company, which was originally called All Round Buildings and trialled the design with three cabins, slowly introducing them to a few sites across Scotland.
What inspired you to start Wigwam Holidays in 2000?
I very quickly realised that the market for this type of accommodation was far greater than I had originally anticipated, and not just across Scotland. The initial Wigwams were trialled across a few sites in Scotland, with the first at Strathfillan. In 2000, I held my first conference to which I invited the owners of the Wigwams, suggesting that they each put forward £100 per Wigwam to enable me to produce a leaflet and build a website. As a result Wigwam Holidays was born. We are now the largest glamping holiday provider in the UK, with 80 sites and over 500 Wigwams in commercial use.
How does the Wigwam Holidays business model work?
Wigwam Holidays operates under a franchise business model. We ask for a minimum purchase of six Wigwams, a one off franchise fee and a percentage commission on holiday bookings made. In return, franchisees benefit from our already successful and established brand, glamping expertise, assistance with planning and funding, induction training and first class marketing support. In addition, we design and launch their website with an integrated online booking system to ensure each business is fully equipped with the tools and knowledge to help make it a success.
Furthermore, franchisees are buying the right to develop their business in a defined geographical area, with a guarantee from us that there will not be another Wigwam Holidays site within a defined geographical radius.
What do Wigwam Holidays look for in a franchisee?
We look for a number of factors in a potential franchisee. First and foremost, they should be somebody that embodies our core values. We are looking for those that are committed to our brand purpose of providing ‘Great holidays in the great outdoors’. Location is also very important as we intend to cover all areas of the UK to ensure that everyone has cost-effective and easy access to the countryside.
What is the appeal of becoming a Wigwam Holidays franchisee?
Launching the franchise business model was intended to create profitable, sustainable business partnerships promoting a fast track to lead the glamping phenomenon. Through a comprehensive franchise support package, the model represents a win-win relationship. Franchisees benefit from having the backing of the market leader in the glamping industry and support from an energetic, dedicated and talented team in business planning and marketing to ensure their business is a success.
What is the appeal of a Wigwam Holiday for an end user?
Quite simply, they get access to the countryside; the back to nature, great outdoors experience that is often hard to find these days. We do not rely on commercial outlets, swimming pools and noisy activity but instead feature true back to nature experiences; campfires under the stars, toasting marshmallows and quality time with family and friends.
What has your impact been on the pod and glamping market?
We are the original innovator of the camping pod concept. The first Wigwam was developed in 1994, some 15 years before The Guardian newspaper coined the phrase ‘glamping’! The Wigwam was the first pod to the market by a decade, which has also given us time to consider what customers desire and what really works.
What are your plans for the future?
To take our concept to all areas of the UK and to fulfil our purpose; to provide ‘Great holidays in the great outdoors.’ Following a recent successful LEADER funding award, we are launching a new site in Glenlivet in the Cairngorms National Park, the first to be owned and managed by Wigwam Holidays. We are also looking to explore the European market and the possibility of taking the Wigwam concept into the international glamping arena.