Finding a way to regularly meet with other business owners going through similar challenges has made life less lonely at the top for hotelier Clare Bond.
When the Bond family purchased Cornwall’s Bodmin Golf & Country Club in 1993 it was the start of a journey that, 13 years later, saw husband and wife team Clare and Graham Bond built luxury venue Lanhydrock Hotel on the grounds.
The business remains a family one at heart, with Clare on reception and sons Oliver and Christian frequently helping out on the course. Bruce, their black labrador, is always on hand to welcome guests too.
“It took two years of planning meetings to build the hotel,” Clare Bond, Lanhydrock’s director, said. “It was a steep learning curve, but it’s been fun since. I always imagined myself running the hotel – being on the front desk and welcoming people. And that’s where I’ve ended up.”
She said having family at the forefront has been a big selling point for the hotel. It’s something they’ve worked hard not to lose through growth – the business has more than 60 staff and a turnover of £2.5m.
Now, the Bonds are looking to take a step back and hand over some of their tasks to the Lanhydrock staff. To help with the transition, Clare joined the Be the Business Networks programme.
Devoting time to personal development
Bond was first introduced to Be the Business at a Visit Cornwall event. She liked that it was free to access – Clare and husband Graham have always been frugal when it comes to their own personal development.
“When you’re running a business, it can get a bit lonely at the top. We don’t get a chance to get out of the company much,” she said.
Finding time to step outside and take stock has always been important to the Bonds. They live by a motto borrowed from Graham’s uncle, Martin Bond. “You’ve got to have time to lean over the gate and think.”
An open and honest support network
Be the Business and its Networks offering has given Bond the chance to be around like-minded people, individuals who understand the unique challenges of the Cornish hospitality industry.
The meetings are often small – it’s hard for business owners to all commit to the same date – but Bond sees that as a benefit as it feels talking to close friends, rather than speaking to an audience.
“We’re very honest at the meetings. Everyone’s extremely open about their challenges. It’s all confidential, so you know people won’t carry your problems outside of the room,” she explained.
For Bond, the moral support and chance to talk about business in an informal setting has been invaluable. There are other business owners who run pubs or hotels, but there isn’t a competitive element to the meetings.
“It’s like chatting to my girlfriends about their kids or dogs,” she added. “I’ve got this little support network for business. I’ve been really impressed by how warm, helpful and supportive people in hospitality are. We know we’ve all got something unique in Cornwall, so we don’t feel threatened.”
Learning from past experiences
The most common challenges tend to involve people management and HR. Recently, they’ve discussed cost vs. labour and how to deal with a tricky employee situation. Bond, whose business is one of the biggest, has plenty of relevant experience.
“Cornish people don’t like change – and I’m Cornish, so I can say that. I’ve learnt that you have to be careful of how you implement things with staff, because they will be the same,” she commented.
The meetings have also acted as a useful reminder of the legal changes they need to make to their businesses.
“There’s a lot of legislation to keep up with, so we often have to remind ourselves that there’s a correct way to do something. It’s been good to meet up with people and say, ‘remember this is coming’,” she explained.
Giving staff members space to grow
Bond’s biggest focus this year is on staff training. Rather than hiring external candidates for senior positions, she tries to promote from within. It rewards team members who’ve been loyal in the past and empowers younger ones to work towards becoming duty managers.
Bond is proud of the success stories they have had with this approach, but recognises there are still challenges.
“We realised we could be too hands-on when it came to tasks at the hotel. We have a great team but, if they’re going to grow, they’ve got to find their own way to learn things. I have to stop being adamant about what the right thing to do is,” she said.
One of the biggest takeaways from the Networks sessions has been to listen, rather than going in with both feet. At Lanhydrock, she’s now trying to give staff the space to make their own decisions.
“We try to let them know that as long as they make a decision, it’s okay. We know they’ll have thought it through, so we trust them to do what they think is best.”