Home News Meet Cumbria’s answer to Alex Polizzi

Meet Cumbria’s answer to Alex Polizzi

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Alison Magee-Barker

We like to think that Cumbria is brimming with world-class hotels and restaurants, but maybe we’re complacent.

A recent report makes uncomfortable reading.

The AA number crunched its own data, and that from Visit England, to rate England’s “best counties to eat drink and stay”.

Cumbria was a lowly 18th with a score of 59.6% – 60% or more was deemed “good” – while Berkshire topped the table with 83%.

Lake DistrictAlison Magee-Barker sees the survey as a wake-up call.

After a lifetime working in the hospitality industry, she launched AJ Lakes Consultancy in August to help tourism businesses develop and grow.

She believes that the inscription of the Lake District as a World Heritage Site will attract affluent international visitors who have high expectations of the accommodation and restaurants they use.

She said: “How can the area expect to increase tourism if we are not ready to deliver the standards expected at a World Heritage site?

“Don’t get me wrong, there are many in the industry who are exceptional, winning national awards for their hard work.

“But we need to make sure that everyone is of the same ilk. Whether it is a small B&B, or a five-star establishment, we need to ensure the minimum standard of excellence applies.

“There is no shame in needing help and this is where AJ Lakes Consultancy comes in to help all businesses, big or small, to increase standards, improve their sales and marketing techniques, and increase revenue and profit.”

Before setting up AJ Lakes in Windermere, Alison spent 17 years as general manager at Lindeth Howe Country House Hotel and Restaurant near Bowness.

She has worked at other hotels in Cumbria, including Linthwaite House, Bowness, and started her career as a trainee manager at Cromlix House, the luxury hotel in Perthshire now owned by tennis ace Andy Murray.

She holds a Higher National Diploma in hotel management and is a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality.

You don’t just sell your products and services in isolation, you highlight what’s happening in Cumbria to make them want to come back.

Alison was settled at Lindeth Howe but writing and directing a short film celebrating the life of Beatrix Potter, then leading the winter sales and marketing campaign for the Lake District Hotels’ Association, opened her eyes to the possibility of a new career helping businesses in the hospitality sector.

Her clients compare her to Alex Polizzi, one of the Forte family of hoteliers who stars as a troubleshooter in Channel 5’s The Hotel Inspector, helping to turnaround the fortunes of struggling establishments.

That said, most of Alison’s clients are already profitable, successful, businesses but any business can find scope to improve.

She said: “Like Alex Polizzi, I can go in with a fresh approach and a fresh pair of eyes, and offer clear direction.

“If I were still a hotel general manager, I’d be thrilled to have someone like me come in and give a different perspective, someone who can walk in with a blank canvass without the distraction of running the business day to day.

“You think you’re doing the job effectively but it often needs someone else to see how you can do things differently.

“It’s about problem solving and troubleshooting.”

Her expertise covers sales and marketing, management, housekeeping and maintenance, revenue management, cost control and profit margins, and she offers a ‘mystery guest’ service.

So what do hoteliers get wrong?

It’s impossible to generalise, Alison says, but too many fail to grasp the potential of the internet and social media.

She said: “It’s important you recognise your guests and invite them to come back again. You have to create a relationship, to engage with them.

“Too many businesses are selling and not engaging.

“You don’t just sell your products and services in isolation, you highlight what’s happening in Cumbria to make them want to come back.”

When starting AJ Lakes Consultancy, Alison turned to the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub for help and enrolled on the free Business Start-Up Support programme, (BSUS).

She completed a three-day workshop at Newton Rigg, Penrith, and is full of praise for her Growth Hub adviser, Deborah Clark.

AJ Lakes logoAlison said: “I’m thrilled to bits with the help and support I received.

“Although I was general manager of a hotel, running your own business is different. You don’t have a management team to back you up.

“The workshop kept me focused and on track, and decide whether I should operate as a sole trader or limited company, which I was unsure about.

“Deborah helped me immensely. She kept me positive when I had knock backs, and above all she is personable and cares about what she is doing.”

Alison’s advice to other start-ups is “don’t fret about the small stuff”.

She added: “That’s a heck of a lesson. Keep sight of the big picture and don’t get distracted by the detail.”

If you are thinking of starting your own business or social enterprise, then Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and our partners are here to help with a free business start-up programme to point you in the right direction.

Our comprehensive package of support includes:

  • Free meetings with a business adviser to review and develop your business idea;
  • Free training covering business planning and self-employment, an introduction to marketing/market research and sales forecasts, promotion and sales, an introduction to planning and managing finance, taxation and bookkeeping, using the internet and social media;
  • Free help to develop your business plan and get your business up and running;
  • Free membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

The £1.7m BSUS project is creating almost 700 new businesses and nearly 1,200 jobs. It is also supporting around 250 young businesses and generating more than £92m GVA.

For more information, call us today on 0844 257 84 50 or click here to visit the Cumbria Business Growth Hub web site.

ERDFThe funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.

The BSUS project is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. 

The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.

© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce

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