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The Glamping Business: Sunwell Farms
Written by: Alexandria Autrey
How long have you been in the Glamping business?
I guess we can still be called rookies, since we only started in the glamping business a little over a year ago.
When did you get involved in Glamping?
We listed the newly renovated attic of our country house on AirBnB in November 2014. Thanks to the close proximity of an important nature reserve and lack of competitors, it proved surprisingly popular among guests from all over the world. To meet the demand, we decided to have a simple but cute cabin that would comfortably accommodate 4-6 guests built not far from the main house. The cabin and separate eco-toilet with shower were completed just in time for summer season 2015, when we also registered our accommodation company. The Sunwell Farms cabin was constantly occupied by international guests throughout the 3 summer months and well into early autumn, giving us confidence to expand the business further. We have one more cabin ready and have plans for putting up couple of safari tents for summer 2016.
How long did it take to start the business?
We were lucky to have our business plan supported by a government fund that helps starting entrepreneurs. It took us roughly 9 months to get from the inception to the creation of the company. The most time consuming part of this journey was writing, submitting, changing and re-submitting the business plan in order to apply for support.
Where did you find your Glamping supplies?
The cabins were built from local quality timber and insulated with stone wool which in summer keeps them cool without the need for an additional A/C. At the same time the timber floors, walls and ceilings allows the cabins to 'breathe' and gives the interior a heavenly woody scent. For the tents, we use the same timber for frames and cover them with high-quality fire-resistant waterproof canvas specially ordered from a local factory. As passionate DIYers (Do It Yourself-ER), we use a lot of restored and redesigned vintage furniture. The rugs are handmade by local weavers. Our healthy breakfast includes home-made apple juice, free-range eggs from our chicken and organic milk from local farmers.
Were there any hurdles you had to tackle?
Not exactly a hurdle but more like a challenge was planning the sanitary facilities. All the water systems had to be planned so that none of the pipes would freeze and break in the winter with minus degrees. The best and most budget-friendly solution was to expand an already existing sauna building in order to install additional showers and bio toilets.
Which accommodation is the most popular?
The cabins are most popular as accommodation, as they offer privacy and comfort for whole families.
What activities are most popular during the day?
Most guests choose to spend a day in the nature reserve either hiking, birding or fishing, followed by a sauna session. Kayaking and cycling are also popular, as we rent equipment for both activities. Barbecuing, badminton or lying in a hammock with a book and a glass of our homemade wine are also guest favorites.
How long did it take to install yurts, tents, etc.?
Designing the cabins and other facilities took a lot longer than building them. Despite a rather small budget, we had high demands on both comfort and appearance. It took many months to figure out how to achieve that and just a month altogether to build everything.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned thus far?
What you want is a returning customer. We provide guests with excellent and personal service followed by a welcoming complimentary glass of wine. This make a positive and lasting impact on their first impression that encourages them to come back again. We go the extra mile to make customers feel special.
What is the profitability for glamping vs. your other accommodations?
The cabins are more profitable because they accommodate more beds and are priced higher than the suite for two in the main house. Even when there are only two guests who will be staying with us, they prefer the more expensive, but simple and more 'rustic' cabins that come with a terrace instead of the en-suite room.
Do you have plans to expand?
Our aim is to keep a 'boutique' or 'farm' feel of the place, thus we will not be expanding too much. We don't wish to compromise our relaxing environment. However, glamping is such a broad concept full of opportunities and we are looking forward to exploring new ways of combining the nature experience with a little luxury – making our guests feel closer to the nature and pampered at the same time. A mini-spa with our own range of organic hemp oil beauty products would be a very exciting direction to take. As the winter season here is very slow, it would be ideal to expand the business to a place with subtropical climate and in this way be able to receive glampers all year round.
What is the biggest challenge with your glamping product? How did/do you solve this problem?
Time management. In a year, about 90 % of all the guests come during the short summer season, which means indefinite hours of work every day, 7 days a week for our small family business staff. We have yet to tackle this problem for the upcoming high season, but obviously an improved time management, a better distribution of tasks among the staff, hiring help, as well as investing in more efficient software, tools and equipment would be the answer.
What is your target demographic?
From the very beginning we have wanted to differentiate ourselves from the rest and directly target mainly foreign guests instead of the domestic market. Currently our homepage and blog is only in English and the place is listed only on international travel and accommodation pages. The Sunwell Farm crew is multilingual and even international, so it felt like a natural thing to do.
What is your demographic?
Most of the guests are indeed foreigners, predominantly from Finland, Scandinavia and Germany, but there have even been many Estonians who are living abroad and have been missing the unique Estonian countryside experience.