In life, it is always useful to have a Plan B. The decision to relocate to Clonakilty, Felicity’s ancestral homeplace and settle at Ballynoe House, provided us with that opportunity. Moving to the area was definitely part of a longer-term Plan A; it just happened a decade earlier than expected. The “accelerated Plan A” involved global oil prices recovering quickly enough to re-employ one of those laid off by the 2014/2015 crash. Not happening, it became quickly apparent that Plan B needed to be the new Plan A; the conversion of the Hay Barn and Stable block at Ballynoe House to the Ballynoe House Holiday Lets.
“B” Means Business
Ireland has proven to be a good environment to set up a business. There are a series of well-organised Local Enterprise Offices (LEO) including one in Kent Street, Clonakilty, where business ideas can be discussed. Then, there are several business-related courses, such as Start Your Own Business (SYOB) which help place your business idea into the framework of Ireland’s business environment. This enables potential start-ups to get moving quickly, should they wish to do so. As we also mean business, we have moved through moving in to Ballynoe House in October 2015 and registering the Ballynoe House business partnership in May 2016. The construction work on the project commenced just over a year later. Physical opening for business will be just two years from registration, in the Spring of 2018, and the Book Engine went live in October 2017.
The Market Place
In the Summer of 2015, we conducted a scouting trip to West Cork to look at Ballynoe House and investigate what local support was available for our relocation. It became quickly apparent, even outside of the conventional tourist season (when we were “between countries and homes” waiting to seal the deal) that there is a shortage of letting accommodation in West Cork.
There is a wide range of accommodation to suit almost every visitor’s requirements and budgets, but it is generally in short supply. Accommodation ranges from conventional B&B through traditional cottage self-catering to higher-end accommodation and hotels. Pricing ranges from €50 per night through to more than €3500 per week. The local accommodation market is under-saturated, so open to new entrants.
A number of factors impact the supply of holiday accommodation:
- General regional housing shortage, meaning some properties that could have serviced the short-term market are turned into longer-term lets.
- The increasing popularity of West Cork as a tourist destination through the success of Clonakilty as a town and the promotion of the Wild Atlantic Way by Irish tourism.
- Popularity of West Cork and the Clonakilty area particularly as a wedding venue.
- The number of festivals and events that attract larger crowds (both participants and observers).
Market Survey Results
Ballynoe House conducted various formal and informal market surveys to establish the facts and levels of pricing. In reviewing the business models of some of the noted accommodation providers in the area, such as the excellent offering at neighbouring Dunowen House, we also wanted to be sure that our business model fitted in, i.e. complementary to existing businesses (rather than competitive), as well as adding to the attraction of the area; ideally, finding our own niche.
We identified a gap in the market providing luxury, but affordable, accommodation for the larger family or family group that holiday together (who may struggle to find suitably-sized and adjacent accommodation). The plan to have every bedroom en-suite would add to that luxury in a self-catering environment. Flexible accommodation would also allow small groups and couples travelling together to share accommodation, as well as supporting the very active family market. Self-catering set-up will allow guests to manage their holiday in a more flexible way. Ading our interests of art/fabric design and genealogy to the mix, we can provide a unique offering.
Our market research compared pricing for a family of four staying for a week in regional self-catering cottages, B&B and hotels. This was used to set our own pricing. Based on full occupancy in each let (4 people in a mews house, and 8 people in The Barn House) our initial pricing will provide accommodation at €220 & €245 per person per week.
As part of our business model, we are ensuring that our rates are all-inclusive, which includes all utilities, Wi-Fi and services. In addition, by having our own booking portal we avoid passing on commission charges to other booking portals. The price also includes any booking fees for paying by credit card on the portal.
We have already announced, as part of our promotion of West Cork as destination for artists, that bona fide artists will receive a 10% discount. However, booking must be done via telephone & email, and not via the portal.
Our future guests will tell us if our chosen model was the right one.
The project would not have been possible without Cork County Council’s SME policy for the Ardfield area.
Without a good support team, business ventures may never get off the ground. It only takes one element to underperform to affect the whole project. In this regard, we would like to have a special mention for the following:
AIB Banking, Clonakilty – Who were extremely willing and proactive in getting us settled, particularly dealing with the uncertainties and complexities of international relocation, when other banks were not.
Edge Architecture, Clonakilty – Project management and certification.
Gilbert O’Sullivan (Atlantic Carpentry Contractors Ltd), Clonakilty – An excellent lead builder and project manager, who has ensured high quality work from all the many suppliers and sub-contractors.
Celene Collins – Support with Interior Design and her supply partners
Clonakilty Chamber of Commerce, People of Clonakilty, Friends, Family & Neighbours who have been very supportive. A lot is written about the attitude of the people of the town, which makes Clonakilty the unique place it is. It is all true.
Mark Grace, Ballynoe House