Hosts with the most

One cou­ple share their story of run­ning a cham­bres d’hôtes in France with­out any pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence

Living France - - Contents -

There was a time when a ca­reer was for life but those days are in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a thing of the past. More and more peo­ple are em­brac­ing mul­ti­ple and midlife ca­reer changes, and the idea of per­sonal and pro­fes­sional ful­fil­ment ap­peals to many.

The lat­ter sce­nario is some­thing Karen and Kevin Driscoll know plenty about. In 2013, the cou­ple ex­changed their UK profes­sions in Kent for a cham­bres d’hôtes busi­ness in cen­tral Brit­tany, with no pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence what­so­ever.

Karen’s pre­vi­ous roles had in­cluded po­si­tions in a po­lice call cen­tre, a longterm po­si­tion in cus­tomer ser­vices in a bank and lat­terly, in cus­tomer sales in the cater­ing in­dus­try. Kevin is a high­lyskilled fur­ni­ture maker and had held a se­nior su­per­vi­sor po­si­tion in a com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in fur­ni­ture for the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor, prior to re­dun­dancy.

Their con­nec­tions with France had been lim­ited to one or two hol­i­days to the south. How­ever, liv­ing in Kent, they both ap­pre­ci­ated the close prox­im­ity of the coun­try and Karen in par­tic­u­lar had en­joyed read­ing about an al­ter­na­tive French life­style in magazines in­clud­ing Liv­ing France for sev­eral years.

TIME FOR A CHANGE

The cat­a­lyst for change oc­curred 10 years ago when the cou­ple vis­ited a friend who had re­cently re­tired from the teach­ing pro­fes­sion and had set up a suc­cess­ful bed and break­fast busi­ness in Nor­folk, de­spite hav­ing had no prior busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence, or in­deed ex­pe­ri­ence in the hospi­tal­ity or tourism in­dus­try.

“I re­mem­ber notic­ing the com­par­a­tively low prop­erty prices in France that were men­tioned in the magazines, so my in­ter­est was def­i­nitely piqued, and we had en­joyed vis­it­ing The France Show in Lon­don for sev­eral years too,” says Karen, now 55. “Mov­ing to France was just a pipe dream though,” adds Kevin, now 60. “We never thought we’d ac­tu­ally do it.”

Five years later, cir­cum­stances were chang­ing for Karen and Kevin. Re­tire­ment was ap­proach­ing and the cou­ple’s two chil­dren had left home for univer­sity. Karen’s work had be­come un­ful­fill­ing and Kevin was made re­dun­dant, so they de­cided to put their house in Kent on the mar­ket and be­gin their French ad­ven­ture.

They de­cided to fo­cus on Brit­tany, as their re­search had in­di­cated pos­i­tive busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in terms of higher, all-year-round tourist num­bers due to its prox­im­ity to the UK. Ini­tially they fo­cused on Fin­istère and they gained valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence from view­ing houses.

“We re­alised that although houses in the area were cheaper, the amount of work we would need to carry out to ren­o­vate a prop­erty would take time and money, which would de­lay us in start­ing to gen­er­ate an in­come,” says Kevin. “We also recog­nised the im­por­tance of iden­ti­fy­ing our fu­ture cus­tomers’ needs and felt that the longer dis­tances to tourist at­trac­tions and places of in­ter­est could po­ten­tially be off-putting if some­one was look­ing for a re­lax­ing hol­i­day. As a re­sult, we de­cided to re­fo­cus our search within Mor­bi­han to be more cen­tral in Brit­tany, which would hope­fully be more ap­peal­ing to tourists.”

Their sec­ond search was also more fo­cused in terms of be­ing clear about their re­quire­ments for their fu­ture home. They car­ried out de­tailed searches on­line and com­piled a list of 30 prop­er­ties to view and when their house in Kent then sold, they im­me­di­ately made ar­range­ments to travel over to France.

MAK­ING THE MOVE

While they were view­ing one of the prop­er­ties, Kevin no­ticed a well-equipped work­shop and also a large hangar which the cou­ple en­vis­aged would pro­vide se­cure

shel­ter for cars, bikes and mo­tor­cy­cles. And so the seed of an idea for their niche mar­ket was sown, as this was to be­come a sig­nif­i­cant as­pect of their busi­ness.

They made an of­fer and build­ing work be­gan as soon as they moved in. They de­cided to em­ploy pro­fes­sion­als who had been rec­om­mended by the pre­vi­ous English owner to carry out the ren­o­va­tion work, which in­cluded in­stalling en-suite bath­rooms and up­grad­ing the plumb­ing and elec­tric­ity.

“I think I could have car­ried out some of the work my­self but I felt that this would de­lay progress, and our pri­or­ity was to be open for busi­ness as soon as pos­si­ble,” says Kevin.

By April 2014, Mai­son Driscoll was ready to wel­come its first guests, with the

beau­ti­ful gar­den and fish­ing lake at the end of the lane fur­ther adding to its ap­peal. The cou­ple de­cided to em­ploy an English­s­peak­ing ac­coun­tant to help them set up the busi­ness, while a friend helped them to cre­ate a web­site.

PLAN OF AC­TION

Karen and Kevin’s early re­search into the lo­cal area, com­bined with their own fa­cil­i­ties at Mai­son Driscoll, en­abled them to iden­tify key po­ten­tial vis­i­tor groups. The area is well known for its prox­im­ity to walk­ing and cy­cle paths through beau­ti­ful coun­try­side and along the Nantes-Brest canal. The Tour de France of­ten passes through Brit­tany and there are a num­ber of other cy­cle, mo­tor­cy­cle, and vin­tage car events tak­ing place across the re­gion on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. In view of their se­cure stor­age fa­cil­ity, the cou­ple de­cided to ex­plore or­gan­i­sa­tions cater­ing for these mar­kets and they have in­cluded in­for­ma­tion and links to them on their web­site.

“Re­views can make or break a busi­ness, which is par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult when you’re just start­ing out,” says Kevin. “It’s vi­tal to make sure your guests feel that you have gone the ex­tra mile in terms of pro­vid­ing some­thing ex­tra so that they re­mem­ber their stay, such as fresh eggs at break­fast, full-size toi­letries in the bath­rooms and pro­vid­ing bot­tles of wa­ter for cy­clists head­ing out on their bikes.”

Karen and Kevin are keen to ex­plore pos­si­ble op­por­tu­ni­ties to di­ver­sify the

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The cou­ple car­ried out ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tion work to cre­ate their new home and busi­ness ven­ture

Karen and Kevin were ready to open for busi­ness in April 2014

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