This week’s Property in Profile is Kingsmuir House in Peebles, regional winner of the coveted 'Best Hospitality at a B&B' category at the annual Thistle Awards. The property itself has an interesting history; set in an acre of ground it was built in 1855 for Robert Romanes, tartan-maker for Queen Victoria at a cost of 1,194 pounds and 7 shillings. It has been both a private house, a hotel and back to a private house over many decades.
“My wife and I came up to Scotland with work and moved to Peebles in 2000. Initially we lived in a new house for a couple of years but when the Kingsmuir Hotel (as it was then) came on the market in 2004, we bought it as a dwelling rather than a hotel” says current owner Malcolm. “It was in a bit of a state! You would have wiped your feet on the way out.”
Juggling full time jobs and with a toddler in tow, Malcolm and his wife Karen spent the next eight years stripping out bad renovations and additions, knocking out walls, gradually and sympathetically putting the heart back into this building to turn it into their family home and the luxury two-bedroomed B&B that it is today.
“Karen has a fantastic eye for design and chose the fabrics and furnishings. She still works full-time in the banking industry. I could not have done this without her, we are a great team and complement each other. I’m the one who controls the day to day running of the B&B.” says Malcolm.
He does have some help from their four-legged family of Bedlington Terriers. Grandmother Morag is Head of Security while daughter Bramble looks after Customer Relations with granddaughter, puppy Agnes, as Head of Light Entertainment. Malcolm is well aware that not all guests are dog lovers, “I make sure that if you like dogs you will meet them … but if you don’t, you won’t.” They know their place!
As Malcolm likes to tell his guests when they ask how he went from working for a financial organisation to running a B&B. "At 8 years old I went on holiday to Cornwall with my parents. Coming down to breakfast and seeing all of the individual little cereal boxes on offer I knew right then and there I would really like to run a B&B one day. When we were renovating Kingsmuir House an opportunity to take voluntary redundancy came up and I went for it. That's when that early plan came into place.” Albeit without the little cereal boxes!
“When we first opened up to guests back in early 2012 we weren’t sure how well bookings would go. But to our surprise in the month of May we had surpassed our occupancy target for the whole year. We've been going from strength to strength ever since. Each year we have managed to beat our targets from the year before. It’s a great lifestyle too, meeting new people and welcoming them in with my love of cooking - what more could you wish for.”
Malcolm designed and maintains the property’s website himself, “It’s so important to keep on top of this as it’s your shop window”. The B&B has been using Freetobook as their booking engine and channel manager since March 2014. “I like Freetobook - it’s such a stable platform and I’ve never had any issues with its availability. The software is constantly being upgraded with new updates and features and the Customer Support team are terrific and very responsive, it’s a company with great customer focus and first class values.”
Almost 90 percent of this property’s bookings are direct via the website or by telephone. There are lots of return guests too, Malcolm uses freetobook’s channel connection with booking.com but manages this very effectively, limiting his available inventory by regularly closing out rooms during the busiest periods.
“I like to pay extra attention to the guest even BEFORE they arrive. Once the booking has come in, I send out the confirmation email and then I post out a much more detailed letter on thick, good quality paper highlighting local amenities and restaurants. I get great feedback from doing this, even making table bookings for guests before they arrive. It’s all about the guest’s journey, you don’t just set the standard you endeavour to exceed it.
“This year and next we are focusing our efforts on attracting those international visitors who may be thinking of making just two Scotland stops in Edinburgh and Skye. We target these visitors with messaging to say that they can enjoy all of the benefits of the Edinburgh Fringe but escape the high hotel prices, crowds and parking crisis by staying in Peebles (only 25 miles away) and using the reliable public transport between the two. We can offer the best of both worlds to these visitors as we partner up with local companies who offer walking and photography tours across the City and the Borders’ countryside. We have launched a new initiative ‘Making Memories’. For one US couple this meant organising a once-in-a-lifetime experience fishing on the River Tweed, a classic car to take them to oldest habituated house in Scotland, Traquair House to meet the Lady of the house for tea, then off in the 1955 Armstrong Sidley classic car back to Kingsmuir House… This is what I feel is great Scottish hospitality at its best… Warm, welcoming and luxury as standard."