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The challenge of carrying on success story at Potters Resort in Hopton

PUBLISHED: 07:00 15 July 2015 | UPDATED: 14:51 15 July 2015

Business feature with John Potter from Potters Resort, Hopton.

Business feature with John Potter from Potters Resort, Hopton.

© Archant 2015

Brian Potter was so much the public and charismatic face of Potters Resort that it would surprise many that his son John has been managing-director for more than 15 years.

While the much lamented death of the chairman last year has undoubtedly left a void for both staff and guests, there can be reassurance in the clear vision of his son for taking the Hopton business forward in a rapidly changing world.

Less at ease in front of the camera than his father maybe, John nevertheless has the same easy connection with guests, stopping and chatting with them as he walks through reception.

Having grown up on resort, John, 45, undoubtedly feels the responsibility of representing the fourth generation of a family business started by “Grandpa Potter” who saved his winnings in a newspaper competition to start one of the first holiday camps.

The father of two said: “I am very fortunate to be in this position by right of birth, to take on the legacy built up by my father more than any other generation.”

While Brian is renowned for having brought indoor bowls to Potters Resort - his “Archimedes” moment while shaving when he realised a gentle sport beloved of pensioners could transform an 18 week season into an all year tourism economy - his son believes his most important legacy is the culture he built at Potters.

He said: “The culture he created is something no PLC can magic up. It is a culture built up over the years with 550-plus friendly staff who really make a difference to the Potters’ experience.”

It is that culture that has driven repeat business of nearly 70pc, “unrivalled in the industry”, and John sees it as one of his key challenges to make sure it continues.

His determination is seen in the recruitment process - “it is not easy to get a job at Potters even as a cleaner” - where candidates are put through both an interview and practical tests as well as, most importantly, being assessed on how they will fit into the culture.

Brian’s resolve to give returning guests something new and better each time led to investment of more than £50m over two decades.

And John has taken up his father’s mantra of “re-invest, re-invest, re-invest”, pointing to the building work taking place around reception which will be finished, he assures me, when the first Summer of Fun holiday families arrive.

More than £1m has been spent on a smart new reception area, a modern gaming zone - sure to be a hit with youngsters - and a revamped bowlers’ bar.

He said: “A lot of our investment receives less attention. We have spent £1.5m doing up our bungalows, more than £250,000 on new speakers and the kit to run them in the Atlas Theatre, and a simlar sum on new equipment in the Palm Health and Fitness Club.

“Our investment in entertainment, including the Potters Theatre Company, is millions every year.”

It is all about keeping the holiday experience fresh for guests who, in some cases, have been coming to Potters in family groups for generations.

John said: “In some parts of Essex, our core market, one in 20 households have come to Potters. We are not so well known closer to home in Norfolk but are making head way with the local audience by selling Potters as a night out to a show with bed and breakfast.”

For the future he has large-scale investment plans every bit as ambitious as his father’s but declined to go into details until they are thoroughly worked out and the funding is in place.

“I have got a five to 10 year plan that will involve a significant investment of £20m-plus. Potters is never going to stop investing,” he said.

The investment would be around “enhancing current facilities and providing new ones, creating more space per person and providing a more comfortable environment”.

One thing John has ruled out, however, is exporting the Potters brand elsewhere.

“It is something I might have thought about once but the cost of building a new resort would be prohibitive these days and it would be impossible to recreate the same culture,” he said.

While his father established and refined the Potters culture, John is confident of his own abilities - and those of his team - to take the business forward during a time of “huge changes” for the industry driven by the growth of the internet.

Explaining the impact of the online world, he said: “In the old days, we used to send out a brochure, little more than a leaflet, to our database at the beginning of the year and keep our fingers crossed that bookings would arrive.

“Now through social media, there is probably more communication with our guests during a day than there used to be throughout the entire year. We have 60,000 fans on Facebook.”

Their success in exploiting social media in meeting the challenge of selling 250,000 bed nights a year - “I am lucky to have a really good team” - has prompted John to shortly launch a spin-off enterprise, sosocial.com, to assist other companies with their digital marketing.

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