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Family builds dream log cabin business

Published: 16 January 2017

Rejected by High Street banks, a family found support from AMC to develop its holiday letting business. Soon after completing their first country log cabin, John Morris and his adult children, Hele and George, watched their venue shoot to the top of the popularity tables on a busy UK holiday search site.

After about four decades as an electrical company employee and facing a modest retirement lifestyle, John Morris reinvented himself as an entrepreneur. With 16-acres of land in the Welsh hills bought after a lifelong ambition years earlier, he decided to get his fields to start working for him.

The Morris family started with small-scale livestock rearing and poultry breeding before exploring a holiday let as a way to generate extra income. The commercial success of their property investment surpassed expectations and spawned a flourishing small leisure property business.

The first log cabin was booked within the first half-hour of appearing on holiday search site Sykes Cottages and has remained fully occupied since the keys were handed over to the first customers in 2012. Taking advantage of the momentum, John and his family built another log cabin to pick up surplus enquiries.

With weeks quickly filling up as word spread about the quality accommodation on offer, they took the decision to invest in additional units. Revenue has doubled annually since the first property started producing income, with the family ploughing everything back into the business.

The end goal is to have a maximum of five rental venues – spread a comfortable distance apart to maintain the privacy of holidaymakers – on their land in Mid Powys. The family won’t exceed this number on Woodside Farm, because that would detract from the specialness that's currently on offer.

“We wouldn’t want to expand any further because it would take away from the specialness. This is a little bit of paradise. These cabins are very well spaced, very private with hidden hot tubs on the verandas.” says John.

While Hele’s Log Cabins are in high demand, that’s not the case for properties elsewhere in the region. John attributes his high occupancy rates to the unique offering and service.

“We run this as a family business. It’s not big but it is special to us. We treat people better and differently. We try to be nice to people and see the bigger, long-term picture. The fact we have so many returning customers is a reflection of this,” he says.

Explaining how service here is different from elsewhere, John says that, while the lodges are self-catering, they come with many extras, like all the herbs, spices, gravy, sauces, milk, tea, coffee – “all the basics you don’t have to bring from home”. Also laid on are the logs to keep the fireplaces burning, electricity, bedding and other provisions.

Aside from the super king-size beds, strong hot showers, deep baths and generally luxurious ambience, the farm has additional attractions in the form of the animals and wildlife.

“Children enjoy coming into contact with the chickens and rabbits on the smallholding and we have a big male sheep called Derek that enjoys a belly rub and allows children to sit on him if they wish. Sightings of red kites and buzzards are exciting for city slickers looking for a country break,” says Hele.

While the Morrises now boast among the highest occupancy rates among the thousands of places listed on Sykes Cottages, getting started was challenging. If it wasn’t for the family’s determination to achieve their business aspirations and the assistance of AMC agent Tony Evans of Morris Marshall & Poole in securing funding, it would have been a different outcome.

With some savings from a work share scheme, John approached his personal banker – with whom he had banked since he opened a savings account at school – and another financial institution. “They asked me why I didn’t build the cabins first and then borrow money against them when they were completed. They didn’t see the concept that you need money to build,” reflects John.

“Then I spoke to Tony Evans, as I knew he worked on funding for farming diversifications. He helped us set up funding, initially for the first cottage and then the other two – so he has helped us all the way. It’s all thanks to funding from the AMC that we could get this business going,” he says.

They always get back to us. It is a business and we understand that we are paying interest, but they talk to us like humans. I don’t know if they have different training from people at banks, but they seem to be in the real world.

John Morris founder of Hele’s Log Cabins, Wales

While taking on a mortgage to support their investment was a little “scary”, it is comfortably covered by the income being generated from the properties. “It doesn’t worry us at all because we can see money coming in from bookings. By this time next year we should be able to start taking money out of the business,” notes John.

Another decision that helped get the business off-the-ground quickly, says John, is opting for Sykes Cottages. “There is no way we could have marketed this on our own. We only deal with Sykes. They are friendly and proactive. They take a commission, of course, but the cash flow is strong.”

John’s advice for farming entrepreneurs who want to follow in his family’s footsteps of developing plans and finding finances to achieve a business dream is: “be real about what you want to do – and find yourself a Tony Evans. Don’t try to do it on your own, you won’t save money and you’ll just waste time.”

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