Lyn McCullock has boundless energy and enthusiasm for looking after her visitors. Along with her husband, she is the proprietor of The Limes a busy four-star guest house situated in Swanage, Dorset, on the beautiful Isle of Purbeck. For over 17 years she has been welcoming guests who come to enjoy beach, walking, cycling and water sports holidays. I managed to get her to take a short break from her duties to answer my questions:
What made you decide to run a Guest House?
We used to stay in Guest Houses when we went hill walking in places such as the Lake District – and we thought ‘we could do that and do it better than this’. My husband was bored with his day job and when our daughter was 12 we decided to give it a go. That was 17 years ago and we are still here!
How has it reached you expectations?
Yes by far – it’s a fabulous way to earn a living.
What sort of marketing do you do?
Interestingly, we do less and less now because now everything is online. When we first came here we used to send out brochures and advertise in niche magazines for walkers, climbers and cyclists. Now being on-line means that 90% of it is free and our advertising budget has fallen over the years. We obviously have to pay for our website and keep it updated – which we have had for a number of years. Also, we work on getting on to directories that are on the front page of Google. Other than that it is mainly word of mouth, as we have been here a while – it’s the best advertising you can ever have.
Do you use booking agencies?
We don’t need to use booking agencies – they take a commission and also reduce the flexibility you can have with direct guest bookings. They like you to have rules like only taking 2 nights, which is fine most of the year but sometimes it pays to be more flexible and break the rules.
The down side is you have to be prepared to answer the phone and emails very promptly in case the guests go on to book elsewhere. You need to be on the ball and answer things all the time. This suits us for now and for someone else taking it on in the future; on line bookings is definately the way to go.
What do you think of social media sites such as tripadvisor?
Tripadvisor is a force for good – people want to know what they are getting and there is no better way of finding out what other people think.
It stops hoteliers behaving badly – if they are about to have a row with a guest, they may think that is going to end up of trip advisor, which that wouldn’t want – then back off.
I don’t respond to every comment but always to poor comments; I’ve only ever had 3 – and I understand the reasons these happened. I do put on an apology and an explanation. I feel this is very important to put the human face behind these comments.
What are the challenges – having guests in your house?
You have to be very tolerant and have boundless energy.
The public can be very difficult – they don’t mean to be but they have expectations. Your job is to make their holiday better than it would have been if they stayed anywhere else.
You have to be as bouncy at 10 o’ clock a night as 7 in the morning. It is a job in its own right – you have to be business like about it – you have to be professional if you have more than 2 or 3 rooms. Never underestimate the time needed for general maintenance and wear and tear on your guesthouse.
What would you say are your worst guests?
No such thing as a bad guest – there maybe such thing as a bad experience but not a bad guest. Generally people will walk through the door expecting to have a good time – especially holiday guests. So you have to do something wrong or something bad has to happen to them for it to go wrong. And generally speaking the difficult guest has something going wrong in his or her own lives and there is nothing I can do about it.
I do regard them as a challenge – my challenge it to make them smile by the time they leave. I usually manage it!
What about your regular guests?
Some have been coming every year for a week all the time I have been here. They become friends and usually go out to dinner with them one night.
The easiest guests really are the ones that go walking all day have one drink in the bar and go to bed early and do it all again the following day!
The nicest guests are always the ones we have interaction with – if they stop and have a chat, you find out a bit about them and they become real people.
How many staff do you employ?
My husband cooks and does the accounts. I do all the front of house and all the things he doesn’t want to do! We have three or four girls in housekeeping depending on how busy we are and a breakfast waitress. All part time and some are students.
What about your own holidays are you open all year?
We open all year however we block off weeks for our own holiday – over a year ahead. November and December we close.
You seem to have quite a lot of overseas guests?
Yes, we have mostly European although we had some Americans this week. They find out about us by the power of the Internet. Also TV programmes and films such as The Shell seekers by Maeve Binchy and recently, the new film Far from the Madding Crown. They also find us by word of mouth from other overseas guests.
What is your strangest request?
Someone asked me to make a cheese omelette for her pet dog at 7.30 on the dot every morning and another insisted on having a particular brand of French water for their dog. I have had special biscuits requested and even black currant jam to put on fried bread – a USA favourite apparently!
Different customers have challenging expectations and we have to be flexible, responding to requests.
Were you aware of St Helena?
Talking to Lyn afterwards about St Helena she told me her first husband was in the merchant navy and worked for Union Castle, which visited the island. Unfortunately Union Castle gave up the voyage before she was able to visit with him. She tells me “it is on my ‘bucket’ list and I have to go there one day. I will get there yet with the new airport!”
One of Lyn’s big passions, apart from meeting guests is writing. She has had short stories published in various women’s magazines and has an online book – White Oaks – a gentle fictional story about running a seaside guest house!