The Bear Trail….. Dare to Bear!
Written by Tracey Duke, Photography by Pip Andersen
In a world focused on image, the latest technology and meeting deadlines, there’s something incredibly liberating about the idea of getting outdoors, letting loose, getting really muddy and having a whole load of fun in the process…..
The Bear Trail, a muddy adventure trail, located just 20 mins outside of the city, is not only the best new party destination for kids in the know, it’s also attracting many of the region’s corporate high flyers who are closing laptops, diverting calls and heading out for some good old-fashioned, down and dirty, team building.
Our Editor in Chief, Tracey Duke, caught up with founder Ben Jordan earlier this month, to talk team building, partnerships and the importance of investing in yourself.
Ben, I’m so pleased to finally be here chatting with you. You’ve had an incredible start for the Bear Trail with numerous prestigious awards already under your belt. We’ll move onto that in a moment, but for now, let’s jump back in time and take a look at how your journey began.
For sure. So after leaving University I joined the army where I was dealing with lots of soldiers in many different situations, training them to get the best out of themselves.
The whole military experience really kicked me into gear and got me into working with people. I found myself really enjoying that side of things and it’s something we focus on here today.
When I left the army, I was kind of at a loss for what to do. My first project was the renovation of a property in Yorkshire which I did up using YouTube tutorials to learn the different aspects of the renovation. It was a challenge, but the house was amazing when we finished!
For the last 10 – 15 years, I’d always wanted to have my own business. I’ve gone through about 12 different business plans ranging from a golf driving range to chicken farming. I almost signed on the dotted line with the driving range, but it fell through at the last minute; a clause was dropped in which would have put us in a very vulnerable position.
I remember driving my then girlfriend mad; looking at everything as a potential business opportunity and writing business plans for them. Whilst I went through a lot of ideas, the one I couldn’t get away from was the thinking around technology and the negative effect it’s having on children’s lives.
Technology is amazing, it’s fascinating and opens so many doors, but we need to balance it with what we used to do as kids; running, jumping, climbing up trees, falling out and hurting your knee whilst you’re doing it. There are so many life lessons that children aren’t really learning because they are so immersed in technology; it’s only going to get worse. I’m probably just as bad though; I can go on Facebook and easily waste half an hour. I dread to think of the amount of time I’ve spent on social media over the last couple of years and what I could have learnt, achieved and done in that time.
We live in a generation where we remember how the old way was and what it was like to play outdoors and build dens with your mates. It’s so different now; technology is creeping in as early as 2 or 3 years old. The idea is to provide a healthy balance between learning about technology, because it’s vital in life, but also provide opportunities for outdoor play. I really believe in that.
It made a big impact on me when a 50 seater bus drove past whilst I was writing the business plan for The Bear Trail; every child on the bus was sat staring at a screen.
I remember being on a school bus as a kid and my favourite part of the day was leaning over the seats to chat to my mates, getting shouted at by the driver to face the front, playing slaps, selling sweets and all that kind of stuff. Kids are missing out on so much of their childhood now and seem to find it difficult to interact with each other face to face. We need to put that right and find a balance.
I get that and I can also see how, as a culture, we’re not giving children the opportunity to problem solve. We do tend to wrap them up in cotton wool when it comes to safety, but actually are we doing them an injustice? As you say, when you fall over and hurt yourself, you need to be able to know how to deal with that. The Bear Trail approach reminds me a lot of rugby and the mindset behind that; yes, you might get a knock, but you have to deal with it and get on with it. These are really vital life lessons.
The thing is, we’re constantly making risk assessments. When you open a door, your subconscious mind is making an assessment as to whether that door is going to swing back and hit you. If you have no experience of a door swinging back and hitting you in the head then, when you walk into the real world and it hits you on the head, it’s going to hit you really hard. So if you don’t have those little falls out of a tree, if you don’t get a bit of mud in a friend’s eye, how are you going to learn to understand that it can hurt them? They need those experiences to learn that next time you maybe need to throw mud in a different place!
I completely agree; that’s a whole conversation in its own right! Ok, so going back to your days in the army now, you’re going to have faced some challenges there. What was the biggest challenge and how did you get over it? Was there a moment when you felt, ok there’s the reference point, now I know I can go on and do anything? Did you have that moment?
So we’re trained, in the military, with the mindset that an 80% perfect plan today, is better than 100% perfect tomorrow.
A lot of the time, when you have a problem in front of you, if you have all the time in the world you could probably come up with a perfect solution. The reality is that by the time you come up with the perfect solution, the situation has changed. So we used to have an expression in the army “No plan survives the first contact” Essentially that means that, despite all the nice planning you’ve done, as soon as that round comes down on you, everything goes out the window and the plan changes.
So it’s working with the mindset that whatever comes at you is solvable and that any decision is better than no decision. The important thing is that at you decide to do something.
That mindset really helped me when I was setting up this place; I’d just take the information in front of me, evaluate it, go with it and if the situation changed, try again.
In reality, there’s no difference between the military and business world. Whatever your mission or vision statement for the company is, it’s one and the same thing.
It’s exactly the same with communications skills. Whether on the front line or in business, your message needs to be clear. It doesn’t matter what the product is.
Again another deep talking point! Ok Ben let’s talk a little about the Bear Trail; you’ve had an amazing 18 months during which time you’ve scooped numerous awards, most recently winning Best Party Venue by Primary Times. You’ve also been voted runner-up for Best Family Attraction, Best Outdoor Play Activity Centre and have been declared Overall Runner-up in the entire competition. That’s pretty incredible given that you’re such a young company. Tell me a little about how its development began.
So when I set up the business, I had been repping around the South West selling tractor parts. It was a great job with prospects and just about everyone told me not to leave. I think that many people have a fear of failure. When I decided to hand my notice in, everyone, even some of my family members, voiced their concerns. I knew though that the only way of doing it and getting the business off the ground, was to hand my notice in and just get on with it. If you’ve got nowhere to go and your back is against the wall, you work your hardest to make sure it works. If I’d have had a solid job and I was trying to do this on the side, it just wouldn’t have worked. If I wasn’t here 24/7, it wouldn’t have worked because the only person who was going to care about it as much as I do, was me. You just commit and go.
And what about challenges? There must have been a few along the way?
One of the biggest challenges I faced was running out of money with a site full of diggers and six workmen. The bank loan had taken an extra four weeks longer to come through because we had to transfer the land into the business and then we needed a further survey. The delay meant that I had to find some money to bridge the gap until the loan came in whilst all the while trying to keep everyone motivated without letting them know we had no money. Fortunately, on payday, I was able to get enough money together to pay the guys and keep on track with development. If we had been delayed by one extra week, we wouldn’t have opened on time. That was a huge challenge, but it’s important to keep in mind that there’s always a solution.
I think that when you find yourself in situations like this, you do also have to dig deep and really tap into that gut feeling about things.
I’m a big believer in gut feelings. The subconscious brain evaluates so many things, many of which we can’t consciously even understand. It’s that process that’s giving us our gut feeling.
I definitely followed my gut feeling with The Bear Trail. Yes, many were concerned that I was taking a risk, but we did it. We opened, we’ve done more business than expected and we’re still surviving and moving forward.
Now, having reached this stage, I’m realising that I need to arrange some mentoring & coaching to be able to take the next steps. It’s vital that if you want to see growth, within either your business or in your personal life, that you invest both in your staff and yourself.
I completely agree. That investment in yourself is so important for growth. Is there anyone in particular that you’re influenced by?
I try and read about other people’s experiences as much as I can and I also listen to podcasts. Whilst I don’t think I’ve got one particular influencer, I am a big fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s six rules, which I try to implement daily. I actually had them on the wall here when we were trying to get things going.
The one that resonates most, is Give Something Back. I feel that I’ve been given an incredible opportunity, but it wasn’t an easy journey; I remember five bank managers laughing at me on the phone. But there was one guy from Nat West who saw something the others didn’t; Nick Shepherd is the reason we’re here today. I brought him out here, told him what I wanted to do and he believed in me. He wrote a great pitch to the underwriters, which the other five didn’t, to support my financial forecast. He gave me a shot by believing in what I wanted to do, whereas a lot of people couldn’t see it. Without Nick supporting me in that way, I wouldn’t have got the money from the bank.
So my aim now is to move to multiple sites, giving opportunities to young people who want to get into business and just need someone to give them a bit of a break and give an opportunity to learn.
Supporting young people and indeed partnering with & supporting other businesses is so incredibly rewarding and actually pivotal in moving forwarding.
And that’s the thing; you don’t get anywhere on your own. We’ve recently partnered with a number of local businesses to provide a unique corporate package to clients in London; essentially helping to promote the region in line with Visit Devon’s vision. All the elements are in place to create a truly unique taste of our region. The package, which you can book through us, is made up of Chris White Land Rovers, a Dare to Bear team building day here at The Bear Trail, an hour and a half session at the Land Rover Experience in Honiton, a sales training session with Rachel Howarth and then a night at the Deer Park in Honiton.
It’s a great partnership between local businesses and one I’m proud to be involved in.
Ben it’s been fantastic to chat; thank you so much for showing us around. I for one can’t wait to get the Grow team up here and to see the Bear Trail develop.