After many years working in education, teachers Karen and Greg Baines decided they would like to do something completely different in a new sector where they could work together. “We both really enjoyed teaching but we wanted a complete change of lifestyle,” Karen explained.
At the time Karen was running a charity-based nursery and Greg was head of his department in a large secondary school. They discussed some options but were necessarily cautious because they had four children to consider.
Their opportunity came when they least expected it. Karen was making a holiday booking when she “stumbled” across an advertisement on the Club’s website inviting applications for prospective franchisees. This had instant appeal since running a campsite was one of the ideas the couple had already discussed.
Most of the holidays Karen and Greg had taken throughout their lives had been outdoor ones under canvas or, later, in their caravan which Karen describes as a “very retro Rapido folding van”. The children were keen campers too and enjoyed outdoor pursuits. “We’d vaguely thought about trying to buy a campsite to run because we both love the countryside, fresh air and being outdoors,” Karen said. “We weren’t members of the Club at the time, although we had used their sites for holidays and knew the organisation had an excellent reputation,” she continued.
Greg and Karen made a “tentative application” to the Club and then began to research the franchising concept. They discovered its many benefits and advantages, particularly for people like them, who had never been involved in any kind of business before but would be trained in all aspects.
They welcomed the opportunity to be their own bosses but with the knowledge that they would not be entirely alone. They would learn a tried and tested system and work within the security of an established and successful organisation.
Greg said: “We thought that becoming franchisees with the Club offered a more secure way of getting a foothold in the caravan park industry and we found a reassuring track record of success from the early franchised sites. Understanding more about franchising and knowing that the others had done well as Club franchisees was enough to convince us that a franchise would be a reasonably secure investment. Also, the framework of the Club appealed to us, as did the thought of a radically different working life.”
Meantime, while their application was being considered, Karen and Greg waited to view suitable sites but few were coming on to the market at the time. They had sold their house in Preston to finance the franchise and were living in rented accommodation, so naturally they were keen to move on to the next stage.
“Everything seemed to be taking a long time. Part of the reason for the delays was that we had to time every stage of the process to fit into school holidays because of our own work commitments as well as the children’s attendance,” Karen said.
Greg and Karen took the initiative and in January 2008 wrote directly to existing privately-owned sites in Suffolk asking if the owners wanted to sell. It was where they wanted to live and was also an area that the Club wanted to expand into.
The next month, during half term, they found a willing vendor with a site in beautiful surroundings. Karen explained their excitement: “At last, we knew this was the one for us. Finding this site made all the waiting and delays worthwhile, like seeing the light at the end of a tunnel,” Karen said.
The family moved during the school summer holidays into a temporary home on site. Taking a Club franchise represented a big commitment because it was not just a new way for Karen and Greg to earn their living but involved a move that affected their children’s lives as well.
However, the children have all inherited their parents’ relaxed attitude to life and embraced the change positively and with enthusiasm. The family’s move was carefully timed around the educational calendar and all the children are settled and happy in their new schools.
Karen and Greg would thoroughly recommend what they have done. The Club’s experience of running campsites has been invaluable in helping them to get started and on-going support from the head office team ensures there is always someone to help and advise.
They believe prospective franchisees need to take a long-term view of their investment, just like starting any other business. They said: “We’re really enjoying working
together and seem to laugh more than ever before. We loved teaching but this is more relaxed, even though we work very hard and we’ve all had to make adjustments.”
Many improvements had to be made before they were ready for the first season, including the added attraction of an impromptu small zoo, and they are very optimistic about the future. “It’s looking good – we were inundated with enquiries before we’d even opened for this year,” Karen said. “We all love our new life. In fact, often I want to pinch myself and say ‘Wow’, we really are here!”