SHOWCASE – UNIQUE HOME STAYS
We spoke with Sarah Stanley, Managing Director of Unique Home Stays. Sarah has become a very successful entrepreneur since starting Unique Home Stays just over a decade ago. The company specialises in luxury private home accommodation, with more than 140 in 14 countries across the world. We spoke to Sarah about her journey, challenges and successes with managing this fantastic company…..
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Online store: www.oxfam.org.uk
Album: Jim Croce – You don’t mess around with Jim
Book: The Richest man in Babylon
Restaurant: Asquiths in Lostwithiel
1. What is the Unique Home Stays story? What inspired you to start your business?
Unique Home Stays is dedicated to coordinating the ultimate in ‘Luxury Private House Accommodation’, offering guests access to some of the most luxurious private houses worldwide.
Twelve years ago, on returning to my native Cornwall in the UK after an extended period away travelling to many different countries – working in the hospitality industry and being on the receiving end of much dubious ‘hospitality’ myself – I had an extremely clear vision of what constituted good hospitality. I had also identified that there was a huge gap in the UK accommodation market for unique luxury private house accommodation; accommodation where discerning travellers from all over the world could experience exclusive, real homes that provided a real ‘experience’. I had a mind over-flowing with ideas of unique ways to provide luxury accommodation to travellers the world over and I had also become a mother to three and needed to find a vocation that fitted with the demands of parenting.
2. How long has the journey been?
Just over ten years…but in real terms the journey literally began with the seeds sown in my childhood growing up on a traditional Cornish farm where genuine warmth and hospitality was extended to everyone who walked in the door. Travelling around the world and living in Australia for twelve years, as well as hosting friends and family in my own home in the UK, led to a realisation that there was a niche in the market.
3. What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
Keeping ahead of the competition, pioneering new ground and remaining unique. I also love the freedom it provides myself and my family.
4. What has been your biggest challenge?
Unique Home Stays has undergone a process of continuous evolution since it began in 2001. The challenges are many and varied – I started the company from scratch with just £500 in the bank. I had lots of self-belief, a sound work ethic and great determination but no tangible experience! Starting Unique Home Stays also coincided with some terrible international events including 9/11, which heralded a downturn in the economy. Looking back, I was rather optimistic!
I had to find the right homes with the right owners to make the company work. I wanted ‘Unique’ to be at the core of everything that I did. I noticed that other accommodation websites all seemed to use a system of grading and decided from the outset that stars and diamonds were not for me – ticking forms did not appeal to me as a way of ensuring that all Unique Home Stays would be, well ‘Unique’!
Web-sites were not what they are now, and from the outset, I did not want to go down the traditional route of accommodation brochures – I wanted something that could be dynamic and change to stay fresh and relevant. I knew that I wanted a web-based enterprise – finding a web developer who knew what he was doing was key. I took a risk on a young consultant and never looked back.
I continue to invest heavily in developing the website to keep pace with emerging technologies and to keep it interesting and inviting. As the company grew, I knew that I would need to find the right staff – ideally they would need the same attitude and passion that I have for homes, luxury service and a similar vision. I have now assembled a team of professional and enthusiastic people on whom I can rely and whom I know project the image of the company that I want the world to see. Looking forward, having turned my initial £500 into a multi-million pound enterprise, and with bookings up by 48% and revenue growth of 40% despite the economic downturn, the challenge to stay ahead of the competition and to be a leader in the industry remains a great motivator for me.
5. Being a mum in business is tricky, what tips do you have for all those mums out there trying start a business from home with toddlers running around?
- Get the family on board – the more support from family members the better.
- Planning and preparation is of vital importance.
- Remember to make time for family time: It can be easy to become so embroiled in the day to day running of your business – especially when things first take-off – that you lose sight of the reason why you elected to run a business from home in the first place!
6. What advice would you give to someone thinking about or just starting out in business?
- Research, Research, Research
- Trust your instincts; stay positive and maintain a sense of humour
- Keep the business fresh and understand your market and the trends
- Take advice from people you trust and respect and ideally from people who have been where you are now
- Understand your business USPs
- Find something that you genuinely love and are passionate about but remain objective and realistic; always remember to focus on running a business, not maintaining a hobby
- Don’t over stretch yourself financially
- Find a good mentor – consider the advice then make the right decision for your business
- Make the most of the internet
- Learn to use the media to your advantage
- Work hard
7. Where do you see your business in 5 – 10 years’ time?
Our long-term aim is to continue the expansion of the business, inviting only the most unique luxury private houses worldwide to join our portfolio. In ensuring we keep our standards high and our properties exclusive, and in exceeding expectations at every turn, we have forged a reputation as the luxury accommodation provider and we are confident that we will emulate the success that we’ve had within the UK on a global scale.
8. Any other information or details you might like to add?
Believe in what you do and trust your gut instinct
Company: Unique Home Stays
Website link: www.uniquehomestays.com
Facebook link: www.facebook.com/uniquehomestays
Twitter link: @uniquehomestays