Craigatin B&B Interview – Martin & Andrea Anderson
Owned by Martin & Andrea Anderson, Craigatin House & Courtyard is an award winning luxury boutique bed &breakfast, providing a unique blend of the traditional with the luxury of contemporary design. Standing peacefully in two acres of manicured gardens, Craigatin can be found at the northern edge of Pitlochry town, the heart of Highland Perthshire. Martin & Andrea tell us how they came to work in the hospitality industry and how they converted Craigatin from the home of a Highland Doctor to the stunning property it is today.
Can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds and how you came to work in the hospitality industry?
We lived in the Greater London area for over 20 years, Martin working as a sales director in the entertainment industry and Andrea working as an account manager for a luxury goods company.
After all the years of corporate life we both sought a change in lifestyle. Neither of us has previous hospitality experience having only worked in large company environments. The repetitive nature of corporate life, the daily commute and company politics were all beginning to take their toll, we wanted a different and better life for ourselves and own our own business. We’d had the desire to own a guesthouse/hotel business for many years and had a clear vision of how we wanted our business to look and operate having gained inspiration from our own travels.
After having searched country wide for over a year we purchased Craigatin House as a going concern in 2007. Built in the Highland Perthshire town of Pitlochry in the early 1820’s Craigatin was the home and surgery of a famous Highland Doctor.
After our purchase, we immediately set about transforming and updating Craigatin House into a boutique bed & breakfast, providing a unique blend of traditional Victorian features with contemporary, modern design.
Craigatin House has a total of 14 bedrooms, accommodating 28 guests when full. All of our bedrooms have been fully remodelled and restyled numerous times during our tenure; it’s an on-going process that never ends! All rooms have en-suite facilities with new bath/shower rooms. All rooms are individually designed; no two rooms are the same. We have invested in quality beds, carpets, fixtures and fittings throughout, delivering a quality product to the levels not normally expected in guesthouses.
In addition to refurbished rooms, we also extended the property with the building of a new large dining room and guest lounge. This new dining room has improved our public space immensely, giving guests the choice of two dining rooms that are traditional yet modern, bright, light and spacious and a delightful place to enjoy breakfast.
We were also able to add a comfortable guest lounge with views to the mountains and gardens all centered on a large log burning stove.
The business sits on a two acre plot with ample private off road parking and spacious grounds for our guests to enjoy.
After seven successful years at Craigatin, in 2014 we also purchased a second B&B in Pitlochry called Derrybeg.
Derrybeg is eight bedroom B&B that also needed a full refurbishment which we completed prior to opening in 2015.
What was the deciding factor on your choice of location? It’s simply stunning!
We carried out extensive research nationwide looking at regions like The Cotswolds, The Lake District and The South Coast. After looking at a number of properties along with accounts, it became clear that Scotland enjoys very high numbers of visitors, especially Pitlochry. With over 15 million visitors to Scotland each year and a tourism industry worth over £13 billion to the Scottish economy, Scotland has a very strong appeal to UK and international visitors alike. As Pitlochry sits at the geographic centre of Scotland offering superb transport links by road, train and air, golf courses, Whisky distilleries, an internationally famous theatre, castles, shopping and a whole range of bar and restaurants, not to mention beautiful scenery and landscape, its thankfully a very busy place year round. So with stronger visitor numbers and at that time, property prices slightly more affordable than the rest of the UK we took the plunge and bought Craigatin House.
You have a plethora of awards including Guest House of the year 2017 at the Scottish Hotel Awards – how do you intend to keep up the extremely high standards you have set yourselves?
Craigatin is a beautiful well maintained property, but it’s consistent quality of service that generates results. Connecting with customers has been the key to establishing lasting relationships and our ongoing success. We go beyond delivering accommodation and develop strong bonds with our customers. We try to provide a unique Craigatin customer experience by proactively anticipating our customer’s needs and expectations and exceeding them. To give the best experience possible, focusing on service above and before everything else.
We love what we do and our customer service goes beyond simple attention to detail; it’s about surprising and delighting and making it personal! Personal things that make a difference, like remembering guest names, homemade room biscuits, breakfast menus in your own language, premium room features like powerful showers, fluffy bathrobes, personalised welcome touches like cards, chocolates and gifts for special occasion guests, catering for specific allergy/mobility needs, suggesting itineraries and day plans, picking people up and dropping them off, all generate customer satisfaction, the Craigatin customer is King!
We strive to achieve 100% guest satisfaction with a consistent high standard of efficiency, cleanliness and quality food offering. Evidence of consistently being achieved is the feedback we receive from Tripadvisor. We have over 1560 reviews, over 93% are rated five out of five. We have won numerous industry awards for service and hospitality including the Tripadvisor Travellers Choice Award three times and their Certificate of Excellence SEVEN years in a row. We listen to our customer’s feedback and take action where we can based upon what they say. We attribute our success to a can do attitude and being onsite in both our properties daily as owners, making us available and visible to our guests.
Have you had any unusual/bizarre requests from your guests you could share with us?
- Our room was very nice but the bathroom could do with being a bit larger.
- We booked a small room as it was the cheapest on offer, however when we arrived we discovered the room was indeed small.
- We enjoyed a good nights sleep in a large comfortable bed, but it was totally different to the bed we have at home!
- We have an annual cycle race in the town, two guests this year took their expensive carbon fibre bikes to their rooms and washed their bikes post race in the bath.
- Ladies coming away on holiday and deciding it’d be the perfect time to dye their hair and use our fresh white towels to dry off the freshly dyed hair, thus ruining the towels in the process.
- “We thought the bathrobes, room umbrella, coffee mugs and shower gels we’re all complimentary”
- “Were coming on holiday with our pet hamster, we know you don’t allow pets, but would you make an exception for a hamster if we keep it in its cage”.
- An American guest once asked us if the people of Pitlochry celebrate Christmas?
- Guests providing us with detailed dietary instructions ahead of arrival, which our cook carefully prepares for only to announce at breakfast they will try the eggs, when they’re dairy free or porridge with milk when they are Lactose intolerant, or bacon & sausage when they are Vegetarians as they are all on their holidays and deserve a treat!!!
Which part of running a B&B do you find the most challenging and which part do you enjoy the most?
Dealing with the authorities and today’s business legislation is a constant challenge. Our small business is taxed, regulated, checked and monitored within an inch of its life and the onus is always on the business owner to comply or face the consequences. Administration like this takes up a lot of our time, time that would be much better spent on developing the business. Being a busy tourism town, we’ve also had increased competition from domestic property owners joining the AirBnB model, renting out their spare rooms. These “businesses” are obviously not regulated at all, pay nothing to the authorities, yet compete with us in every sense, so ‘it’s no longer a level playing field and very frustrating!
The freedom we’ve found in finally being our own bosses and in charge of our own destiny has been scary and enjoyable in equal measure. With a large team of staff supporting us in the day to day running of our two businesses we are able to enjoy more time to ourselves than we did in our previous London lifes. Pitlochry is also a seasonal market, we close both of our business and take a lot of time off over the winter months to rest and relax as well as organise and oversee annual improvements. Running a hospitality business has definitely given us the lifestyle we had hoped for.
What do you think makes you stand out over other Guest Houses in the Highlands?
We operate a strong social media strategy, keeping on top of ten social sites weekly, making good use of these excellent free tools, (we have over 5300 Facebook Followers for Craigatin!). Our efforts generate interest and engagement , letting the everyday happenings inspire the content. With social media we communicate with customers on a more informal level and take advantage of our small size, transmitting a friendlier feel.
We also communicate with customers via management of a 13,000 plus customer database that highlights key guest facts, preferences, birthdays, room requests etc. We grow engagement with regular e-newsletters to this database, highlighting improvements or “ call to action” events which always result in bookings. Special interactions keep guests coming back so we also tailor making a unique message to a more focused database of regulars giving promotional item giveaways as rewards, reminders and incentives to return.
Having a strong reactive website and online presence is absolutely vital. We’ve recently relaunched a new website attracting an impressive and growing 40,000+ unique visits per year. Our carefully crafted, multi/platform responsive website delivers detailed Craigatin information but also many collaborative suggestions for attractions, restaurants and events. Content is constantly up-dated reflecting our news, availability, specials and events. This new site is the FIFTH new redesigned website we’ve had!
We annually reinvest over 10% of turnover back into our business. For 2016/2017 significant investment was made with the complete hard landscaping of our exterior Courtyard area with new gravel borders and flagstones footpaths. We also launched the brand new website and fully refurbished three bedrooms ahead of the 2017 season.
We are 100% focused upon our customer and making Craigatin House a destination of choice for high quality accommodation, value for money, locally sourced produce and a memorable customer experience, delivered with enthusiasm & passion.
Lastly, what would be your top tips to running a successful B&B?
Take time to recruit and retain the best staff you can, nothing makes life easier than good staff!
Continually monitor income and expenditure. Were in a service led industry, but were here to make a profit. Rule #1 always spend less than you generate!
When planning, always overestimate expenses and underestimate revenues, as costs always come in greater than originally expected.
Focus on sales and marketing manically. Never become complacent, sales do not generate themselves.
Don’t discount, add value.