Andy owns The 25 Boutique B&B with his husband Julian.
The 25 has been named ‘The Best B&B In The World’, by TripAdvisor in both 2019 and 2020.
Alex: Hi Andy, could you tell me a bit about yourselves and your business?
Andy: Our first move into hospitality was randomly deciding to buy a very run-down country house hotel in North Wales just outside Caernarfon, having never done anything like that before. We were there over seven years.
It was a much larger property than The 25, with 15 acres, 10 bedrooms, self-catering cottages, and we also had a restaurant and held weddings and events. It was a steep learning curve, but we got it to 17th best in the world on TripAdvisor, so it stood us in good stead for The 25.
I had all sorts of jobs before that, from retail manager to recruitment manager, and an events management and balloon décor business. Julian was in IT.
We moved to Torquay six years ago, turning a very beige 10-bedroom guest house into The 25 Boutique B&B. We downsized so we didn’t need staff and could have full control of everything ourselves, and we also wanted to move near lots of fabulous places to eat, so we didn’t need to provide evening meals – which took over our whole lives.
Alex: The 25 has been named as the best B&B in the world two years running, can you tell us about some of the work you’ve put in to get to this point?
Andy: We always say we’ll never have a finished product; it’s always a work in progress. You can never stop trying to improve what you have or what you offer. When we moved to Wales, we put in these flashy 22” flatscreen TVs with built-in digital. Now our TVs are 50” Smart TVs with Netflix and Prime Movies for our guests. Particularly where tech is concerned, things don’t stand still. It’s good for our regular guests to see that things change and get better each year. During lockdown, we painted the outside of the house and did a makeover on our sun terrace.
We agonise over the tiniest detail, and everything has to be just right. The screwheads in our plug sockets will all be vertical and in line with each other, and the items on our full breakfast will always be in the same place! Most guests will never notice these things, but it just gives an overall feeling of consistency and of everything being perfect. Guests should relax the second they arrive, have everything they could possibly need at hand in their room, and feel that everything is spotlessly clean and pristine looking.
Alex: When you reach the very top of your profession, it can be difficult to stay motivated, as you have no-one left to catch, so what drives you to keep improving?
Andy: We love what we do, and it’s the praise from guests that keeps us motivated. To check people out in the morning and have them tell you they’ve had the best birthday ever, or it’s really made their wedding anniversary special, or that they’ve loved every minute of staying in your home, really makes you feel that the hard work and effort was worth it. We get such lovely feedback, and sometimes even gifts and cards. Chocolate or alcohol are always a good motivator! We’re perfectionists, so there’s always something to improve.
Alex: Do you have any grand vision for the future of The 25? Or is it simply a case of holding on to your number 1 status for as long as possible?
Andy: It would be nice to stay at number one, but realistically the only way is down.
As TripAdvisor’s awards are worked out on an algorithm, it’s impossible to say if we’re miles ahead, or if there’s only a fraction between us and the other B&Bs behind us.
We just want to keep on delighting our guests and seeing them come back. It would be nice to perhaps expand at some stage, maybe with a self-catering apartment, or a property that offers the same high standards, but which doesn’t need to have us around.
Alex: Which other guest houses anywhere in the world do you particularly admire, and what have you learned from them?
Andy: We tend to visit other B&Bs in this country for the odd night off during season to refresh ourselves so we don’t get burnt out – which would affect customer service. Time is precious, so we often don’t travel too far; we’ve visited several B&Bs in the South West, and we visited lots in Wales when we were there too.
Visiting other people can often be useful. As well as talking shop with the owners, you might see an idea, or a different way of doing something. We don’t think of ourselves as perfect, and love to find ways we can improve. I’m always surprised how little many B&Bers visit other B&Bs.
Alex: The hospitality industry has experienced many challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; how have you responded to these challenges, and in which ways do you think the industry will be impacted long-term?
Andy: We worked every day of lockdown except Julian’s birthday. Although it was initially a big shock being closed down, once we’d been through the finances and were confident of getting through it, we used lockdown as an opportunity to get lots of jobs done that we don’t normally have time for.
It’s only a matter of time before we (hopefully) get a vaccine and can start to get back to how things were before. I think levels of occupancy will soon return, but it will take two or three years to gain back the money we lost during lockdown.
We lived through the last recession and came out stronger from that, and we intend to do the same with COVID-19.
Alex: Have you had any experience of working with VIP guests, and if so, can you tell us anything about it?
Andy: Not in Torquay, but we had several at our last place. We hosted HRH The Duke of Cambridge a few times, and he was always meeting other VIPs. It is a bit nerve-wracking the first time you open your front door to the future king of England. He’s a really nice, down to earth guy though, and we’ve had chats just like you would with anyone. I baked some cakes for Kate, as she was pregnant at the time and had a sweet tooth.
We had helicopter landing facilities, which was useful too. Alan Carr was probably the nicest person we had stay with us, and he’s just as funny in real life. He was being supported on stage by Josh Widdicombe, who at the time was pretty unknown. We’d never heard of him, and got him to take a photo of us with Alan. We now wish we’d had a photo with him too! To make up for it we’ve bought tickets to see him at the Princess Theatre next year.
Alex: Who would your three dream guests be, alive or dead?
Andy: That’s a really hard one. It might be nice to invite John Cleese, so he can see how much hospitality in Torquay has changed since he was last here. Perhaps Cilla Black, as we play her music in our breakfast room. We have different music each day and she is ‘Cilla Sunday’. She seemed like she’d be a ‘lora lora laughs’. And perhaps someone like Kylie. I think she’d be a nice person to chat to, but with my business hat on, the PR would be useful!