We’re out of season now but here’s a lovely update from Hannah Jones and Duncan Jones of the company Marine Discovery Penzance, who run wildlife spotting boat tours from the Cornish town in the very west of the UK which is one of my favourite places. I invited them to take part in this interview series last year after having been on one of their catamaran trips, and this was their first interview. When I asked them then what their plans were for the upcoming year, they replied, “The time has come now to either grow the business or streamline it. In our case growing further would mean having to buy
another vessel, and take on a skipper and more staff. Streamlining would mean trying to almost narrow our appeal – a business cannot be all things to all people and all budgets. We are still thinking about which way to go, but something will change because the summer we have just had was insanely busy and we don’t want to suffer burnout”. This is such a pivotal time in the life of a business (I covered the general options in a series of articles on the topic a year or so ago, although not with specific boat tours reference!) and I was interested to see how they’re doing this year. Read on to find out …
Hello again, Hannah and Duncan. I know from your Facebook page that you’ve had a great summer of wildlife spotting. Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
Broadly yes, though this year has been even more successful than last year in terms of customer numbers and turnover. We were running full boats from May right through to the end of October.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
We kept the same staff as we had last year, and it looks as though they will both be with us next year. This is such a massive advantage, as it means we don’t have to look for new staff and train them during those early months of the season. They are both very different, but big assets to the company.
We now only operate the shortest trip (the 1 ½ hour Bay Discovery) between the start of the season and the end of June, which takes in the Easter holidays and the May half term break. Demand for this trip had been falling in recent years during the peak season, and we found it impossible to fit into the peak summer schedule. This did mean that there were certain families we “lost” to other companies which was a shame, but such was the demand for the longer trips, it didn’t matter financially, and hopefully they will come back when they want to do a longer trip (when their children are older maybe). We also streamlined our pricing structure, getting rid of the family discount but retaining the child’s concession. It hasn’t had even the slightest adverse effect on our visitor numbers.
We have also made the decision to convert our engine power to electric. We have bought a new electric outboard engine from Germany, who lead in this kind of technology. It is a costly investment but one which will pay off long term. As the technology improves we hope to power this eventually using solar energy, but for the moment it will run on batteries, alongside one remaining petrol outboard and the sail power of course. This will mean lower fuel costs, fewer emissions and a quieter experience, during those days when there is no wind and we have to use the motors. These motors also require much less servicing than petrol and diesel engines, and need no engine oil. There is zero risk of fuel spillage.
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
What have I learned? That working smarter rather than harder (in terms of hours) is often the thing to do, though there is no substitute for hard graft and dedication of course. I’m glad we made the decision to streamline rather than grow.
Brexit – well it’s hard to know what it will bring isn’t it? Lots of people didn’t think it would happen, yet here we are. Hopefully it won’t mean our overseas visitor numbers will drop (with the weak pound I doubt it), and I really hope that it doesn’t mean the increasingly number of European residents in the UK will stop holidaying in Cornwall. We get lots of Central European people living and working in the UK visiting us, for example. We have made no secret of the fact that we are concerned about the effect Brexit will have on the marine environment, and people have overwhelmingly agreed with us.
Any more hints and tips for people?
Life is not a dress rehearsal – work hard but don’t forget to live as well.
BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?
Are you generally pessimistic or optimistic about Britain’s future in this new world we find ourselves in?
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
Making use of new technology and using the ongoing findings of our research to help us find the wildlife on our trips, which is what gives us one of the edges over the competition. This is alongside the experiment with the electric outboard engine. This should hopefully prove to customers that we are genuinely committed to being genuinely environmentally friendly rather than simply coating our marketing in greenwash.
Times are extremely uncertain – I have no idea what next year will bring. Very few people do.
I’m so glad they had such a good year and have worked out a way to build the business which works for them (when it came to full-capacity time for me, I built up my network of people to refer onto so I could say “no” while offering an alternative option, and streamlined what I offered and who I offered it to; different options are available). I love the idea of them offering even more environmentally friendly boat tours, as this is what attracted us to go out with their company in the first place, and I’m sure next summer will bring more development there. I suspect more people will be holidaying in the UK next year although who knows, really – I’d love to see a few answers from fellow business-owners to that Brexit question.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources.