Denise Ingram and Gabriel Hutchings were seeking a new opportunity that would also enable them to have a complete change of lifestyle, following the sale of their thriving organic vegetables business that Gabriel had started from scratch.
Previously, they had both enjoyed varied careers. Denise had worked in fashion production in Hong Kong, while Gabriel had been a photographer and run a franchise within Madame Tussauds before studying horticulture and setting up the organic veg business.
"I'd known about franchising for years and we had discovered some possibilities. Then I was looking on the web for franchise opportunities when the Club's site came up. Denise and I had done quite a bit of camping, so we were aware of the Club but didn't really know what it was or what made it different from the competition," Gabriel explained.
"Franchising appealed to us because it offers a proven formula, which helps to avoid the risk of making the primary mistakes of setting up a new venture. There is an opportunity to see the model working and to understand the business before getting involved," he continued.
Denise and Gabriel had some specific criteria for the business they were seeking. "We wanted something that would be stable and that could be done from home. This was an important consideration because, at the time, Denise had been ill. We needed a venture that she could work in if she felt well enough or she could stay in the house but with me close by," Gabriel said.
Denise took up the story: "We believed there was a good future in the British holiday market and we have always enjoyed the outdoor life. We wanted to own a business completely, including its premises. When we sold the organics company, it was stock and goodwill but the premises were leased. However, a campsite can be purchased freehold, representing a much better investment.
"The Club has a good pedigree, proof that there is definitely a market for camping and caravanning. We felt that with the size of investment required for a campsite, we could do it only if we had an established partner able to deliver the numbers of campers that we would need. We knew that the Club's extensive marketing activities would promote our site to over 450,000 regular Club members plus all the thousands of others who visit the website and read camping magazines," she continued.
Impressed by the Club's presentation of the franchise, which they described as "convincing and professional" the couple decided they would like to go ahead. They commented: "After we had been accepted, we visited some campsites and met franchisees but it took a long search to find a park for us. We decided to go with this one because we liked the land that came with the park. Also, we'd had an offer on our house so we felt that it really was time to leave Berkshire and move on."
Initially, they ran the park as it was for the first year and then started on a range of improvements in November 2008 to bring it up to Club standards. Despite a long, cold and wet winter, they worked hard to achieve their 50-pitch site and are proud of their pioneering "greener camping" approach with a new amenity block that uses solar power and toilets that flush with recycled water.
"Not only did we manage to pull it all together but we opened on time, 2nd April 2009. We opened at the right time, as there has been a great increase in numbers of campers compared to 2008. It's good to be part of a network and have the support and understanding of other campsite owners. The Club's systems work well and we know it would have been very difficult to get it all up and running if we had been an independent operator," they commented.
"Of course, having a franchise is no different from running any business of your own. There's always the challenge of getting all the jobs done while keeping the site going and the campers content," Gabriel said.
"We built the organic business, which was hard work but rewarding. We had an idea, took a risk that worked and then we sold the business. The great thing about having your own business is getting away from the oppression of unfulfilling employment. Being self-employed also offers some flexibility, with improved opportunities for a happy family life, which should not to be taken for granted," they agreed.