With the economy in a turbulent state at the start of 2009, Colin Fell was already considering looking for some advice when the opportunity to contribute to Best for Business arose.
"We went into 2009 thinking that we would have had a successful year if we were still in business in January 2010," he says. "We were actually in the process of looking for a mentor when the chance to get involved with Best for Business came up."
Hari and Colin Fell took over the 20-bedroom Tudor Farmhouse hotel a year before Best for Business began. With no previous experience, the couple embraced the concept of working with mentor Robin Hutson.
"Robin has been extremely helpful and supportive during the year, travelling down frequently to get together and review progress and set us new objectives," Colin explains.
Not only has Hutson passed on his years of experience in the industry, but he has also called on his connections to provide training opportunities that would otherwise be out of Hari and Colin's reach. Colin says that the few days working at Hotel TerraVina was particularly useful in giving him a fresh perspective.
He adds: "Robin has looked pretty comprehensively at the business and has given us advice across the whole spectrum.
"Being relatively new to the hospitality industry, we were probably lacking a bit of self-confidence in ourselves and our product. Robin has helped us to focus on what we were doing well and has given us pointers for improvements. We are now much more confident about shouting from the rooftops about the hotel and food. We are also more confident in our own decision-making and happier to trust our own instincts."
Colin says that one of Hutson's goals was to increase turnover at the Tudor Farmhouse by £60,000 and reveals that on December-to-December figures the hotel's turnover was up by £58,000. This represented its best-ever year - pretty good considering it was trading through a recession.
It has clearly been a trying year for any hospitality business, but Colin says that, with Hutson's help, they have tried to keep pace with the changing marketplace. "Forward bookings are in no way indicative of how busy you can expect to be," he explains. "It really complicates decisions about staffing, ordering produce and when to target offers and discounts."
But despite these challenges, the hotel has delivered record results.
And Hutson's best piece of advice? "Public relations starts with the way you speak to the bin men," Colin reveals. "We also liked Robin's ‘no rules' approach to customer service."
Going forward Colin is hoping to expand and, to this end is looking to appoint a non-executive director. He also plans to add more rooms, restaurant covers and function facilities as well as upgrading all the existing rooms. "Last year Robin suggested we refurbish our Garden Room to give it a bit more of a rustic feel," Colin says. "It was good advice but we decided to prioritise our spending on upgrading our bathrooms - installing better showers." He now hopes to take on the project as part of a wider upgrade this year.
And it won't just be the decor that changes at the Tudor Farmhouse. "We've just had a 12-week scan so can announce that there will be a new addition to the Tudor Family in July," Colin says. "This will probably represent the greatest challenge we will face in 2010!"
After 12 months of hard work, Christmas at the Tudor Farmhouse was even better than expected.
"We finished the year in style with our best December on record," Colin Fell explains. "We also had a full house for New Year's Eve, which was fantastic."
But like many other businesses, the hotel struggled when customers stayed away because of the snow in early January. "It was disappointing but we're hoping that most of those that couldn't make it will book back again," Colin says.
The business has also had a shake-up in terms of staff after its sous chef left to go travelling. "Stuart has moved on to pastures (or more accurately paddy fields) new so we wish him well," Colin says. "His role has been filled internally by the promotion of Kath to sous chef and Brook to commis chef."
Although there will be some changes, including the arrival of a new Fell family member in July, Colin and Hari hope to continue their relationship with their mentor.
"Working with Robin has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for us and we very much hope to keep in touch with him, as well as Nina and Gerard at TerraVina and Shaun at the Walnut Tree. I'm sure any help and advice will be very useful along the way."