Michael and Christine bought their property in Bury St Edmunds 15 years ago but it was around 9 years ago they decided to set up and run a B&B business from there. It was Christine, a talented floristry teacher with Chelsea Gold under her belt, who had gone back to floristry to do more specialized accreditation for weddings, suggested opening up the rooms for wedding guests. “Well it took off like a rocket! We so enjoyed it and we still do!” says Michael.
“We don't run it … it runs us – is what we always say about our B&B business. And the key to our success? That success is not a necessity therefore no pressure, we really enjoy it,” he continues. (Michael and Christine are very modest about this success given TripAdvisor ranks them as Number 1 out of all of the B&B businesses in Bury St Edmunds area.)
“Our visitors fall mostly into two camps; the solo business traveler who might regularly return for work and those UK and international ‘staycationers’ looking to rest and relax for a couple of nights. We have quite a few repeat visitors who treat their 3-4 night stay as their own personal retreat, enjoying the peace and tranquility the gardens provide.
"We inherited the three acre paddock as part of the property purchase. Over the years we have stripped it right back apart from the mature trees which have been there for hundreds of years. Bit by bit we have designed and created the gardens – they are a real draw for guests. We even have a couple who are entomologists who stay with us every year to study the tiny moths that live in the heathlands around Suffolk. They set up camp for a week or so with their microscopes, no I am not telling you which room!
"We first opened up our gardens to visitors (and not just our B&B guests) as part of a local church event. It was during this that a couple of folk came by to introduce themselves as scouts for the National Garden Scheme and invited us to be included. We have participated in this several times each year for the last six years, on a sunny day we can have up to 200 visitors to our gardens!”
Michael and Christine have high occupancy across their four bedrooms with more than 80% of their average revenue from direct (commission free) bookings via their property’s website and telephone. Channel connections with booking.com and Expedia bring in around 8% and 4% respectively. They also use freetobook’s payment system Stripe.
“We joined freetobook back in 2014 having tried out so many other booking systems including Welcome Systems, Queensborough and Eviivo. Freetobook’s booking engine is free with additional ‘bolt on’s’ like the channel connections as extra but what we can say wholeheartedly is that freetobook is the perfect system at very little cost. How can I be so sure? In a past life I tested new management systems."