Redhouse Farm Lucy and Eric Popp Interview
Lucy and Eric Popp have been running Redhouse Farm in the beautiful countryside of the Waveney Valley near Norwich for the last six years. As well as looking after the farm, Eric works in the aviation industry. Lucy used to work as an editor for a telecoms company but was made redundant around the time of starting up the bed and breakfast. They live with their two children Michael and Marina, 17 and 15, and their dogs – 8-yr old Mist, a Westie, and 1-yr old Paddy, a Lurcher.
When my husband, Eric, and I moved to South Norfolk and converted our barn in 2005, we had plenty of space to invite guests here and always loved the idea of bringing people on to a farm to see a different way of life. We don’t live in a very touristy area – it’s the sort of place that is close to nowhere but in the middle of everywhere, and it took us a few years to pluck up the courage to do anything about it. Then, in the early hours of one morning when Eric couldn’t sleep, he stuck a listing on Google Maps to see what happened. It didn’t take long before our first guests arrived!
Slightly panic stricken at the prospect, we had a chat with an eccentric friend who ran a charming, if dilapidated, country house hotel nearby, to pick his brain. He told us: “People stay in hotels if they want to mis-behave and in a bed & breakfast if they don’t.” And it was exactly that. But the rapid onset of online marketing and booking channels has changed things, and the boundaries are becoming blurred. Two-bedroom B&Bs sit side by side with 20-bedroom hotels, and some customers don’t necessarily understand which is which. To add to the confusion, all establishments are called Hotel – so our Red House Farm Bed & Breakfast becomes Red House Hotel near Tivetshall St Margaret. Really?!
Because we are not particularly ruled by the seasons, we are never so busy that I can’t cope – rather, we seem to have a steady flow of guests who come for business, or to visit family, attend a wedding, or just simply to ‘get away’. So from what felt like a slightly chaotic start, we have evolved into a business where we understand and enjoy the varied pattern of our guests.
What is a typical day running Red House Farm like for you?
We live on a farm so my husband Eric and I are generally up in good time and have no problem serving the early-bird business guest a full English at Sparrow’s – they might just have to wait until after our three polo ponies have been served a bubbling bran mash before the bacon goes into the Aga!
Our two bedrooms are situated in an annex to our converted barn, but guests come and eat in the kitchen which keeps things chatty and informal. A guest’s first greeting is usually from the dogs, Paddy and Mist. Paddy in particular is excessively friendly, especially when bacon and sausages are involved. While I’m doing breakfast on week days, Eric takes Michael and Marina to school. At the week-end of course they sleep through the whole thing (the children that is), though they have been known to text me around 9.30 to ask when they can come and have their breakfast … it’s a rolling event!
Maybe everyone is the same, but I never feel as though we are a ‘typical’ B&B – though I know other farm B&B owners feel the same because of juggling different activities. When breakfast is finished and guests have either said goodbye or gone on their day’s excursion, it is time for chores – tidying the rooms, making beds, mucking out horses (equine expectation is high). I would advise anyone starting up a B&B to have a bit of help – it’s tempting to do it all yourself, both to keep standards up and to avoid sinking your profit, but trust me, it’s better to stay alive for the next breakfast!
A booking can come in at any time of day and, whatever I’m doing, I make sure I deal with it there and then as it’s amazing how quickly you can forget certain bits of information such as the requirement for a twin bed, or a gluten free diet. So it goes straight into my diary – and if it’s a telephone booking I block the dates off online. For online bookings I make sure guests are aware we cannot take card payments (I know, I’ll get there eventually) and answer any queries they may have stated in the booking.
Requests can be random, for example one lady added in the comments box that it would be nice if a ‘bottle of something bubbly’ could be left in the room because they were celebrating an anniversary… It took me days to reply, but eventually I did, politely saying that we do not have a licence to sell alcohol. It’s where B&Bs are particularly vulnerable in the online market. Some people want to pay less for their accommodation but still expect the world and they know that they can play on the good will of a B&B owner to get any extras they may ask for, for free. So if we’re asked to change our check-in/check-out time, or make breakfast later, or allow a friend to come for breakfast too, we normally say yes, and rarely charge for it. It is a great pleasure to do this for people and provide a nice, friendly service – as long as it’s not taken advantage of, and as long as, if you can’t manage to do something, you’re not given a bad review.
Describe the favourite part of your day?
When breakfast is cooked and you get a moment to chat to your guests while sipping a coffee by the Aga. I chat FAR too much. Eric tells me many times that I really don’t need to do this, that I could actually go and do some jobs while people are eating their last piece of toast and marmalade …. Well, frankly no, because this is the fun bit, finding out about your guests! People are amazing, and everyone has a story to tell. Sometimes you can go from 0 to 60 in 10 seconds and, bang, you’re in the throes of a conversation that makes you wonder if you haven’t ended up on the Jeremy Kyle show! And that’s without the world issues – I think if MPs could only take heed of some of the chat at Red House Farm, we would all live in a far better place! Don’t be put off though, I am sensitive to the guest who doesn’t like to chat – I simply switch on the telly or leave the newspaper, and disappear to leave them in peace and quiet.
What is your number one priority?
Well, it probably goes dogs, children, guests, husband! Seriously, the number 1 priority is the comfort and safety of our guests. We have never been very big on rules and regulations – we are hopeless with things like signs and menus, but we try our very best to make people feel at home, as though they were staying at a friend’s house. Over the years, we have had people cooking their supper in the kitchen, or chatting to us while we muck out the horses, anything goes really. It’s impossible to create perfection in a farm B&B, but we do our best and if something is not quite right for a guest, or if they need something, I really want them to feel able to ask me. I think the most upsetting thing is when a guest puts something in a review that they could easily have cleared up by asking you at the time.
What would you say was the biggest chore?
Admin. Give me a bucket and mop any day over bookings and accounts!
Outside of running Red House Farm, how do you like to spend your free time?
So I may have joked (a little) about where my priorities lie, but I really do love my dogs, and walking them is one of my favourite pastimes. Coffee with friends, reading and writing are also things I enjoy, but there’s not much in the life of a B&B owner that a bit of fresh air and a walk through the pretty countryside won’t fix.
Copyright Lucy Popp 2016