Expert Tips From Hospitable Host: Laura Muse

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In this podcast episode, Mark Simpson interviews Laura Sheffield, a successful holiday let owner in the Peak District. Laura shares her accidental journey into hospitality, beginning as a property investor and developer with her family, and transitioning into the holiday let business post-COVID due to personal experiences of struggling to find luxury accommodation that accommodated dogs and children. She discusses the purchase of their first property, Foxlow Grange, in January 2022, and a second in June 2022, emphasizing the evolution of their business into a lifestyle rather than a mere investment. 

Laura highlights the joys and challenges of the hospitality industry, from the excitement of interior design and creating memorable experiences for guests, to the difficulties of managing staff and dealing with the occasional difficult guest.

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Timestamps (audio)



[00:00:00] Mark: Welcome to the best hospitable hosts interview that you are going to see today. Uh, my name is Mark Simpson and I'm joined by the fantastic Laura Mews, we are going to find out all about Laura, her business as a hospitable host and the upcoming book. So firstly, can you let everybody know who you are?

[00:00:20] How did you get started and where we are right now?

A bit about Laura

[00:00:22] Laura: So, I'm Laura Sheffield. I have fabulous holiday lets in the Peak District. Um, I got started in hospitality by accident. As I know a lot of people do. Um, we're property investors and developers and we have been for the past nine years. And then after the C word, COVID, Um, as a young family with dogs, and children, we just really struggle to find somewhere.

[00:00:48] that had a five-star luxury feel. We always had to compromise on some kind of amenity because we've got dogs or kids so we thought, well we're in property, see this massive mansion, let's go buy it into a holiday let. And underestimated The hospitality side of it, So it's been an interesting rollercoaster.

[00:01:08] Mark: So when were, when did you purchase and where are we right now?

[00:01:12] Laura: Uh, we purchased, we got the keys for Fox Load Grange that we sat in, in January 2022. And then we got our second one, June 22. And what are we now? 24. January 24.

[00:01:26] Mark: So two years later. Yeah. What have you learned in two years? Ooh,

[00:01:30] Laura: you're on call 24 hours a day, I'm joking.

[00:01:33] What have I learned? Um, I do love what I do, but I've learned that to do this well, it's not, it's not a job. It's not a nine-to-five. It is a lifestyle. It is not an investment strategy.

The most enjoyable aspect of this business

[00:01:45] Mark: Okay, let's talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. So two years in of being a hospitable host. compared to life before, what has been the most enjoyable aspect of this business, this part of the industry?

[00:01:59] Laura: Well, can I have two things? Yeah. Okay, so we, so, so at Holiday Homes, we've done all the interior design, we've renovated them, so I love that part of the process, like, and you'll see going to this house, Foxlow Grange, our candle house, there's a colour theme, but Every room's unique and so people can come back time and time again and get a different feel.

[00:02:18] So I love that part of it. And really for me is the reviews when people have left and you've imprinted, like they've had memories for a lifetime. Like, there's no other industry you can do that in where people come back and it's a feeling when you walk in. It's not, you know, obviously it's an exchange of money but it's, it's something that'll last forever.

[00:02:38] Yeah, creating memories. Yeah, it's something special.

[00:02:40] Mark: Okay, so we've got the good. What's the bad?

[00:02:45] Laura: Cleaners. I hope they're not around. Um, you do get really difficult at Guess, but they're I'd say like 1%. Um, and it's how you manage that, but my biggest learning curve is managing staff. Like, because we don't use external companies anymore because we're, obviously here there are 15 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms.

[00:03:04] It makes no sense for me to use an external company, so we hire um, and managing people's egos and expectations Is something I try to navigate I'm quite a strong character myself, so I have to uh, sometimes have a little word of myself before I Enter them interviews or the meetings that we have

[00:03:27] Mark: Let's talk about the secret sauce So, you've come at this and the reason why you bought this property, the reason why you started doing this because you, you're scratching your itch, so to speak, you couldn't find a property that catered to your needs, family, pet friendly, near the peaks.

[00:03:42] And you've brought that into this, so what would you say is your secret sauce? What do you feel that you're doing that maybe others in Buxton or Derbyshire aren't?

[00:03:55] Laura: I think how it looks is different to a lot of the places in the Peak District. When we were looking for luxury in the Peak District, there was a very limited amount of properties we could compare to.

[00:04:06] Um, but we are really big on working with other local businesses, so we try and connect our guests with other local experiences, local suppliers. Um, and things like that. So, we want people to come and spend the money here in the Peak District and stay spending it here. Not going off to Alton Towers, like Alton Towers is like 20 minutes away from here.

[00:04:26] Um, so I'm really big on that. I've started a podcast, which is a Peak District podcast, which is enabling people like myself, a holiday home host, to speak to bigger businesses like the Heights of Abraham, like the Crescent Experience. When let's be honest, really they wouldn't normally speak to me because I have holiday lets.

[00:04:44] Um, and it's just really opened some doors, like we've got a partnership with Books and Opera House, um, and, and I think that's what makes us special, um, and we go above and beyond for us guests, I feel.

Tips for a Past Self

[00:04:56] Mark: If you were to sort of go back to your December 2021, and you could just, uh, have a little tap on Laura's shoulder from 2021 and say, this is the one thing that you need to make sure that you do, what would that be?

[00:05:13] Laura: It would have the right PMS to start with, I think. Like, right heck, I've been through three lots, I'm not even two years in. Like, it's mind-blowing. Um, and researching it properly, not just taking people's opinions because everybody's business is completely different. Yeah. Um, so having a tech and having a proper direct booking website, I'm not just saying that because you're sat here, um, but I've, as you know, it's my third one, third one.

[00:05:42] Um, so researching the tech for what I think I need the business to run like, um, um, was, has been extremely painful for me, I'm not going to lie. Also

[00:05:52] Mark: as well, you need to do it as in you're looking to the future as well. Yeah. So if you're, it's very easy to make decisions on where your business is right now, as in starting, but your business, you've got to look like for two years down the line.

[00:06:04] If you're planning on having one property and one property only then, then sound, but if your business is going to grow, you need to be looking that far down the line. It's not like making a bigger budget now, but it's thinking about where you need to be. Because then future you will thank you.

[00:06:19] Laura: No, and especially like if you want to like to manage other people's properties, etc.

[00:06:23] Whereas we don't want to do, we don't want to use that model. Ours is we would buy and run them ourselves. But, like the first lot of software just didn't even have them capabilities. Well, as we all know, it's very antiquated.

[00:06:36] Mark: Uh, I've got five questions that we've been asked from the team at Hospitable Hosts.

[00:06:41] And I'm going to ask you them one by one. So the first one, What is the one thing that believe sets you apart from other hosts when guests stay with you?

[00:06:51] Laura: A feeling when they walk through the door.

[00:06:54] Mark: Nice, that is quick fire.

[00:07:00] Okay, number two. What is your favourite amenity that most of your guests give you great feedback on?

[00:07:06] Laura: The brass baths. We have freestanding brass baths. I don't like them because they're a bit cold. But everyone loves them. I'll give you my top tip

[00:07:14] Mark: on this.

[00:07:15] Laura: Go on. You did? Yeah. Do you want to share?

[00:07:18] I might put that in my guest book.

[00:07:21] Mark: So before you get in a brass bath, get a shower first, because then you get into a brass bath, if your body normal temperature, you get in it, your top half is freezing. It feels a bit weird, on the brass. So you get a shower, get nice and wet, then you get in and it's, it's fine.

[00:07:36] So when you've travelled, what has been your most memorable experience

[00:07:40] Laura: as a guest? Me and James did 20, I think 21 holidays in one year, like it was a bit nuts. We haven't been on one since. Is this before kids? This is before kids. Um, so we went to the Maldives and the thing I loved about the Maldives was nothing was a problem.

[00:07:58] Anything you asked for was there. Yeah. Not like nothing was an issue and I find, I found a lot of places that we've gone over the years like Things are a problem if they're not pre-booked or like they literally would just bend over backwards for you And they were just the nicest people like we even started texting one after for a while like do you want to come live in England?

[00:08:21] But just they've and they're so relaxed and that's what we try to do Our holiday homes is nothing's a problem We can try and cater for any situation or anything that you need and because I think that's what truly makes It makes you stay.

My best memory as a guest

[00:08:36] Mark: In the year of 21 holidays, which is amazing in itself.

[00:08:40] Never to be repeated. Never to be repeated. But that's like two holidays a month. Uh, what from there was the best memory that you've had as a guest yourself? You can talk about the Maldives or anywhere else. What's the best memory that you've taken with you from being a

[00:08:54] Laura: guest? Diving in the Maldives. Um, so when we went to the Maldives, it rained for 10 days constantly.

[00:09:00] Um, but luckily me and my husband and I, we don't. Sunbathing, we probably couldn't do it for 3 hours and then we're bored. So we, like, dived 3 times a day for 10 days and it was awesome. Nice. Like, the stuff we saw was amazing. And when I went, I actually couldn't dive, so I learned to dive there.

[00:09:15] Nice. I mean, probably the best place in the world to learn to dive. Um, and then we saw these huge manta rays. And I remember sat at the bottom, um, and James had a cold. He was fuming, so he couldn't even go diving. So we're on my own and these big manta rays were, like, swooping. Yeah, that's, that's feeling and a, a, a, Yeah.

[00:09:33] That I'll never, ever forget.

[00:09:35] Mark: Nice. Final question. What is your number one secret to being a successful, hospitable?

[00:09:39] Laura: host? Offering guests unique experiences? Nothing's a problem and just trying to elevate their stay and make it as easy as possible for them. There's probably a few things there. Having a

[00:09:51] Mark: blast.

[00:09:52] Gonna get it on

[00:09:52] Laura: the Bruce Lee podcast. Bruce Lee. Let Bruce Lee 'cause it's so hard on the tea's loose leaf. Looking up those rhymes.