How the owner of Dorset House B&B, Lyn Martin, became the owner of a restaurant. They are well placed to advise on drawing up your own business plans for when you expand your own hospitality business.
The hospitality industry is extremely competitive, so how do you put yourself ahead of everyone else?
Up and down the country, owners and managers are looking for ways to increase revenue whilst simultaneously providing their guests with the ultimate experience.
The standard ones that come to mind include local partnerships, experiences, hampers… The list goes on.
But Dorset House, a five bedroom B&B in Lyme Regis, have done something a little different when it comes to expanding their hospitality business.
“We always assumed that we would develop a second business to run alongside the B&B,” said Lyn Martin, owner of Dorset House.
“We do have a little gift shop, but we’ve found that only really works over the Christmas period.”
Dorset House have won a number of awards and are very popular with people looking to holiday in Lyme Regis.
“We originally looked at trying to replicate Dorset House,” explained Lyn, “but we struggled with what a lot of B&B owners probably struggle with, which is the property prices in a seaside town.”
In a bid to keep themselves at the top of their game, Lyn and her husband Jason looked for ways they could introduce another revenue stream.
“We needed the mental stimulation,” laughed Lyn.
In the end, Lyn took inspiration from what they do best at Dorset House.
“We’re very much a food based B&B,” she said.
“It’s our breakfasts that get most of our PR and awards. It’s what we’re known for and what guests come back for, so food was always going to be a huge part of whatever we did next.”
It was their love of food that propelled Lyn and Jason to purchase Poco Pizza, a local restaurant only a “few hundred metres away” from Dorset House. The owners opened the business around the same time as Lyn was opening her B&B.
And so it was whilst taking a well earned break in Cornwall that Lyn’s search for their next business venture came to an end.
“We spotted it online whilst we were on holiday and we couldn’t believe it was up for sale, so we texted the owners because we know them quite well,” said Lyn.
“We’ve always sent a lot of our guests there and they love it.
“It’s very much aligned with our own values of quality food prepared simply and with passion, so when they decided to move on, it all just clicked into place! The timing couldn’t have been better.”
The owners of Poco Pizza were really happy their restaurant was being taken over by local people who they knew would look after the restaurant.
“We had a little get together over a coffee about how it might work,” said Lyn, ”and they were happy to take it off the market because they said they’d rather we took it on than someone they didn’t know.”
Luckily for Lyn, she said the process for buying the restaurant was a lot simpler financially than buying another property for a B&B.
“It all just fell into place and then we went away to work on our business plan,” she said.
There are many ways to expand your business, but either way, you’ll need an airtight business plan to help you succeed.
“We took our original business plan that we did for Dorset House and used that as a template for Poco Pizza,” said Lyn.
“Everyone will have some sort of business plan for their current business, so take bits from there and learn from it.”
Creating a new business plan isn’t always easy and seeking out a mentor might be beneficial.
“It takes a lot of checking and refining,” said Lyn, “even just showing it to other people helped.”
She added: “We’ve got a mentor who we’ve worked with for quite a long time now and he, coincidentally, owned restaurants back in his time.
“So we sat down with him and he checked our business plan for the restaurant. It was just really helpful. He could say ‘Oh you might need to allow a bit more for staffing’ and things like that.
“So don’t just throw it all down on paper and assume it’s right. Be prepared to work on it.”
If you’re able to find a mentor, such as another local business owner, to help you work through your plan, you’ll reap the benefits.
“I hope it’s the same for everyone else, but we’ve got a very supportive business community so everyone is very happy to offer advice,” said Lyn, “they all want to see you succeed.”
But before you start your business plan and seek help from others, it’s important to make sure your original business is ‘bulletproof’.
“We received our Hospitality Assured accreditation at the end of last year,” said Lyn.
“This means we have a really robust set of systems and processes that means we are less likely to take our eye off the ball, because we can’t afford to spend all of our time and attention on another business and let things go slack here at Dorset House.
“Dorset House is really robust and feels bulletproof.”
Lyn explained that having this strong foundation has allowed them to look further afield, expanding into other areas of hospitality with their latest business venture: Poco Pizza.
“You’ve got to consider how well your current business is set up and then look at adjacencies,” said Lyn.
“Poco Pizza was perfect because we have a big overlap in clientele. [Before we took on the restaurant] we would send our guests there and their customers would come to Dorset House, so they fit together quite nicely.”
Lyn also explained that choosing how to expand your business will depend on what your passion is.
“You’ve got to think about what you like to spend your time doing,” she said.
“We’re really passionate about food, so moving into the food arena of hospitality made sense for us.
“I’m not passionate about standing in a shop, so I wouldn’t personally choose to expand by running a gift shop. It’s about filtering through what it is you want to do; you’ll be far more successful if it’s something you are passionate about.”
As Poco Pizza is already a well established business, Lyn has a strong brand and loyal customer base ready and waiting for her to work with.
“We will keep the branding and the current customer base, but we’re going to build on and improve their marketing strategy,” said Lyn.
“[When we bought Poco Pizza] they didn’t have a website or anything like that and bookings were done on scraps of paper. So we’ve started working with Clockwork Marketing to build a website using their GuestNet template.”
Even though Lyn’s background is in brand marketing, it can be hard for small businesses to keep on top of SEO and social media. Maintaining a website with an effective marketing structure and strategy can be hard when there’s so much on your to-do list.
“The team at Clockwork Marketing are like a magic fairy,” said Lyn.
“Having designed loads of professional websites, Clockwork has the credibility and know-how to design our website, but with the GuestNet package it was affordable.”
Lyn believes that no matter how good you think you are at marketing, it’s a good idea to call in the experts.
“Marketing moves on so fast; it’s changing all the time. It’s helpful to have someone keep me on track and up to date with new developments in the marketing industry, so asking for help is a lot more sensible than trying to do everything yourself,” she said.
However you choose to expand, you also need to look at how the different branches of your business (or businesses) will work together in the long run.
“We’ll probably look at offering packages that work well for both Dorset House and Poco Pizza,” said Lyn.
“The obvious one is a dinner plus bed and breakfast,” Lyn laughed.
“We have a lot of ideas on how the two businesses will work together and the two websites will be linked too.”
For the time being, Poco Pizza will only be open in the evenings, but long-term plans include opening the restaurant for lunch and maybe even breakfast.
“Our expansion is very much a multi-stage approach,” said Lyn.
If you have been considering expanding your own hospitality business, you’ve got to be prepared for a lot of hard work.
2022 will be a busy year for Lyn, Jason and the teams at both Dorset House and Poco Pizza, but their hard work will pay off.
“You have to be really open minded,” said Lyn.
“We didn’t expect to be running a pizzeria, but if you have an open mind, consider different things and work through a plan, it will help you figure out what will work for you.
“And don’t give up. We almost gave up because it took so long to find the right plan for us and we never thought it would happen, but we got there in the end.”
Consider what you are passionate about and how it can work alongside your current business. With a bit of perseverance you’ll soon be running your own mini business empire.
Lyn said: “Persistence is key and eventually you will find the right plan for you.
“Stay positive and keep trying.”
LYN’S TOP TIPS:
- Make sure your current business has solid foundations and strong operating systems
- Consider what you are passionate about before you decide on how to expand
- Keep an open mind when considering different business ideas
- Find a mentor from the same sector as your new business venture
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help with your marketing strategy
- Ask other business owners for advice
- Stay positive and don’t give up
- Don’t assume your business plan will be right the first time. Be prepared to keep refining it.