When Lyn and Jason Martin left their typical nine-to-five jobs three years ago to forge a new business and lifestyle in hospitality, little did they know that they’d build a boutique business that would become one of the front runners in Lyme Regis. We caught up with the creative duo to find out just how they did it and how they plan to maximise profitability now at Dorset House.
Dorset House in Lyme Regis is a boutique b&b home to five bedrooms and headed up by husband and wife team Lyn and Jason Martin, who tempted by the hospitality industry three years ago upped sticks from their office jobs and made the bold move to step into the sector.
They acquired Dorset House in 2014, a building steeped in history having gone through life as a campaign headquarters for the local MP, a school, and a stint as a hotel, then finally a family home when the Martins took over.
Fast forward three years and the accolades are stacking up, with the likes of Visit Dorset and Taste of the West awarding the business for its efforts and achievements in food, design and hospitality.
We popped in to meet Lyn and Jason to find out the secrets to this success and how the pair are gearing up to embark on their most profitable year yet.
Can you tell me a bit about the background of the property and the transformation of the building into the boutique B&B?
Lyn says: “Dorset House is an iconic building in Lyme Regis. It was built by the local MP to be his campaign headquarters and has since been a school, a hotel and when we bought it, was being used as a family home. We could see the potential for hotel use and embarked upon lengthy discussions with the planning team to create 5 letting rooms, a large breakfast room and snug, large kitchen and 3 bed flat for our family to live in. The lower ground floor that we now inhabit was derelict and the whole house needed large investment in infrastructure – new water and gas supply, new plumbing and wiring, new bathrooms and work to comply with fire regulations etc. It is a grade II listed building and as such great care was taken to use authentic materials and methods. This all comes at a price however, both monetary and time wise and the whole process from beginning negotiations with the planners to opening for business took 9 months. We focussed on ensuring that the bathrooms and infrastructure were of the best quality in order to get open and have worked on tweaking the décor since then.”
You designed the interiors of the property yourselves – where did you look for inspiration?
“I did become a Pinterest junkie during the renovations! We were very clear that we wanted Dorset House to be a haven where guests can relax and unwind as soon as they walk through the door which dictated our colour palette of warm greys and rich wood. We worked with a fabulous paint company, Lakeland Paints, whose paints are VOC and chemical free and come in an amazing paint palette. We’re lucky in that the architecture of the Georgian Building is stunning so the décor is simple to allow the features to shine through. High ceilings and large windows allow us to be bolder with some deep blues to add interest.
“There’s a thriving vintage scene in the area that provided interesting pieces of furniture to add warmth and we’ve really enjoyed sourcing local original art – a great way to justify a trip down to Cornwall!”
What is the accommodation market like in Lyme Regis generally?
“We have a long season in Lyme – whilst the sandy beach brings families down in the summer, the great walking along the South West Coast Path and the amazing local food scene brings more guests out of season and we are close enough to London for weekenders. We have a couple of larger hotels in town with lots of B&Bs and of course a fast growing contingent of Airbnb rooms.”
What sort of customers do you see visiting Dorset House?
“The focus of our stay is our breakfast and we have been described as a breakfast with rooms so we are firmly on the radar of the foodie tourists. They typically attend a cookery course at River Cottage, eat at Mark Hix and enjoy a few more of our hidden gems – we help them to plan out an eating itinerary with nice long walks in between to justify the next meal! We do have a couple of rooms with flexible accommodation for families but that’s not our core business.”
What marketing do you use? OTAs? And what works best for you?
“We set out to embrace social media and online and as such focussed on creating a responsive website with online booking and to fully utilise the business TripAdvisor listing. We’re number one on TripAdvisor which brings a lot of business. Targeted Facebook Ads have worked well for us when we have late availability to sell and we have begun to dip our toes into Instagram. When we first opened we used Booking.com but have found that the customer fit just doesn’t work as well for us. Guests from Booking.com are less interested where they stay and haven’t therefore bought into our ethos – we’ve had booking.com guests horrified that they are eating at a communal table for example so we now just use Booking.com for late availability. We have won a few awards this last year (Taste of the West Best B&B, Visit Dorset Gold and were finalists in the Visit England awards) which has brought with it a few nice PR pieces and a flurry of bookings.”
What are the future plans for the property?
“The building, given its age, is like the Forth Bridge in that there’s always something that needs doing – we’re slowly replacing the radiators with more attractive ones and would love to add heritage double glazing to the sash windows should the planning officers ever take energy efficiency seriously. We designed our family accommodation to convert into two further suites should we find suitable accommodation elsewhere but the property market in Lyme Regis is very competitive.”
Would you look to acquire another B&B?
“We are often asked this question and would love to recreate a new and improved Dorset House II. We keep our eyes on potential properties and continue to explore funding options. Getting Dorset House up and running pretty much drained our coffers to the point that even at our age we turned to the bank of Mum and Dad for some help, so we’re really focussing on maximising profitability now that we’ve built a solid brand proposition.”
Would you look to expand your F&B offering?
“We’ve done some ‘pop up’ meals for groups and have really enjoyed the challenge of this. Our breakfast room opens out onto a lovely veranda so it’s great for a drinks reception before dinner – and of course helps our bar takings.”