‘I want to get some al­pacas ... one cus­tomer said she would book as soon as we get them’

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - News -

Be­ing an en­tre­pre­neur quite of­ten re­quires tak­ing a leap of faith — and nowhere is that more ob­vi­ous than in the case of Julie and Mark Camp­bell.

The cou­ple fell in love with Bal­ly­gally Hol­i­day Apart­ments as soon as they saw them and Julie took the de­ci­sion to step away from her cho­sen pro­fes­sion to buy and man­age the Co Antrim com­plex.

The 36-year-old was on ma­ter­nity leave from her job as a phys­io­ther­a­pist with the NHS when she first be­gan to dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of buy­ing hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion with her hus­band of 10 years.

She ex­plained: “We were look­ing at dif­fer­ent set-ups, but it was al­ways go­ing to be self-cater­ing.

“We have three kids our­selves and we re­ally like the flex­i­bil­ity of self-cater­ing com­pared to a ho­tel — you have your own space and can cook what­ever you like and at what­ever time that suits.

“It’s what we’re used to, so that was why we were in­ter­ested in buy­ing.

“We were look­ing about but hadn’t re­ally seen any­thing, and then I was talk­ing to a pho­tog­ra­pher in Larne who said that Bal­ly­gally Apart­ments were com­ing up for sale.

“I men­tioned it to Mark, so we went up, had a look and just fell in love with the view — it was re­ally the sell­ing point for us.”

While Mark and Julie wanted to buy the prop­erty as soon as they saw it, the de­ci­sion to put in an of­fer was not made on a whim.

“There was a lot of soul-search­ing first,” said Julie. “We did an aw­ful lot of think­ing and re­search to make sure there was busi­ness po­ten­tial there.”

Ul­ti­mately, they de­cided that buy­ing the com­plex — made up of one and two-bed­room and one three-bed­room apart­ments — was the right move for them.

“The apart­ments are all to­gether and sev­eral fam­i­lies can come and stay to­gether,” Julie said.

“There is a nice, homely feel to it and we just felt like it was some­thing we could make a suc­cess of.”

On Au­gust 1 this year — four months after first view­ing the

com­plex — they took over own­er­ship of Bal­ly­gally Hol­i­day Apart­ments.

De­spite hav­ing no ex­pe­ri­ence of the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try, Julie was rel­a­tively un­daunted by the chal­lenge.

“With my back­ground work­ing as a phys­io­ther­a­pist in the NHS and work­ing in the com­mu­nity, I am used to deal­ing with peo­ple,” she ex­plained.

“I have ex­pe­ri­ence book­ing ap­point­ments and man­ag­ing peo­ples’ expectations, as well as look­ing after peo­ple.

“So far it has all gone very well and we are very happy. I am here quite a lot of the time and I think that is im­por­tant be­cause I can give peo­ple rec­om­men­da­tions about where to go for a meal or for a walk, and I am there if they have any prob­lems.

“It’s not like nor­mal self-cater­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, where the owner hands over the key and you don’t see them again un­til the end of the hol­i­day.

“It has been great for our kids be­cause they can come with me, and the res­i­dents seem to like hav­ing the chil­dren around. It gives it a real fam­ily feel, and as well as that the chil­dren are meet­ing peo­ple from all over the world.”

Mark (37), who over­sees main­te­nance of the apart­ments, said they were keen to en­sure a smooth tran­si­tion when buy­ing the prop­erty.

To this end, Julie worked closely with the out­go­ing man­ager of the apart­ments for sev­eral weeks to en­sure she was fa­mil­iar and com­pe­tent with the day-to-day run­ning of the ac­com­mo­da­tion.

At the same time, how­ever, they are keen to put their own stamp on the com­plex and to con­tinue to de­velop the busi­ness.

“The pre­vi­ous own­ers didn’t re­ally do much with the in­ter­net so, for ex­am­ple, you can’t make an in­ter­net book­ing cur­rently and that is some­thing we are look­ing at in­tro­duc­ing,” con­tin­ued Julie.

“We are aware that a lot of peo­ple like to book ac­com­mo­da­tion on the in­ter­net these days. They want to sit down at night once they have fin­ished work and the kids are in bed and they have some time to them­selves.

“We are also work­ing on the so­cial me­dia side of things, as well.

“A lot of our busi­ness is re­peat cus­tom. We would get a lot of peo­ple com­ing here when they are com­ing to visit fam­ily but want the ben­e­fit of their own space.

“I would say about 30 or 40% of our busi­ness is from peo­ple who have been here be­fore.

“That is great, but we also want to work on at­tract­ing new cus­tomers.

“We also work closely with other busi­nesses in the area, like Bal­ly­gally Cas­tle so, say they have a wed­ding on but don’t have enough rooms, or they (vis­i­tors) would pre­fer self-cater­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, they will re­fer those peo­ple on to us.

“We know there is a lot of po­ten­tial for the tourist in­dus­try in this area and it is all about tak­ing ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“There is also plan­ning per­mis­sion for us to de­velop the apart­ments and that is some­thing we’re con­sid­er­ing. We need to look at the fig­ures and make sure there is the de­mand, but we would like an­other three-bed­room apart­ment that is fully wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble be­cause at present there is only one three-bed­room apart­ment.

“I am also look­ing at get­ting al­pacas and all the cus­tomers I have men­tioned this to have been re­ally keen about it.

“In fact, one woman ac­tu­ally told me to con­tact her as soon as the al­pacas ar­rive and she will make a book­ing.

“I al­ways said that if I owned some­where with a bit of land that I would get some al­pacas. I think they will be a nice wee dif­fer­ent touch.”

We are look­ing at in­tro­duc­ing web book­ing and work­ing on the so­cial me­dia side of things too

Julie Camp­bell, owner of Bal­ly­gally Hol­i­day Apart­ments

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