Pods with a difference in the centre of Cornwall.
From an overgrown plot to luxury bespoke pods and lodges, Jason and Selina Ward planned their glamping operation around their own high expectations. The popularity of this Cornish lakeside site has put off all plans to diversify its offering into weddings and retreats as holidaymakers keep them too busy! We talk to Jason.
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
My wife and I have always run our own businesses from bed manufacturing and selling mail order to opening 10 children’s indoor play centres throughout the UK.
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
We moved to Cornwall in 2012 and knew we wanted to offer some sort of holiday accommodation having run a successful holiday let from our house in Sussex.
We found some land that had planning for seven lodges but cash was very tight following the purchase so we opted for pods. After a stay in a pod, which was very small and provided nothing, i.e. no beds, toilet or kitchen, we worked with a lodge company to design a modular, cross shaped structure that could house a double bed, two single beds, a kitchen and a shower/toilet room. This has now become one of their best sellers!
How did you research the business before entering it?
For research, as mentioned above, we stayed in a pod which we didn’t enjoy too much but did a lot of research online to find a company that could help with a better design and also looked at highly rated glampsites.
We had to move reasonably quickly and we were open within six months of purchasing the land. We opened with four pods, the beauty of which was they were pre-assembled and forklifted into place ready for the interior fit out.
Tell us about your location and site
When we first saw our site it was totally overgrown having not been touched for 20 years and so it was quite difficult to see its full potential. We actually walked away at first and revisited about three months later following the collapse of another purchase of an old farm with outbuildings. The plus point of waiting three months was that we could negotiate a better price!
Our site is located five miles from the beautiful Cornish town of Falmouth (where we live) and has nine acres of woodland and lakes. It is also close to the stunning Helford estuary which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. As we are located smack bang in the middle of Cornwall we are a maximum of one hours’ drive from Falmouth but with a huge amount of beaches and attractions within 30 minutes’ drive.
How did you tackle getting planning?
When we bought our land it already had planning for seven lodges so that was straightforward. Since building our first seven pods we have gained planning for six lakeside lodges, which was a long and costly business, taking 18 months to achieve and costing £35k because of planning consultants, ecologists and numerous surveys including bats, flooding, dormice etc. etc.
How did you finance the project?
We financed our project with funds left over from the sale of our previous house, but as ever we ran out of money and had to borrow from family to complete the build. Following a few years of trading and gaining a decent financial history we could obtain a mortgage and pay our borrowings back.
What glamping accommodation do you offer and why did you choose it?
We offer pod accommodation and recently added the first of six lakeside lodges. When we were deciding what sort of accommodation we wanted we just thought what would we want? Probably the most annoying aspect of camping is not having your own toilet/shower so we designed our pods with them in. This also helps the running of your site as you don’t have to clean a toilet block twice a day.
Our new lakeside lodge created by Ecospace Studios is a different beast and cost three times as much to build as our pods but is worth it as it gives our guests different options. The company is wonderful to work with and their aftersales service is second to none.
We are open all year round so we obviously need accommodation that is warm in the winter thus we also chose the fantastically well insulated and double glazed pods.
How did you work out your brand and how do you publicise yourself?
We engaged with a web designer who also worked in branding. Our logo and colours are influenced by designer Orla Kiely.
We are listed on a number of glamping directory sites including Cool Camping, Go Glamping and Love Glamping as well as Airbnb, Expedia and booking.com. Booking.com takes 18 per cent of the fee but is far and away where we get our most sales. Of course we’d prefer people to book directly via our website and in the summer holidays we only take bookings through it. We use the other platforms for the shoulder months.
How would you describe your ethos and unique selling point?
Our ethos is very similar to the overall glamping ethos in that we offer a wonderful outdoor experience along with a warm and comfortable indoor experience. Guests don’t need to bring anything with them as we supply everything – bedding, towels, pots, pans, cutlery, crockery and cleaning products. We also aim to be as eco-friendly as we can possibly be.
How did you choose your interior decoration?
My wife has a very good eye for interiors and we have done up a number of houses over the years. We have tried to keep things earthy and use good quality yet affordable bedding featuring an Orla Kiely print, replacing it every couple of years.
What challenges have you faced?
Our biggest challenge has always been funding; banks are very reluctant to lend against a new business without a proven track record.
What are your plans for next season?
Our plans usually include building during the winter and we hope to add two more lodges this year.
Describe your average day mid-season
An average day consists of arrival on site about 10.30am and cleaning, gardening and general maintenance and upkeep of the site.
We don’t welcome people personally as we felt that when on holiday you don’t really want to spend time chatting after a long drive. Instead we text customers with a code for a key lock on the door of their pod.
Do you enjoy the business and why?
We love our business; it feels like our home and everything we do to our site feels like making a beautiful home for our guests.
What are you most proud of?
We are very proud of getting the site open in the short time we did. When we started there was nothing there, no water, electric and nine acres of overgrown land. It was a huge effort and looking back we are not sure how we achieved what we did in such a short amount of time.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We started out thinking we would offer weddings and yoga retreats but the holiday side of things has been so successful we have just stuck with that.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Think about where you would want to stay and in what accommodation, as well as what your needs would be and what you would expect to find there. Be prepared for a long drawn out process if you are trying to gain planning permission and also be prepared to run out of cash when you are building as things always cost more than you think. The good news is that it always ends up more wonderful than you thought and is always worth the battle.