Client Profile: Archie Montgomery, North Cadbury Court - What more can you do for your business?

In these days of economic concern and slowing growth many businesses are wondering quite where to go next.

At Old Mill we are seeing a number of businesses where an examination suggests they have opportunities quite close to home to develop aspects of existing resources. It may be a skilled workforce who could have time and skills available to undertake new or additional roles. It could be the machinery which can be adapted for another use. Market diversification both in product or geographically often throws up opportunities. In the case we are looking at here, it was the opportunity to put an existing property to a different use.

The Montgomery family at North Cadbury in South Somerset have run a significant farm and world renowned cheese making business for the past century.
Over the years the business has seen considerable diversification and varied use of their buildings. For 25 years their mother had lived alone in the family home, North Cadbury Court. When she died in 2010 the family had to decide what they were going to do with the property – a large 25 bedroom Grade 1 mansion – which had already been used as the country house setting for a Jane Austen film.

A feasibility study of potential options was undertaken with the assistance of Strutt and Parker. With the strong family ties to the house, selling or long leases were not favoured choices. Splitting the building up into flats was, on the surface, potentially the most profitable proposal, but the conservation officers at South Somerset District Council turned pale at the suggestion! A plan was evolved to turn it into a large, top end, selfcatering holiday let whilst acknowledging that because of the investment needed this was a considerable risk.

Archie Montgomery has overseen the whole project. Fortunately the building was structurally sound. Nevertheless a seven figure refurbishment had to
be set in motion. The biggest single investment was to replace the plumbing and heating along with the removal of asbestos. Archie already had experience
in the generation of renewable energy so a woodchip boiler was installed to provide heating and hot water, supported by the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

There are quite a number of large houses looking for new uses but North Cadbury Court has a few advantages that others would find it difficult to
compete with. The main one comes from the way the property has developed over many centuries. An open space between two Elizabethan wings was long ago incorporated into the building, providing two spacious reception rooms, each with the capacity to seat large numbers. In addition, a considerable area of flat roof above provides a viewing gallery and allows golfers to tee off from the roof for the three-hole golf course around the grounds. This quirky facility is typical of the characterful nature of the refurbishment.

The careful renovation of the property, together with the use of family photographs and pictures has skilfully retained the original family feel of the house.
Where possible West Country suppliers have been used, such as the mattress manufacturer who custommade mattresses for the beds, and the Gloucestershire based wallpaper and soft furnishing designer and manufacturer whose products have been used extensively. Archie’s belief is that if you are hiring a top-end self-catering premises it should be at least or more comfortable than your own home and the brand is “magnificent, comfortable and fun!”

The property sleeps up to 50 and has been in demand for a range of uses, particularly special family events and weddings. All suppliers, whether florists,
caterers, or rock bands, are contracted in, with a small commission payable. Therefore, apart from a gardener, only one full time member of staff is employed: a lady with a lot of experience at client care in the country house environment. She has a crucial role talking to prospective guests, showing them around, helping arrange their event and making sure that everything is laid on exactly as they require. The level of guest satisfaction is rewarding, with all saying that they would like to visit again.

Important to the success of the venture has been the support of the local community, which shares in the inward investment. Local suppliers, such as caterers and taxi firms are used by the guests and the village shop benefits, as does the public house, and the local B&Bs have come to rely on the events. Local ladies provide the cleaning and change-over staff when required, sorting out between themselves a rota to balance their work and family commitments.

Up to now marketing has largely been achieved through listings on web based portals. Increasingly, though, word of mouth from satisfied guests supported by a good website and presence in social media means they have reached an impressive level of occupancy, particularly for weekends. The letting of the beds midweek has been slower to build, though there has been some success at gaining corporate trade from a wide range of businesses, including several global names.

The two big reception rooms can comfortably accommodate up to 300 people for conferences and many rooms are ideal for break-out sessions and
presentations. However, whilst the 25 bedrooms can sleep 50 for families at weddings or anniversary parties, in the corporate market it is mainly single rooms which are in demand and therefore the number able to stay overnight is restricted. The renovation of a coach house is being considered as a future development to add more corporate capacity as the Montgomerys focus on how they can improve their attractiveness for business use. Particular efforts are being made to improve the marketing of the Court’s unique blend of facilities and atmosphere to businesses in the South West and those much further afield.

North Cadbury Court is now a successful business in its own right within the family’s wider farming, cheese making, property and energy generation businesses. The three keys to making this new venture a success have been the use of lateral thinking and imagination, making exceptional use of the advantages of existing resources and, most particularly, ensuring it is providing exactly what the potential clients want in a manner that clearly exceeds expectations.

Not every business is lucky enough to include a country house within their resources – but with creative and free thinking many businesses can find there is more potential in the broad definition of existing resources than they might have possibly thought possible before.

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