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