Richardsons boss says holiday park is prospering after £10m revamp
PUBLISHED: 18:00 21 August 2018 | UPDATED: 18:22 22 August 2018
Archant Norfolk 2018
Just a decade ago, holiday business Richardsons was a company in need of direction.
After a rapid expansion from its boating routes in the Norfolk Broads, to a national empire including pubs, restaurants, boat hire and holiday parks, the multifarious company was struggling to cope.
A new boss and a wide-ranging divestment followed, scaling the company back to its East Anglian heartland.
Fast forward, and with a new management team the business has just completed a £10m renovation of its flagship facility in Hemsby – a sign of confidence both in the village and the company.
Chief executive Greg Munford said Richardsons was lacking a “mission statement” when he took charge in 2008.
“We had some very lazy assets – our pubs and restaurants division didn’t perform very well at all, so we decided to divest ourselves of that over time and focus on our core assets, which was holiday parks and boating,” he said.
“Mr Richardson built up a considerable boating operation which was used to diversify into holiday parks and pubs, so the boating operation for a number of years did not see the investment it needed because it was subsidising acquisition and the poor performance of the pubs.”
After narrowing down its focus on the holiday park market, which saw three of its five parks sold off, Richardsons came up with an investment plan for its flagship site in Hemsby.
Funded with cash from divested assets, the renovation began with 34 static caravans on a greenfield site owned by Richardsons adjacent to its holiday park in 2016, with 20 more installed in 2017.
The directors had originally considered putting a hotel on the site, but market research pointed them down the caravan route.
The experiment was a success, and ultimately dictated the direction of the park’s £10m renovation. As part of the project, its second site in Hemsby, adults-only catered chalet park Seacroft, was almost completely demolished to make way for new static caravans.
A new entertainment complex with a restaurant, indoor play area and 400-seat show bar was also built.
Following a mass clearance of the old chalets and “beach huts”, Richardsons now has more than 200 caravans, with Paul Robinson Partnership in Norwich designing their layout.
The only accommodation left standing on the Seacroft site were 19 “gold” bungalows, which were refurbished in 2016 to become self-catering units. Its 20-odd holiday apartments have also been refurbished.
In line with current trends Richardsons has also installed five luxury lodges – each with its own hot tub – at a cost of around £60,000 each. Mr Munford believes there is room for another 30 such lodges, which have proven wildly popular with guests this summer.
In total the 50-acre park, now all under the banner of Hemsby Beach Holiday Park, has 400 letting units. Of the 272 people employed by the Richardsons group in peak season just over 100 work at the park.
Mr Munford said: “When we started the trial, our customers enjoyed the caravan experience. That was when we decided we had enough evidence to invest what will be close to £7m this year.”
And customers seem to be responding to the efforts made to bring the park up to date – with around 140 more units to fill, Mr Munford said bookings at the start of July were on par with where they were in 2017. He added that the park was fully booked for the summer holidays.
The extra capacity is expected to boost turnover, which last year dipped to £12.36m from £14.16m in the year to last October, though pre-tax profits soared 81% to £2.65m.
As well as its entertainment complex, the park also has a leisure complex. Its partnership with Lowestoft holiday group Hoseasons as a Go Active resort sees it provide a wide range of sports facilities, including a swimming pool, fitness room, a traversal wall for free climbing, and indoor and outdoor multi-use games areas.
Mr Munford said the growing market for short breaks had driven the redevelopment.
“Since we first considered this investment the short break has become part of people’s holiday portfolio and it is now more valuable than the week for us,” he said.
“If people are staying for a week they will spend a higher percentage of their money off-site. On a short break people stay on site and make the most of it.
“The great thing is that it keeps people in Hemsby.”
Richardsons has retained its boating roots with a motor cruiser rental business, based in Stalham. It currently has around 300 inland cruisers available for rent, with three new ones now being built every year.
The company has a new cruiser design on the way, which will first hit the waves in 2019 but is being kept tightly under wraps.
After a few lean years for its boating division Richardsons brought boat building back in-house in 2009. Its ambitions to make its own model of boat was supported by shedding “lazy assets” such as its pubs division. There are now 15 people in the boat-building team.
“We started off building six boats a year, but we wanted a more financially sustainable build rate, which is three boats a year,” Mr Munford said.
The company has also invested in its more luxury boats, with around 20% of its 298 boats now classed as “platinum” as opposed to less than 5% before 2009.
Richardsons relied on local talent to realise its investment plans.
Paul Robinson Partnership in Little Plumstead were enlisted to design the accommodation redevelopment. The architectural practice has worked on similar developments around the country.
Partner Simon Nicholas said the Richardson family had put “massive faith and investment” into Hemsby as a family holiday destination. “Five phases in to the complete site remodelling, Paul Robinson Partnership continues to be heavily involved in all aspects of the park makeover, including all accommodation and facilities,” he said.
Valdivian Furniture, based at Scottow Enterprise Park, was involved in fitting out some of the new public areas including the bars.
Director Liam O’Donnell said the project had involved “bespoke furniture” designed by partner company Jonathan Hall Associates.
Despite its big ambitions and big budget, there was one eventuality Richardsons could not prepare itself for: the weather.
With one of the coldest and wettest winters of recent years ravaging the UK – including the Beast from the East in early March – the build was set back by around four weeks.
Mr Munford said: “It was one of the worst winters for construction in the past 30 years.
“The window we had was very small anyway, because we had to close everything. We shut in the last week of November and we were always primed to open on March 30, Good Friday.
“We had some works carrying on past that date, but we managed it so it did not cause disruption.”
It was an ambitious building project, including the installation of new plumbing and electrics for the accommodation and leisure guest facilities.