David and Gaynor Clarke of Cape Howe Cottages
How/Why did you decide to start Cape Howe Cottages?
Back in the mid 90’s we were both working long hours in the corporate world in Perth – Gaynor in Bank and Insurance Marketing, David in Liquor Wholesaling. We were offered redundancies within a few months of each other due to mergers and a downturn in the wine industry. We decided that we could either go straight back into similar jobs or use this opportunity to reassess what we wanted in life. As we do with most of our major decisions, we opened a bottle of wine and consequently chose the latter. We have never regretted leaving Perth nor the corporate rat race.
Choosing what to do was an interesting adventure that took quite a few months to evolve. We knew that we loved the cooler climate, nature, dark night skies and needed to be near the sea. We also loved travelling and exploring so we came up with the idea of providing somewhere for people just like us to holiday to. After a lot of searching we found our piece of paradise near Lowlands Beach and Cape Howe Cottages was born. Now in our 20th year of business, we feel we’ve achieved something very special.
What lessons have you found to be the most important in your journey?
- We’ve learnt to be a jack (and jill) of all trades. In one day we could be doing some carpentry or painting maintenance, fixing a leaky tap, clearing firebreaks, preparing the BAS statement, welcoming new guests, cooking and delivering a room service evening curry. There is no chance of getting bored that’s for sure.
- We’ve had to learn to work together – no mean feat when we’re pretty much with each other 24/7.
- Maintaining a clear (achievable) vision that provides that “work/life” balance.
- We’ve got to have a sense of humour – not everything goes according to plan, so being able to see the funny side helps us get through it.
You have won many awards for your property. What has these awards brought to your business?
There’s a lot of competition in the tourism market – not just locally but regionally, nationally and internationally as well. The awards give us a point of difference and demonstrate integrity.
More importantly though is the insights we gained through thoroughly analysing our business when preparing the submissions and going through the judging process. The discipline and framework provided during the process really tested our business skills and helped develop strategies to future proof the business.
Your business was inducted into the WA Tourism Hall of Fame in 2011. How did this impact you and the business?
We had to win the Hosted Accommodation category for three consecutive years competing amongst a very hotly contested field of outstanding tourism businesses. It kept us on our toes knowing we needed to be innovative, consistent, rational and super good at what we do all the time. After 2011 we took a year’s hiatus from the awards circuit but then actually missed the discipline so we re-entered and won the Deluxe Accommodation Category in 2013. We took another break before becoming the inaugural winners of the new Self Contained Accommodation Category in 2016. We’ve hung up our hat again for now.
Who has helped you along the way?
Many, many people but notably:
- Russell from Schlager Homes who was really good at interpreting what we wanted to build and delivered a high quality product time after time. He built our home, 3 cottages and 2 cottage renovations.
- The awards site judges who always offered great advice and guidance.
- Our dream team of cleaners who know how high our standards are and who make it happen.
- All the terrific small business operators who we support as much as we can and who look after our daily needs – linen hire, cleaning products, electrical appliances, tradies, batteries, gas deliveries, food growers and suppliers, car servicing, machinery repairs – the list goes on. We need and use a lot of stuff – afterall we’re running and maintaining 7 houses (including our own!)
- Many friends and family who have been very understanding of the limitations we often face getting time out but happily bring the party to us instead.
How do you relax and break away from the business?
In this type of business you have to adapt to taking unconventional breaks. In peak times we can’t have time off, but when it gets quieter or a window of opportunity presents itself then we make a quick decision to go for it.
We’ve been very fortunate over the last 5 years or so to have found competent relief managers from time to time which allowed us to take some holidays.
Whenever we can, we sit outside in the early evening with a glass of wine watching and listening to the birds and frogs as the sun sets reflecting on the day and what lies ahead. We are lucky to live and work in such an inspiring environment.
In the tourism industry, what are the biggest challenges you now face?
With the rise and rise of the online booking juggernauts like the Booking.com and Expedia groups, businesses are at risk of losing their own identity and being forced into the moulds dictated by them. Loss of personal contact, creativity and flexibility during the enquiry and booking process is challenging. We have to establish ways of working with them and also working around them to ensure Cape Howe Cottages continues to stand out.
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