The Extra Mile – Mark Godfrey – Top Tips for Turning a Business Around
Written by Tracey Duke, Photography by Pip Andersen
Deep in the heart of Devonshire countryside, just 20 mins from Exeter, lies the hidden gem that is The Deer Park Country House. If you haven’t visited recently, then you’ve missed a treat of a transformation. The original house, dating back to 1755, was built to entertain and impress and boy does it do that now! With over a million pounds recently invested, this stunning building now plays host to some of the most impressive, beautiful weddings and events; over delivering in every possible way.
But it wasn’t always this way. Just a few short years ago, the hotel was on its knees with a very uncertain future ahead.
Fresh from the Christmas and New Year break, I caught up with Mark Godfrey; the man at the helm of the team behind the transformation, to find out exactly what it takes to turn a business around and to learn of his top tips for doing so.
Mark, you’ve done an incredible job here at the Deer Park. I was here a couple of years ago with the 373 Group, at one of their awards nights when I heard you speak for the first time. I remember sitting exactly where we are now in the drawing room, and getting goosebumps hearing about what you’ve done here. Right from the start it was apparent that you’re a man who knows what he’s doing and it’s a pleasure to be here today to delve a little deeper into your story. So tell me Mark; how did you do it? How did you turn a business that was on its knees, into the magnificent experience that guests can immerse themselves in today?
Thank you, Tracey! I think firstly that it always helps if you have solid knowledge of the business you’re trying to turn around, but the tips I’m going into here can be used in any business.
Understand the key reason the business is failing
If we look at the Deer Park, the key reason it was failing is that it was trying to be all things to all people. If you try and please everybody, you’re going to fail. We had to give this business direction. We had to realise what the main opportunity was going to be, and when we’d worked that out, we were able to focus all our energy on that one market; weddings. Over four or five years, we have now taken this business from 20 weddings a year to 120 a year.
Knowing why it’s failing is crucial, but so is putting it right it’s all about knowing the opportunity and having a clear direction of where your business needs to go to.
Create a vision. Make it wow. Make it different.
You have to find unique selling points that are over and above what your competitors are doing. Hotels are a competitive market; there are more hotels per capita in the UK than probably any other country in the world. There are hotels all over the place, so we need to stand out.
It’s the little touches that make all the difference; the elegant Italian garden outside the restaurant is a magical place to enjoy champagne and canapés before a celebration. There’s a fabulous hand-carved swing seat from a great company called Sitting Spiritually with a beautiful Voysey heart cut into the back of it. It looks stunning in wedding photos and it’s completely unique.
We’ve gone from strength to strength over the last few years, partly as a result of the renovations and additions we have made to the estate. Most recently we have built a beautiful luxury thatched tree house; the first in Devon. For a bride, what could be better than spending her wedding night in a fairy-tale thatched treehouse. It has a roll-top bath, a wood burning stove, a round bed and a balcony overlooking the valley with breathtaking views. It’s stunning! It’s exactly where you want to be. The beauty of it is that it’s away from the house, so you can say goodbye to all your guests – wave them off at midnight or 1am, before meandering down the path lit by twinkling candles, to your heaven of a tree house. Bliss!
So, have a vision, make it wow, and make it exciting. But you also need to tell everyone about your vision. You can’t keep it to yourself. Your whole team need to be on-board for the entire journey, so they understand the vision too; they are your voice piece. You have to articulate it clearly so they share your excitement in every step.
One of the best quotes about our Weddings Manager, Sophie is from a bride who said, “Sophie you’re more excited about my wedding than I am!”
So if you’re getting that feedback, you’re excited aren’t you! You’re on board and part of the vision.
Write a business plan and write it with passion and belief
Make it challenging but realistic. You don’t want to set yourself up for a big fall. You want to grow the business slowly and build solid foundations. You don’t want failures in year one and two… or ever(!); you want small steps and fabulous successes that you can celebrate.
So, the business plan has to be written in detail. You’ve really got to understand your business, know what the key drivers are and how you’re marketing it. In today’s digital world, and my God it’s moving so quickly, you’ve got to be so on it in terms of social media and how you’re getting your message out. You’re building your channel; your own media station. That’s how you build your customer base and get them through the door.
Hotels and hospitality; we’re a people business. We’re all about our people, just like every business should be. Unless you’ve got the right people, the business won’t work. You’ve got to get rid of the bad apples.
Everyone has to share the passion. They need a good dose of drive and commitment, loyalty, trust. All of these things are so important.
When you’re turning a business, there are some big decisions to be made. One of the reasons CEOs fail is because they don’t tackle some of these harder issues; mostly, people issues. If you’ve got people in the business and they’re not on the bus with you, get them off the bus quickly. Generally, they’ll be as happy as you are at the outcome. I mean, I’ve still got people who interact with me on Facebook and social media and these are people I’ve had to lose along the way. But if you lose them for the right reasons and help them with their next moves, they’ll be your friends for life. You never know, you might find a way to work together in the future.
You’ve got to do it properly, but you need people on that bus who are as excited as you are about the journey. The exciting thing with business is that there’s never a destination that you arrive at; you’re constantly travelling, so you need that bus to be happy. Recruit the best you can afford and take them on that journey with you.
And treat your staff right. Give them the opportunities to see other worlds and to grow. Send them to Paris, reward them for great work and open doors for them. Look after them. If you do, they’ll look after the business, because if people love what they do and feel valued, it will come back to you tenfold. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing your team grow.
Value and respect your staff. Set the bar high and challenge them; let them prove themselves. Stretch their targets and reward them with something they love.
Win people’s hearts
You’ve got to win people’s hearts. You’ve got to act positively, embrace your local community, win awards, get in the media. You have to be ultra-positive. You have to be the go-to person, the expert, and do great things. Every single customer has to feel loved. They’ve got to walk in to your business and love the passion, love what’s going on and leave wanting to come back, and most importantly – tell everyone about it!
Watch the pennies.
Obviously business is also about the financials; look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. We try not to let the bottom line drive the business and certainly we don’t want accountants running our business because they don’t know how to run hotels. Having said that, the numbers are important and you have to keep your eye on them. Control your costs and win sales. P&L’s are important. Balance sheets are important. There’s a time and a place for business reviews.
You’ve got to share the success.
You’ve got to be generous with your team. Build pride and passion into each employees attitude. They’ve got to feel part of the success. It’s one team – one dream. Certainly, everyone here at the Deer Park really feels part of the family; we all feel proud of what’s been achieved. Every single person in the business makes suggestions, comes up with ideas and does things without me knowing – taking ownership. Most of the time it’s all about going the extra mile and I think that’s how businesses succeed; with everyone rowing together in the same direction.
Under promise, over deliver.
Gifting is seriously part of our business; everybody leaves this property with some sort of gift. We had this guy in for breakfast this morning and he’s walked away with one of our sporting memorabilia books; it’s a fabulous coffee table book and he’s blown away by it. Everyone leaves with something.
If you come here in summer and wander around the walled garden, then you’ll leave with a cucamelon plant, a lemongrass plant and in the future – a pineapple plant (watch this space). We love giving things away because people will remember it. Go the extra mile, because happy customers spread the love. That’s why every wedding show round leaves with a goody bag. And the goody bag isn’t just a bag full of brochures. The goody bag will have some samples of Deer Park gin made from apple and fennel in the walled garden, a bottle of our homemade apple juice made with apples picked with love by all the team here when we did our apple picking staff social. They’ll always leave with something with meaning.
The Deer Park truly is a fabulous venue and the team here at Grow, are huge fans. The enthused, happy team always deliver and then some! Thank you Mark for your time! As always, it’s been a pleasure.
Follow Mark @GodfreyAdamson and keep up to date with news from The Deer Park @DeerParkHotel