Sarah Gawthorpe, managing director of Cedar Retreats, explains how she’s created a business that gives guests the chance to relax and owners the opportunity to secure a return on investment of more than 9% per year.
What does your role involve?
As a Managing Director at Cedar Retreats no two days are ever the same. As the main point of contact I am constantly dealing with the construction, maintenance and house-keeping teams that we employ. It’s important that I’m on hand and at the very least at the end of a phone.
As someone that has a real passion for interior design, I work closely with buyers to help them to understand what the possibilities are with a lodge and what will give them the best return on investment.
One of the main benefits of owning a luxury lodge at Cedar Retreats is the 9.1% return that can be achieved. I provide recommendations on the furniture and fittings to give our owners the advice they need to create a retreat which is both homely and practical.
What is it the company does?
Cedar Retreats builds, sells and manages a collection of luxury lodges in the North Yorkshire countryside. We benefit from two very distinct customer types; those who want to become owner occupiers, giving them the work life balance they crave, and buy to rent, for investors that are looking for increasingly inventive way to supplement their income.
As the holiday homes can be rented out all-year-round and we provide a fully managed service, buyers can earn a possible return on investment of up to 9.1%* per year. Due to the popularity of the staycation, we have seen investors opting to purchase properties, so that they can benefit from this trend and supplement their income.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I manage the team here which means making sure that the quality and standards we deliver are consistent. I also work alongside the Park Manager to review feedback. As a Retreat that achieves 9.4 / 10 from Hoseasons this is really important to us.
Working with clients from the initial meeting right through to the completion of the build is a big part of my role. We work with a number of owner occupiers and those that are choosing a lodge as a buy to let, so understanding their requirements and personalities from day one is absolutely key.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
My career began in London working in sales for a production company. After working there, I moved to ITV to take up a position as Business to Business Account Director. I had an exciting ten years in the City and really enjoyed the lifestyle but after ten years I wanted a new challenge.
As both my husband had I had lived in Yorkshire, James being born and bred here, we were keen to move back to our roots, so we took the plunge and purchased our first home in the region.
We purposefully bought a property that we could develop into holiday lets and after two years, with the experience that comes from successfully managing and letting out the cottages, we were encouraged to look at lodge living with a twist.
Guests were telling us that they loved visiting Yorkshire and were keen to holiday here more regularly, but they could not manage the day to day maintenance that is typically expected when you purchase a property as a buy to let. After exploring the market, we realised there was a gap and a demand for something different and that’s when we came up with Cedar Retreats; a lodge business that would bring comfort and some luxury to our guests.
Not only would the concept give people the chance to own their very own holiday home in Yorkshire but to make the investment work even harder, when they are not using it they could rent it out, giving them a further yield.
As the concept had to offer more than your average holiday park, we eventually found the ideal site for our business in West Tanfield and began the hard work of making the business the success that it is today.
These first five years have been whirlwind, the business continues to go from strength to strength and we have no doubt that we’ll continue to welcome people as they invest in properties at Cedar Retreats.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Great vision! To become a great leader, I also believe that you must get involved in all aspects of your business, so that you can lead your team and work efficiently with staff that have a mix of temperaments and experience.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Working with my husband! Someone once told me to never go into business with family; I went one step further and launched a luxury lodge development with James.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Exercising is a great stress buster and really helps me to relax. Living and working in the North Yorkshire countryside means that I have no excuse for not exploring the great outdoors. I find that a long run gives me the chance to clear my mind and reflect.
I also have three young children who help me to switch off. While they may not always help with reducing my stress levels, we always have so much fun together.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A ballerina! I really enjoyed dancing and still do.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
It would have to be people not taking responsibility for their own actions. If you make a mistake hold your hands up and admit to it; we can usually find a way to rectify the situation. People that are non-team players are also one of my work gripes. At work we are part of a team and should all play an equal role in ensuring the success of the business.
Where do you see the company in five years time?
In the next five years, we hope to have completed the development and to have built all 37 of the lodges that we have planning permission for. We’ll also have even more guests, our lodges will be booked up all year-round and we’ll be welcoming back our buyers who as they also enjoy time using the lodges as a holiday home throughout the year.
We also hope to continue to receive great reviews. We have some fantastic feedback from both guests and investors alike. You never know, we might even have a second site!
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Grow a thick skin, pick suppliers that you can trust and rely on, surround yourself with a team that respect the values of the business, be prepared to make some tough decisions.
What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
Be brave, back yourself and quality always delivers!