Fields Lodge Bed and Breakfast in Pembrokeshire is located on the Coast Path on the edge of a very quiet village yet only minutes away from the town of Milford Haven. Owner Jayne Hancock tells us all about what influenced her decision to open up her home as a B&B and why she believes social media is vital when staying in touch with guests.
What influenced your decision to open up a Bed & Breakfast?
I had taken voluntary redundancy from my career in one of the big four banks. All I knew was that I wanted to work for myself after being in such a huge corporation for so many years, I felt I wanted some autonomy. Often through my working life, friends when they came to dine, would say I should open the house up as a bed & breakfast as my cooking was fabulous (apparently) and the layout of the house did lend itself to being a bed & breakfast. Of course, working long hours and being away from home for much of the time, it was obviously impossible, so, when I was lucky enough to receive VR, I sat down and looked at the viability of opening a B&B. I did quite a lot of research as to what was available, what was needed and took advice from many different people and organisations before I decided it was worth taking a risk and investing in doing all the work required to achieve what I had in mind.
What was the main factor that influenced your choice of location?
My location was easy-it was home. It’s on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and is named on the ordinance survey maps, so I’m very easy to locate for walkers. I did toy with changing the name of my house, as, over the phone, when you say ‘Fields Lodge’, many people believe I am saying ‘Seal’s Lodge’ and then when trying to spell it, they think my ‘F’, is an ’S’ and still the confusion continues! I end up saying, ‘Field- like a cow stands in”…I’d be pleased to find another way of explaining it! However, as the house name is on the official Ordinance Survey maps, I decided I’d better leave well alone. It’s a talking point and the fuss of the name does help to break the ice! We are based on the very edge of a totally uncommercialised village, with one pub, a post office a bus stop and a church. The lane I am on is a no-through road so it’s lovely and quiet and remote, yet only a 5 minute drive to the town and rail links so it’s the best of both worlds.
Did you encounter any start up problems?
My word! I should say! If I had known in advance what I was going to face I really don’t think I would have started. It’s a classic case of a good job you don’t know what’s around the corner. Initially, I had a builder come around and advise me on what works needed to be done and a price was set for the required works. Only once we were too far committed did it become apparent that I would need commercial electricity and water feed, additional drainage and a new heating and hot water system! Had I have had to factor in this additional cost at the outset, I don’t believe I would have started, as I said but I am pleased in the way things have turned out, so it’s good I didn’t know. It is true though-whatever job you are doing, multiply the cost of the job by 2 and then you will be at the actual cost by the time you have finished!
What a great end to the year you had winning Pembrokeshires Finest Breakfast and Bed & Breakfast of the year at the Welsh Hospitality Awards – in your opinion what do you think made you stand out from the competition?
I am delighted to have won such awards, it’s really great to have tangible recognition for all the efforts that go into providing a great stay for guests. It’s fabulous for my small team of staff to have such recognition. My aim is to provide guests with the best of Pembrokeshire-people, food and products. I have a fabulous team of ‘angels’ that help me run the B&B, they are a credit to Pembrokeshire and are all local people who can then help guests make the most of their stay. We offer bespoke holiday plans to those guests wanting a bit more direction. We pride ourselves on doing a great job of the ‘Bed’ and ‘Breakfast’ parts of the stay. We have fabulous comfy beds with great bed linen and our breakfasts are really something to set you up for the day. The biggest plus of our breakfasts, apart from the delicious local produce, is that everything is cooked on my 1950’s Aga-still going strong. It’s a fabulous way to cook food, keeping all the nutrients inside and creating a much deeper flavour, rather than the food being ‘blow dried’ like a hairdryer in an electric fan oven. I have tremendous respect for anyone on a food journey of their own, and as such, like to have as much on offer as possible-be it low carb, vegan, paleo or banting diets, I will always try to accommodate. Personally, I prefer to avoid gluten and sugar, and as such, I like to ensure I have sugar free jams, sauces and cereals available, all of which I make myself. I make several different types of bread both wheat and wheat free and although my kitchen is not wheat free I do have an area and utensils dedicated to gluten free. Guests pretty much have the run of the house, they have their own entrance so can come and go as they please, enjoy the garden with a complimentary throw to keep their legs warm on cooler nights, whilst watching the sun go down- we have some fabulous sunsets here, being as far west as you can practically get, it’s a sight to behold and will rival many sunsets I have seen abroad.
I love your own branded toiletries in the guest bathrooms – what other ‘little extras’ are you able to offer your guests?
I love our branded toiletries. I commissioned a ‘lemongrass’ oil, after testing a few different oils, as I think this suits both male and female and is such an invigorating smell, it really wakes you up in the morning when you’re under one of our power showers! They are hand made locally, only a few miles away and are certified organic and use pure aromatherapy oils. They really are a nice luxury to start the day and the little Welsh Dragons that we have as the hand soap are always guaranteed to raise a smile on the guests’ face. The complimentary robes and slippers complete the feel of being pampered – you can even pretend you’re in a spa! We also have supplies of pretty much any type of toiletry that a guest may forget – toothpaste, toothbrush, hairbrush, nail file, deodorant, hair gel-the list goes on. We also have binoculars for guest to use to watch either the birds in the garden or watch the ships coming in up the harbour and if they want to sit in the garden on chillier days we have blankets and throws they can pick up on their way out to keep them warm or take on a picnic. We have plenty of walks printed out that guests can borrow when ready to explore further afield and I probably could rival the local library on the amount of local history books I have here for guests to lose themselves in, if local history is their thing. It goes without saying that technology is important and so we have charging points in each room for phones and other devices and we have blue tooth speakers if guests wish to play some music and of course, free wi-fi right throughout the house.
Is the use of social media important to you?
Social media is vital I believe to staying in touch with guests. Infact, I have just been on a course this week to keep me up to date with trends. We are across quite a few of the main platforms and to make it easier for guests, we have created a ‘Social Wall’ on our website, which pulls together all of our platforms on one page so guests only have to look here to get a good feel of what’s going on in Fields Lodge life, Pembrokeshire, events and offers. It saves them trailing through all the different sites individually as for me each platform offers something different. Facebook is more general, twitter is more ‘in the moment’ instagram is about lovely food and scenes and pinterest is more ideas for things to do, so, across them all it gives a great feel for what we can offer as a holiday or business stay for potential guests. I love it, and although working for yourself can be a solitary thing at times, I never feel alone as I am always having interaction over one platform or another, so I always feel as though I’m having a chat to guests. It’s a great way of getting feedback and gaining advice – for instance, I want to change the colour of the house this year as my new signage just won’t look right on the present colour. I’m at a loss as to what colour to paint it, and so I’ve put a shout-out on social media for some colour suggestions, so I shall wait and see what the consensus is and take it from there. Many heads are always better than one!
How important do you think online booking platforms are? How do they help or hinder your business?
I can’t see, in this day and age without online booking platforms, that I could survive as a business. The world runs on the internet these days and people are increasingly wanting their desires satisfied in that moment. If they can’t book online straight away, then they’ll just go to the next name on the list, it’s a simple as that and I can’t see that trend reversing any time soon. Across countries, different booking platforms have preference in different countries and so I utilise many third party online booking agents as they have the time and finances to advertise in all these different countries. By using them, I do get a lot of traffic from overseas guests, plus it gives the guest a sense of security too. I have to admit that like many others, I feel the ‘hit’ of the commission charged from the bookings, but I’d rather be full and pay commission than have empty rooms. I keep an eye on my own SEO to maintain my own website and my own online booking platform as high as I can to maximise bookings coming direct, but I accept I will never outrank the ‘big boys’!
Lastly, what would be your key piece of advice to anybody thinking about starting up a B&B?
My key piece of advice on starting up is to really think about how much and what type of interaction you want with guests. Are you a very sociable being? Will you be in your element with guests coming in and out of your home when you’re sitting watching TV? Or you’re eating tea and are you happy to have a chat each time this happens? 4 rooms, means 4 different times of interruption, perhaps within one meal or one TV programme. Or will you be happier if guests come and go in peace, with an agreement you are always on hand should they need you? To discover what type of person you really are-not just for one day but for 365 days of the year is one of the most important things to find out about yourself, as the reality of being ‘on call’ 24 hours a day, 365 days a year can sometimes be a shock. I had a friend who opened a B&B and was the former-she thought she was a really chatty, friendly person (which she was) and her guests came through the front door and had to pass her living room each time they came and went. Initially, she thought it was great, she had chats with everyone each and every time, but over the course of a year or 2, she discovered that it wasn’t right for her and has ultimately now closed her B&B as her house layout wouldn’t allow for any different entry system. Me, on the other hand, after years myself as a traveller within my banking career, I always hated having to make conversation when I didn’t want to, with my hosts, so I chose to have a separate entrance for my guests, so that they may come and go as they please without feeling uncomfortable about disturbing me. They all know where I am if they need me, but the place is theirs. I find that I have guests stay that like that level of interaction. I can’t say I have any guests that like the really chatty option, but I guess they pick that up from my website and so my website is doing a great job of delivering the right guests for the type of B&B I have – those that like the high level of interaction will probably find a B&B that is more suited to them! Bottom line is though, if you think you’ll like running a B&B, then you probably will-your gut instinct is a great feel to follow.