How these bosses are bringing ‘St Tropez to the Broads’
PUBLISHED: 13:05 05 June 2019 | UPDATED: 13:05 05 June 2019
Two of East Anglia’s biggest tourism businesses are celebrating 75 years afloat. Caroline Culot spoke to bosses Greg Munford, of Richardson’s, and Simon Altham, of Hoseasons.
It would have been easy for these two holiday giant businesses, both founded in 1944 by gentlemen of the Broads, to be bitter rivals.
Instead, bosses Greg Munford, from Richardson's, and Simon Altham, from Hoseasons, decided a decade ago that for each company to thrive in what was an increasingly challenging market, they needed to work together. But change was needed.
The Richardson's family initiated a huge step change in 2009 when the decision was taken to bring boat building in-house.
Until then, boats were built using generic mouldings which meant every boat on the Broads looked the same.
Richardson's, founded by the late Robert Richardson, decided it needed to design a new fleet from scratch so invested to create its own mouldings and attracted a new clientele while still pleasing its core customers.
"Before 2009, the perception was that we were an old, tired fleet, and because we are 40% of the overall market on the Broads, it gave an perception of the Broads that it was old fashioned, and not a modern holiday environment," said Greg 52.
Since 2009, Richardson's built 34 new cruisers, costing up to £300,000 each, and bringing as Greg, said, quoting Simon, "a bit of St Tropez to the Broads" in the form of vessels like the Commodore and Commander with a sun lounge on the top and luxurious interiors which appeal to a high-end customer.
"Even though we have only got 34 of the next generation cruiser and 60 of our Platinum fleet in total out of 290 boats, the perception of Richardson's now is we are a leading, luxury brand," Greg added.
"Before when people wanted to upgrade, they had to go to another operator, we lost them. We were in a diminishing market but since 2009 by introducing these new designs, we've seen the whole business grow."
Simon, 44, said what followed was a change in many other businesses connected with the Broads. "What goes slightly unnoticed is because of the revolution, let's call it that, of boating on the Broads led by Richardson's, a lot of pubs have been revamped, on the northern Broads you would be hard pushed to find one which hasn't undergone a transformation because someone rocking up in a luxury boat wants a quality dining experience.
"From bakeries and fish and chip shops, supermarkets and shops in places along the Broads like Wroxham and Horning, they've all needed to change."
Despite both companies being founded offering boating holidays, each has evolved differently with Richardson's building its own boats at its Stalham base and offering some land-based holidays too in the form of caravans, chalets and lodges at the Hemsby Beach Holiday Park.
Hoseasons has become a massive national company offering all kinds of holidays - and acting as an operator for Richardson's - and with boating now just 2.5% of its overall business.
However, over the past decade, Greg and Simon have both risen up the ranks at the same time to become leaders of their businesses and their partnership has helped drive forward the changes.
A lot of that has been understanding how the very nature of holidays has changed.
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Simon said: "Eight years ago, the investment just wasn't buoyant. I remember talking about wi-fi and the answer was just 'no, you'll never get wi-fi on a boat'." Greg added: "Now every single one of our boats has wi-fi."
One of the ventures Greg and Simon have worked together on was at Hemsby.
"Hemsby was built in the 1960s and up until recently had the same footprint as it did all those years ago - how long was this sustainable?" asked Simon.
"If you think of Debenhams or Jamie's you launch something that's new and different but if it just stays the same, customers get bored.
"One of the fascinating things about working with Hemsby for me, which has been a resounding success, is that you had to evolve it. When we first talked about it, I asked 'do high rent users want to come to Hemsby which had a reputation for being a kiss-me-quick destination?'
"But when you go down to the beach it is one of the most beautiful, so the high-end customer has come. The future of holidays is about time together, exploring the local countryside, walking on the beach, it's safe too.
"When we were younger we used to go out and drink but young people just don't do that, Our parents took us on a holiday overseas, caked us in coconut oil and left us on a beach all day but where the domestic market is really succeeding is that it is all about experiences."
As business partners, they have worked together with Richardson's investing £10m into Hemsby, testing the market at first with five new lodges last year but by February this year they had all sold out - so they added another eight and have now got planning permission for a further 28.
Another success has been hot tubs. Richardson's put three into caravans last season which sold out in four months so have added another 16 hot tubs to their caravan and lodge portfolio. Both Greg and Simon started out in holiday parks. Greg, the son of an accountant, started working in amusement arcades when his family moved to Clacton and years later, when selling up some amusements, it was Clive Richardson, son of the late founder Robert, who came with a trailer to buy them.
They got talking and Greg was offered a job.
Simon, from Lancashire, the son of a merchant navy captain, left university and worked in holiday parks before being snapped up by Hoseasons 15 years ago.
The proof of the pair's impact is in the figures. Richardson's has seen sales increase from £3.5m to £4.6m since 2009 on its boating holidays and in 10 years has gone from a £21m turnover losing £1.8m a year to now turning over £12.4m and making a £2.4m profit.
Hoseasons, with 31,000 properties on its books, is on course for its ninth record year in a row with a 200% growth in sales in the last 10 years and now takes a million more people on holiday than it did 15 years ago.
Greg said: "Work is my life, I love it, but when you love what you do, you never work a day again in your life."
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