Wendy Shand is a long time supporter of Motivating Mum. Her business is Tots to Travel, a holiday company specialising in villa rentals for families with small children. I caught up with Wendy a few weeks ago…
What prompted you to start Tots to Travel?
It all started when we had a very difficult holiday in the south west of France with our two small children (2.5 years and 8 months). Needing a holiday more than ever before we opted for a beautiful holiday home but then discovered that it is really hard work being somewhere where children are not catered for.
The crunch came when my eldest fell into an unenclosed pool. Thinking about the kit, safety, planning and booking, I came to the conclusion that there had to be an easier way to holiday with kids; where a family could have a proper break for the whole family. So I created www.totstotravel.co.uk which is a stylish villa website aimed at families with under-fives. We carefully visit and select every single villa and put it through a stringent check and ensure that all pools have some sort of safety barrier to give parents peace of mind.
We also guarantee that every holiday property has our Tots Essential Kit Guarantee which is a minimum of 20 items that means that mum and dads can travel.
You’ve been in business for 7 years now. Was it difficult for you to start up a business back then?
Actually the first bit was fairly straightforward and logical, I think the stage of growing a business to achieve scale, growing the team and finding investment whilst still holding onto the original values of the business is much trickier. The learning curve is pretty much a vertical line!
What has changed for mums in business since then?
Plenty has changed!
There is now an entire infrastructure that supports mums setting up for themselves, including networks of mums supporting each other and sharing their challenges. Moreover there is an entire range of ancillary industries to support them. More importantly, the businesses that support mums in business understand the very specific challenges that mums in business have and can advise in such a way to make the whole process easier.
Do you think that travelling with children is more easy now than it was when your children were little?
Definitely! 8 years ago I Googled ‘family friendly holidays’ and nothing came up…now you can travel with just hand luggage and arrive at the door of your holiday villa in under 4 hours and find everything you need waiting for you. I speak to plenty of parents who say “if only I had known about www.totstotravel.co.uk when my children were little!”
What would be your advice to a family planning to travel on holiday with babies or toddlers for the first time this year?
Good question! Now there is so much choice and it can be a bit overwhelming. First of all it’s important to start the process early in the year because availability becomes a challenge and flight prices just go up, giving you less choice and making the holiday more expensive.
And secondly, with a baby or toddlers in tow, try not to skimp on the accommodation, as it is likely that you will spend quite a lot of time in your hotel room or villa what with nap times and early bedtimes.
I also speak to plenty of mums and dads who are fearful of going overseas on holiday. I would say, be brave and go for it!
Has your business been affected by the economic downturn at all? If so what have you done to reduce these effects?
Definitely, and I would be fascinated to talk to any business owner that denies that the economy has had some effect on their business. Overall families are still going away, but they are not going away for as long or to the bigger more luxy houses…and the patterns are harder to find. The economy has changed and it is important to deliver excellent customer service and to ensure that you deliver value and remain unique within the market.
For our part we have managed our costs very carefully and moved from an outsourced model to having our team in the same office. This means that we have gained efficiencies and synergies that are helping to build growth. We’re also continuing to drive innovation, an example of this is our Tots Essential Kit Guarantee which helps to give our customers peace of mind when they book, and looking for ways to use technology to drive our growth. It’s a continuing learning curve and there has been no room to rest on our laurels.
Most of the years that we have been in business have been within a recession so I am hoping that it will have been an excellent grounding for the future!
If you were starting up in business afresh right now, what would be the first things you would do?
Oooh good question! I would look at the size of the market, who’s already in it and figure out how to do it better and differently. I’d be looking at a new business a lot more critically and using data to back up our thinking. There are still plenty of opportunities out there and it’s a question of looking at established industries and figuring out whether there is room to be disruptive!
and finally – what is your favourite Social Media platform and how do you use it?
My favourite is Pinterest and I find it completely absorbing! So far we’re not seeing it as a big traffic generator but I am learning how to do it better and the key is creating your own material rather than just pinning other peoples and then linking that to your site. It’s a really important platform, particularly if you are in a business that is highly visual like ours or that your target market is women.