After losing a business built up over 15 years, and many more battles along the way, Kerry and husband Dave have created a thriving business out of a failing caravan park.
When Kerry and Dave Woodhead lost their Kwick Save fruit and veg franchise in Scarborough, they had just four weeks to rearrange their whole life. “We had been in the trade for 15 years and had been running a really successful business with 12 employees when Kwick Save decided to run the fruit and veg themselves. We lost our business without any compensation.
“We had to sell our forever home that Dave had finished renovating two years previously and had to decide quickly what to do next.”
Having not enjoyed the corporate element of their previous business Kerry and Dave decided to try something completely different. “We were fed up of wearing a uniform and being told what we could or couldn’t do so we put our heads together and thought, what makes people happy? (Other than their weekly fruit and veg shop!). Family holidays are very important to us and we thought what better business to be in than to create great memories for others.”
The couple found an underperforming caravan park on the edge of Scarborough. “The seven acre site was licensed with the Caravan Club but wasn’t being run to its full potential. There was an elderly couple living there and a bungalow on site. We went to our accountant and he said we needed straitjackets as we were putting everything from the sale of our house into it and every other penny we had. But the site had something magical about it and we truly believed we could make our vision work.”
So strong was their belief, Kerry and Dave had already planted 1,000 laurel trees on the site before the sale had gone through. “We had made friends with the couple selling the property by then and had been told we would need to screen the place if we wanted to do any development as it’s quite exposed. We couldn’t afford £10,000 for mature hedging so put in young plants knowing it would take a few years before we were ready to start work.”
Pinewood Park, as it is now known, opened in 2006. “We changed to the Camping and Caravan Club and created a camping field with 14 hook ups.” Today Pinewood also offers glamping in tipis and a variety of quirky timber structures as well as weddings and corporate events in a rustic barn.
“We now have 21 glamping units and 20 camping and caravanning pitches. We have 140 people on site when we’re at capacity.”
Covid set Pinewood back, as it did the hospitality industry universally, but ever positive, Kerry and Dave made the absolute most of every piece of land to claw back income in the months they could open. “We were 100 per cent full once we were allowed to open and hope 2021 will follow suit.”
There were many times along the way that Kerry reports wanting to give up. “We have both had wobbles,” she says, “but we have pulled each other through.”
If anything could have made the couple throw in the towel it was the battle with the local planning officer. “The plan from the beginning was to have log cabins,” says Kerry. “At the time we first opened there were only about seven glamping sites in the whole country so it wasn’t really on our radar at the start. But the local planning officer gave us an outright ‘no’ to our log cabin dreams. He said we would never have them on the site.
“This was just the start though. He was so against our site and our plans he even sent the enforcement officer down when Dave decided to reclaim an old sign from the arcade on Scarborough seafront where he worked. He had got his hands on a large sign that said ‘Everyone Welcome’. The planners came to site and said the sign needed to come down as everyone was not welcome – only those who were Caravan Club members! He overlooked the fact that people can join when they get here…”
The problems went on for eight years. “We believe now that there was some history regarding the site that meant this particular planner had an issue with it.”
The couple’s glamping operation started with canvas tipis. “We wanted to support local wherever we could and found a guy nearby who was making tipis. We ordered four but within a month they had all rotted so we had to start again.
“Next we found Tipi Village in Wales, who supply Glastonbury. We managed to get the tipis up but didn’t secure them properly. That first night a mini tornedo arrived and ripped them apart! In the end we sent them back, got them repaired and put them up correctly.
“They were very authentic with smoke flaps and a fire in the middle. At the time we were marketing to environmentalists but soon realised the demand from families, who of course wanted more comfort and convenience.
“We have always been customer-led so found a new style of tipi from Soul Pad, purchased 12 and started marketing to families. We are expert at putting them up now – it takes us eight minutes!”
Kerry and Dave replace their canvas structures every year. “We sell them off to schools and local scout groups at the end of each season. I liken it to a hotel giving rooms a coat of paint each year. We must have bought over 100 tipis now and spent about £80,000. We replace all the coir flooring too.
“There are only two tipis at Pinewood now as we have followed the demand for all season structures.”
Weddings and events
Kerry and Dave hadn’t planned to open as a wedding venue but in 2010 a couple approached them to hire the whole site for their celebration. “It was taking place in April and they said not to worry as they had a marquee. Well, this marquee arrived in a little box that said do not use in wind or rain! It was basically a pop-up gazebo. We were so stressed about that event but it ended up being the best April on record and everything went brilliantly.”
To avoid any more undue worry, in July that year Dave decided to renovate an old storage barn. “We recycled and upcycled all the wood we could get our hands on, even my sister’s cupboard doors! Dave would saw all the wood when any guests were out then quietly screw it all in when they were back.
“While we love Dolly Parton, none of us are really country and western fans but the barn took on a life of its own and we started collecting western memorabilia. It is a wonderful space and when it was finished we had a huge family party, but it’s not right for weddings and will be getting an overhaul to bring it into line with what people want.”
Pinewood has the common issue of quiet mid-weeks. “We do attract corporate clients but we have struggled with schools. We spent a fortune on an email that was meant to reach every school but got very little out of it – it’s hard to reach the right person. But we have come to thinking that if mid-week isn’t to be then we’ll just use the time for constant site improvement – it’s important to keep adding and evolving to stay ahead of the huge amount of competition we now have. You can’t stand still.”
Kerry and Dave put many of their good ideas down to Bacardi. “We don’t drink a lot but when we do we have a Bacardi. This is often the time we have a good brainstorm and come up with loads of mad ideas. In the morning we scrub out the terrible ones and run with the good ones. If someone asks us, ‘how did you think of that?’ we say it came from a bottle of Bacardi! Some regular guests even turn up with a bottle to see what we’ll think up next!”
Dave builds everything himself, some structures from scratch and some that arrive in kit form. “He’s great at reusing old materials. When we replaced all the decks with concrete made to look like wood, he used the timber for some of the glamping cabins. People spend ages trying to make new wood look old, we used a pressure washer and up it went!”
Log cabins are still very much in the plan. “We will get our cabins but in the meantime we are offering quirky timber units. If they aren’t quirky in nature then we make them quirky – there’s nothing normal about us, and it works as guests come back again and again to try them all.”
Apart from Bacardi, the couple’s inspiration comes from two places: “Travel experiences from holidays we’ve been on and our own imaginations.
“We have also attended all the Glamping Shows and have kept every issue of Open Air Business since it started. We have contacted a lot of the suppliers who advertise and it’s great to read about others facing the same challenges we have, and know you’re not alone.”
Knocking down the house
On if Pinewood provides a decent income, Kerry says: “We’ve got to the point where we can now build the dream house we wanted all those years ago. We have planning for a large eco house and have demolished the bungalow – we have been glamping ourselves for two months now! Yes, Pinewood is definitely profitable; we wouldn’t have knocked down our house if it wasn’t!
“We are really proud of what we have achieved here and we have doubled the value of the property which feels great. What makes us really happy though is the people we have through the gate. We have so many repeat customers who have become friends, and it’s just wonderful seeing families grow up. We have one guest who first came here as a child – he now brings his own child!
“It’s been an adventure and we’ve come out on top, but it’s certainly aged us!”
Scarborough, YO12 5TG