Friday, 28 March 2014

Dowfold House's latest Newsletter

There's so much going on around us in Durham - all of it good. Read our latest Newsletter to learn more

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Sales Prevention, or what?

I'm a simple chap.  If I find something I want to buy I, naively perhaps, think it should not be too difficult to find someone to sell it to me.  Well, that ain't how it is.  I've found some delicious black pudding; I'd like to buy it and serve it to our guests - and I can't.  It's making me VERY cross.

I tasted this mythical black pudding at Bistro21 - one of Durham's top restaurants.  I've eaten plenty of black pudding in my time; most not very good; some OK; some really rather good - and a couple that are sublime. The Bistro21 black pudding falls into this category.  I was lucky enough to meet up with the chef at Bistro21 and he told me they got it from a wholesalers - Warren Butterworth catering butchers.  I duly visited Butterworth's web-site, found the product and enquired after it.  "We don't deliver in Crook." came the deeply uninterested reply.  That's all.  No: "We supply it to these people; you might be able to get it from them." Or ""Sorry, we can't supply it - try the makers."  Just, in effect: " b****r off".

I stuck at it.  Found out that they got it from Vale of Mowbray, in Yorkshire.  I got on to Vale of Mowbray. similar response: "It's on sale in lots of supermarkets."  It's not.  I spent an afternoon on the web and calling all the local supermarkets.  None had it.  Morrisons were the most helpful, FYI.

It's the complete lack of interest that really gets me.  Don't they WANT to sell the stuff?

Anyway, happy ending.  I post my dilemma on FaceBook.  Back comes Rachael Jewson, of Knitsley Farm Shop, near Consett.

"Hi guys hear that you are looking for local black pudding etc?? We do our own black pudding at Knitsley Farm Shop, also award winning bacon and sausages! Acorn Diary do lovely organic milk and butter. Give us a call on 01207 592059 if you want to chat about anything you require. Thanks"
I wonder which black pudding I'm going to buy??  It is delicious, by the way.

Tourism websites: Form or Function?

I'm getting fed-up with local tourism websites.  I'm updating ours ( and TRYING to put links to local areas of interest on it.  So, I visit Auckland Castle website (
It's a VERY pretty site, with opportunities for me to get wed there - too, late, the damage is done - and a couple of others, none of which offer ANY information about the castle, nor about why I might want to visit it.

 It's the same with Beamish (

Apart from the strapline: "The Living Museum of the North" - good - it goes straight into too much detail - events, news, volunteering opportunities which all assume you already know what Beamish actually IS.  Not a thing about just what it offers and what makes a visit there special.  A couple of sentences would do it.

The Bishop Auckland Food Festival suffers from this malaise as well.  I just want to promote these attractions on our own website to visitors & potential visitors, but it's really very hard...

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Advertising sites for B&Bs; what ARE they about?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently.  All these sites with “Gold”, “Platinum”, “Silver”, “Bronze” categories – as well as a free listing – are missing a trick.  As I’m sure most people have realised, a “free” listing is worth about as much as you pay for it.  So, they list you for free, then point out how few bookings you’ve got, because you have a free, low-priority listing, and press you to upgrade.  Inevitably, you don’t, because you have only negative experience of their site and, as Clausewitz said: “Never reinforce failure”.  I’ve got Scoot trying to do this with me right now.
Now, I know many sites like having lots of places listed, even if most of them don’t get anything out of it, but starting with a free listing just isn’t going to cut it.  They’d be much better off (if their site is any good, that is) by offering you a free TRIAL subscription, at the top rate, where – allegedly – 90% of the bookings go, for three to six months.  Offer detailed statistics on the entry’s performance and use those stats to sell a renewal.  If the B&B doesn’t bite, for whatever reason, relegate them to the free entries section.  It has got to be easier to sell from success than from failure, and the customer gets evidence of real value.
Another thing that really gets me is the absence of statistics.  It is the work of a moment for such sites to generate numbers of referrals, to sort them by area, type of entry, type of B&B, type of enquirer and any other category you care to mention.  But they don’t.  Getting data out of them is harder than getting blood out of a stone.  They might say: “Oh, we had 600,000 hits last months”.  I’m not that interested in hits; I’m interested in click-throughs to an entry’s website.  “3,000 click-throughs, of which 80% went to our 200 Gold entries; 15% to our 500 Silver entries; 3% to our 1,000 Bronze entries, and the remaining 2% to our 10,000 free entries.  That translates to:
  • Each Gold entry got 15 enquiries, on average
  • Each Silver entry got 0.9 enquiries, on average
  • Each Bronze entry got 0.09 enquiries, on average
  • The free entries get virtually nil
I also find the concept of: “Great news! For only £9/month we’ll build a great entry for you, with lots of detail, photographs, online booking and more…” deeply dispiriting.  “Oh, God, another b****y web-site to maintain” just about covers it.  We’re on over 40 sites as it is and just checking them regularly to make sure they are all singing from the same hymn sheet is a serious burden.
What I really want to hear are two things:
  1. “We’ll put tools in place so that, whenever your web-site changes, we’ll make sure our entry changes to reflect it”.
  2. [Even better] “ So, you’re with eviivo and, and … and … Let us protect you from the nightmare of diary updating and the risk of double bookings.  For mere millions, we’ll keep all of your availability diaries in sync; you just get the bookings.”
I don’t know if it’s too much to ask.  What I DO know is that, if you don’t ask you don’t get… 

Thoughts on the past and the future…

As we subside gently into the season of peace and goodwill (otherwise known as the frantic period of cleaning, decorating and updating before the guests start coming again), I just thought I’d share a few thoughts.  

First, we’ve now been doing this for 6½ years - and STILL enjoy it.  The variety of delightful people you meet - and with whom we enjoy a pleasantly shallow relationship - is unbounded. In that period, we’ve had nearly 3000 people come to stay, many of them several times.  We can count on fewer than the fingers of one hand those we’ve had a problem with (i.e. less than 5).

Second: we’re still trying very hard.  As a departing guest said this morning: “Everything on the breakfast table had just that little bit extra added to it, which makes such a difference.”  And, when I thought about it, it was largely true.  You don’t just get grilled tomatoes here; you get grilled tomatoes treated with herbs and seasoned.  You get really good bacon & sausages from free-range pigs; the eggs come from a local farm; you get home-baked bread, made with our own blend of flours. Actually, we don’t push the envelope on everything: I can’t think of much to do with Heinz beans other than heat and serve them.  Mind you, they’re pretty good as they are.  The same goes for Heinz ketchup and HP sauce.  BTW, if anyone know of a better way to do beans PLEASE let me know!

Third: the plethora of regulations can be irritating, but they are there for a purpose and most of the officials we have to deal with aim to help us meet their needs in the context of improved safety, quality and reliability that led to their creation in the first place.

So, all in all, I don’t regret a minute of our time here, and I hope it’ll go on for much longer.  It’s a great life, if you don’t weaken.

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year - and, keep coming!

What does your website REALLY do...

We’ve been looking at Google Analytics on our website for some time
now.  We’re always fascinated to see just how and from where people
find us.  In the past 6 months, people from 60 countries have
visited our site.  It’s also clear that the proportion of people
accessing the site via mobile devices, as opposed to PCs and laptops
has gone from 10% to 20% in a year.  Goshdarnit, I’ll just have to
invest in that pesky old mobile site, now!  It’s all good stuff, but
some of the tools in there mean that you can REALLY tie yourself in
knots…  I’m also looking at Analytics for the discover Weardale
website, which is kinda inneresting ( 
This site is actually doing rather well, being heavily used for
seeking out events in Weardale, and for people looking for
accommodation.  we get a lot of hits from it.

Boutique B&B or Boutique hotel?

This has been exercising me for some time.  A number of what I would call boutique hotels have been forced to masquerade as boutique B&Bs, because they could not meet ALL the requirements for a hotel designation, as laid down by the quality standards of the Tourist Board (or Quality in Tourism, run by and for VisitEngland as they call it these days).  Now, however this is changing.  there is a good article on the subject, by VisitBritain - - which points out, quite reasonably, theat the standards should focus more on quality than quantity, and that the “hotel” moniker can now be applied to a wider group of accommodation providers, as long as they do it well.  Good news I think.