Having made a lifestyle change and followed their passion for all things retro, Jenni & Kevin Armstrong operate a glampsite in Suffolk with six vintage American Trailers (caravans to the British!) five Airstreams and an Avion, dating back to the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Located at an idyllic site near Saxmundham on the Suffolk Coast, they also have a classic British Cheltenham Sable caravan – of compact dimensions but deliciously cosy for two – and a campsite for retro caravans, camper vans and tents (of any age!).
Jenni explains how they came to be where they are and how Inn Style’s online booking system is proving invaluable – attracting customers, making the booking process easy for guests, enabling bookings round-the-clock and, relieving them of a great deal of administration, freeing them up to concentrate on developing their business.
How it all started
Jenni and Kevin first began renting vintage vans six years ago. Having decided to make a lifestyle change, they moved out of London, leaving their office jobs behind and moved to Dorset. They established a small glamping business, renting space on an existing campsite and started their business with three Airstream Trailers.
Although they were enjoying the new lifestyle, they quickly realised that they wanted to make changes. “Because we were operating on rented land, it never quite felt like our own business. Also, whenever there was something that needed fixing, or a customer needed some help, it was an hour round trip from where we were living. We realised that we wanted to buy our own site.”
Planning restrictions in Dorset proved to be prohibitive. “Established campsites were very expensive to buy and we realised why when we spoke to the Council Planning department. It seemed practically impossible to gain planning permission for a new site.” It became apparent that Jenni & Kevin needed to look elsewhere.
“The London market was key for us. We needed to be within a 2 – 3 hour travelling distance of the Capital, where people wanted to go on holiday and where the tourist economy was well supported and promoted. We also wanted a place where the local District Council had an understanding and supportive planning department. We found everything we needed here on The Suffolk Coast.”
Jenni & Kevin found their current site at Wardspring Farm, near Saxmundham and instantly knew that it was the right place for them. “We just loved it and knew it would be the perfect place for our business”. The first thing that they did was to check with the planning department at Suffolk Coastal District Council, to make sure that they were supportive of the plans. “It was so refreshing to find a local council who supported tourism and appreciated the benefit that we could bring to local economy. Their feedback gave us the confidence to press ahead and make the move to Suffolk”.
I wake up in the morning and it’s exciting to see if we’ve taken a booking overnight. We’d never get those customers if we didn’t offer online booking.
Jenni & Kevin took possession of the site in September 2014. They relocated their business which had grown to six vintage caravans, from Dorset and also purchased one new one in 2015. The brand new shower block and reception areas were created and the business was ready to open in May 2015.
Only in their first year of business in Dorset, did Happy Days run with a paper diary. As soon as they switched to an online booking system, life became so much easier. “It relieved us of so much admin, we now have more time to devote to running the business. I love the simplicity of it, and the fact that it just keeps running automatically in the background”. Online booking creates access to potential customers who like to plan their holidays late at night and who would never telephone at such an unsocial hour. Indeed, Inn Style’s own data shows that 20% of all bookings occur between 10pm and 8am. “I wake up in the morning and it’s exciting to see if we’ve taken a booking overnight. We’d never get those customers if we didn’t offer online booking. All the details of the booking are captured for me – I can see all of the details instantly.”
Switching to Inn Style
Happy Days originally used a different online booking system but, having discovered Inn Style, decided to make the switch in early 2016.
Inn Style has some specific functionality that Happy Days RV finds invaluable. “We wanted to have all of the vans showing on a single calendar. Our previous system couldn’t do that. Also, Inn Style allows guests to book multiple vans in the same booking. It’s a really important feature for our business”.
“With Inn Style we were able to switch to ‘Stripe’ as our payment system. It’s meant that we have got rid of our card machines and the various monthly charges and contracts that used to go with them. It’s simplified the payment process enormously”.
“Another great benefit of online booking is the fact that we can manage all of our bookings, if we’re away from the site. We can log into the system wherever we are. Inn Style is mobile friendly so we can access bookings on a tablet or phone — it’s very comforting that we know exactly what’s happening and can respond very quickly to anything that crops up”.
The Suffolk Coast
“This area has proved to be an excellent place to set up our business. We joined The Suffolk Coast Destination Management Organisation (DMO), which promotes the area to visitors looking for holidays and short breaks. It supports businesses like ourselves – promoting what we offer and also giving us access to the many visitors to thesuffolkcoast.co.uk website. It’s great to be part of a group of tourism businesses, all collectively seeking to boost the offer here in Suffolk and to show just what fabulous holidays we offer.”
The Suffolk Coast DMO also offers online search and booking with Inn Style, across all of the accommodation members. Jenni & Kevin are delighted that Happy Days RV has access to potential customers through searches on thesuffolkcoast.co.uk website too. “We’re very happy to have access to that audience. Also, because we have Inn Style on our own website and it’s the booking engine adopted by thesuffolkcoast.co.uk too, bookings through either route show instantly on the other, eradicating the possibility of a double booking”.
So to the future
With the business becoming well established and only a few vacancies remaining over the summer, Jenni and Kevin can turn their thoughts to improvements that they wish to make to the site. “We’ve just launched a great new website for Happy Days RV and the Inn Style availability calendar complements it beautifully. Confident that we’ve got a reliable, easy-to-use booking engine in place, we know that guests can secure and pay for their holidays, quickly and simply and we don’t get bogged down in admin. Consequently, we now we have the luxury of being able to spend more time looking after our guests and turning our thoughts to making the improvements that we know will attract even more bookings next year. We now have seven vintage caravans but hopefully there will be more to come!’