A family-run property, much of the Tudor Farmhouse's design concept comes from visits to other establishments. Colin Fell admits: "We always had great respect for the way Hotel du Vin combined modern design with a casual, welcoming feel. That was the kind of effect we had been trying to achieve even before we were involved with Robin, although it was also important to do this with without detracting from the character of this beautiful building."
This year has been a time for major improvements to the hotel. Although all the major construction work has been done, the Fells felt many areas had become a bit tired and needed updating. The reception has now been refurbished with a new floor and furniture and the adjoining conservatory has been replaced.
Back of house, the old water systems had become unreliable and were leading to customer complaints so they have had new boilers installed to replace the failing systems. At the same time, they also had much of the main property rewired. The kitchen, which was functional but old and so difficult to clean, has also been gutted and completely refurbished this year.
They've been as ruthlessly uncompromising outside, too. "Externally, the tired old signage has been replaced with a fresh new design and areas of the garden that had become overgrown were cleared and re-planted," explains Colin, who adds at one point that it looked like the garden had been nuked!
Next year, the big project is to begin a room refurbishment action plan with about four or five bedrooms being done-over a year. "We're currently finalising plans to redo rooms nine, 11, 14, 17 and 19 in 2010 with a focus on providing really great bathrooms. This will involve some infrastructure upgrades to ensure there is adequate water supply - we're aiming for the holy grail of 35 litres per minute through the shower heads!"
Mentor Robin Hutson suggested the Fells obtain finance for this project so it could be done quicker. But, while Colin admits it's an attractive idea, once they looked at their financial position they decided they needed to sort out the debt structure in the company before taking on more debt.
Besides, as Colin says: "Providing 2010 proves to be as successful as 2009, we should have enough working capital to both work towards resolving the structure and carry out the capital works. Robin's advice regarding tightening our rates, managing gross profit, focusing on dinner B&B guests, and a clearer focus on how we market ourselves has put us in a good position in this respect."
On a personal note, this month has been pretty rough for the Fells. "We've both been poleaxed with flu and unfortunately Hari also had a fall last week and broke her left arm so we're a bit in the wars," explains Colin. Luckily the break turned out to be a "minor one" so they are looking on the bright side and realise it could have been a lot worse.
Despite these setbacks, business levels for November were good, "not a record month," Colin admits, "but a good one for the time of year," while December is looking like being a great month with occupancy averaging above 75%.
The couple are nearly fully booked for New Year's Eve, so are confident it will prove to be a good night all round and are already looking forward to 2010, and introducing more wine dinners following the success of their first effort back in September.
"I'm just finalising details of a calendar of events for 2010 which will include a foraging day, a Forest of Dean Wild Boar night, and a number of wine evenings, one of which in November will be hosted by none other than Gerard Bassett," explains Colin.
Another tip Colin picked up during his visit to Bassett's Hotel Terravina in the New Forest is the art of selling branded products. "We've just started selling some TFH products in reception. Toiletries, local produce and paperweights based on our cat Wallace - so far they've been selling pretty well," he says.
Looking forward once again, the Fells have taken mentor Robin Hutson's advice and are making a shortlist of people to invite to be a non-executive director of Tudor Farmhouse with a view to having quarterly board meetings.