Small Business Profile: The Riverside Hotel

Brenda and David Milne took over Riverside Hotel in 2001
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The Independent Online

With a sound business plan and associated finance in place, David Milne and his wife Brenda took over Riverside Hotel at Ambleside in the Lake District back in January 2001.

“We knew there was a lot of work needed to build up the business," explains David, “although our financial projections were sensible and we were looking forward to the challenge.” But then, in February 2001, foot and mouth broke out.

When routes for walkers were closed, the visitor numbers dropped accordingly, which had a negative impact on revenue. “Our occupancy levels were only 40 per cent in that first year," he adds, “which was never going to translate into a profitable business.” Luckily David had done something very sensible - he had arranged a four-day-per-week IT role with a London-based firm that allowed him to work from home for much of the time.

It took the best part of five years for the husband and wife team to renovate the hotel, build up the business and to have sufficient confidence for David to become full time. Finally, in 2006, he said goodbye to frequent commuting days of 5am to 11pm.

“It took some time to adjust to the new life," admits the ex-mathematician and IT engineer, “but I am so pleased to have made the move.” And things have gone really well since then and Riverside now employs five other staff part-time and enjoys occupancy rates of 85-90 per cent.

Looking back over the last five years, David is convinced that the secret to achieving success has been attention to detail. “It's quite simple really”, he explains. “We just strive to create exactly the kind of hotel that Brenda and I would like to stay in ourselves.”

And that attention to detail hasn’t gone unnoticed. Trip Advisor has ranked The Riverside Hotel as the ninth best place in the world and the third best in Europe in its B&B and Inns category. “That kind of recommendation has brought us visitors from, quite literally, around the world," says David.

So it was five hard years to establish the business followed by five more years to build the reputation. But what about the next five years? “Riverside holds the key to our future as well”, says David, “since both the building and the business represent our pension fund and retirement nest-egg all rolled into one.” Undoubtedly a solid business model for these uncertain times.