I remembering stumbling upon Hill-Crest Bed & Breakfast one Friday afternoon when we were searching for accommodation for our road trip in June. It had a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor and I was quite looking forward to my stay there.
Going into any place with high expectation generally tends to be a bit of a problem but in this case, Hill-Crest didn’t just not disappoint. It exceeded expectations and that was thanks to the incredible spirit and energy of it’s owner, Jane Jenkinson.
I was so inspired by Jane that I ensured I only left the place having interviewed her for 20 minutes!
Jane Jenkinson runs her very own Bed & Breakfast, Hillcrest at Newby Bridge. An extremely passionate hospitality person, she enjoys running her perfect show!
Hill-Crest has won many awards over the years with the most prestigious award coming on May 24, 2012 when Jane fought off competition across the entire tourism industry to win the ‘Outstanding Customer Services’ award. (An incredible achievement considering the Lake District is the biggest tourist hotspot in England and that Hill-Crest was a 4 room B&B competing against huge hotels.)
Rohan: So what is the Jane story?
Jane: I am a farmer’s daughter, born in Shropshire. I always wanted to help run the farm or help with cooking. Right from there I was keen on doing such work in any shape or kind or form. I went from junior school to secondary school and later to Catering school.
My passion was cooking! A friend and I decided it would be nice to work abroad and ended up in Switzerland for a year. It was great working in a hotel and learning skills in all different areas there! We came back a year later and my first job in England was here. The lakes and mountains are very similar to Switzerland, on a smaller scale. I started out as a Chef for 2-3 years, I met my husband and we bought this bungalow where Hillcrest is now. And we saw a potential business opportunity!
When the children were here, we used to rent out only two rooms. After they left it’s now 4 rooms. This has always been my passion, running my own place and business. When I started, I put it out just like how I would like it – very high on standard and quality. From taking in my first guest in 1994-95, I have come a long way. I am enjoying what I do! It is amazing to meet new people as well.
Word got out about our place through guidebooks initially and later websites came in. With the Internet, bookings come from all over the world. I have come to meet some people who can’t talk in English in these years. It is pretty entertaining to talk to some kids who couldn’t speak English. Both of us didn’t get what we are saying and we still continued to talk. They were so loving and continued to listen to my voice even when they did not get me! It was a very lovely time.
With my 19th year, passion and dedication for the business is still strong! I love making people feel welcome and helping them. I am someone who has a passion for looking after people. I used to do that before as well like making breakfast for other people before marriage. I think farmer’s daughters are said to be workers. And that’s me! The catering skills came handy because when I first started I actually offered evening meals. I would be happy when I saw them finish their food as it was a sign that they liked it! My guests were pretty upset when they heard I stopped the evening meals. I needed to concentrate on my family as well.
Now its just bed and breakfast and dinners during the winter break. There is a good choice of pubs and restaurants in the area. We recommend places for people to try out as well. They get a lot of variety in food that way.
We have an award for the AA Land Lady of the Year. We came from 3500 people down to 100 and then down to 20. I went to the ceremony but did not make it to the top. It was still an achievement getting to 20 from 3500!
This year I was down at for the Outstanding Customer Services Award. This time I won! It was really the icing on the cake for me. To win something I was really passionate about. I think I came through as that when the judges judged me as well. They could see that customer service was part of my business. Its nice when someone else sees that’s in me. I work hard and hope that people enjoy my hospitality and services. Being awarded in that way was fantastic! I hope to continue going on for many years to come until I really can’t do it anymore!
Rohan: What part of this makes you wake up everyday in the morning?
Jane: Just knowing that I am going to make people happy – for them to enjoy the place. When you are new to an area you do not know where to go and what to do. So it’s good to have a person giving you suggestions about things. I do give information about the place around so my guests enjoy the Lake District,
Rohan: What were some of the toughest moments?
Jane: Getting Hillcrest ready in the first place for business was the challenge itself. Because tradesmen would never come and would always be very slow. I would be frustrated. The following year, I decided we would open on July 16th (my son’s birthday) and we had our first guests booked. The furniture came 2 days before our guests arrived! And it was all hands on deck those two days. – we had my parent’s, my husband Angus’ parents all here. We were all cleaning windows, making guests, tending to the garden and we managed to get the place done one hour before the guests arrived ! That was a real test.
Rohan: What is your take on hospitality and customer service? What is the philosophy that guides you through your journey?
Jane: It is very important for the person to be a morning person. It is important for that person to be alive and ready to serve the visitors – to be sociable and happy. Sometimes people come up to me and ask ‘How do you keep smiling every time you say good morning?’ I love what I am doing and hence I am happy! I enjoy it and I don’t feel like its trouble to wish people and take care of them.
Even when I have a headache my service is undisturbed. A business like this has to be run by somebody that is dedicated in that way. As soon as you feel it’s a chore and as soon as you stop enjoying it, you should stop doing it. I hear of so many stories where people do not stop at the right time and it leads to a very bad service. Getting the money and not taking care of them is a no-no in my world. You have to be 100% into your job. They are paying for your service and it is your duty to give it.
I have many visitors who keep coming back and that is something that reminds me of how much they enjoy being here. There are even some who have come here the whole 19 years I have been at it!
Rohan: At this point, have you thought about buying a couple of places nearby or expanding your business? Have those thoughts come in?
Jane: One time I had this gypsy come to my door and tell me a story. She told me that a big mansion would come up in grounds and that I would be buying it and running it. A place did come up in grounds some time later and I remember telling my husband that, that was the place she was talking about. ‘That’s the place I should be buying right now!’ I said. However, it was not the right time and I did not end up buying it.
The thought of expanding does come across often. You’ve got to be careful while doing these things though. You are at risk of losing the personal touch when the business expands. In a business like mine, that is often what people come back for. Probably because I am busy enough doing what I do and I enjoy it. It’s keeping me good and I feel this size is just right for me to continue on. In the age I am in, I do not want to have too much on my plate!
Rohan: How has the Internet changed how you run the show?
Jane: It has been an amazing help. Most of the bookings come through online booking system and people actually are able to find you from where ever they live – Hong Kong, America, Australia.. everywhere! They book directly or ring you up. It is incredible, it’s a huge benefit to businesses like ours!
Rohan: So what is the normal process for booking?
Jane: They go on TripAdvisor where we have many good reviews (yay!) They also Google the area where they wish to stay. I would come under a localised listing! With so many accommodation options around, you really have to keep your game high to be in business. There are a lot of places where standards are not good. You have to keep the quality up to keep yourself busy.
I once had a businessman who stayed here for 18 months. I still stay in touch with him. There are others who have stayed at different places and now they stay only here. I must be getting something right I guess!
Rohan: Have there been any mentors in terms of your life itself? What are some of the biggest things you have learnt from them?
Jane: I guess I have not really had any mentors or people I have gained inspiration from. I am what I am. I guess I have some sort of a natural skill in what I do.
There was a woman who once said you must have been in customer services before. I said ‘No, I have been a Chef and in Catering but not in customer service’. I just seem to know what people want and I have just grown with the business. In so many businesses, not just service industry, people don’t seem to get customer services right. Even you smiling when someone new walks into your place is a small gesture that goes a long way. It makes people welcome wherever you are. I just have that natural ability and it helps! Now I am training my assistant to learn how to treat people well.
Rohan: Are there things out of work that help you wind down?
Jane: Horse-riding. I grew up in a farm. I had ponies and then horses! I do like to go up to the stables have a ride once in a while. I also try to go with the visitors when they are here and take a ride.
Rohan: What have been some of the biggest learnings?
Jane: The quality of putting together a high standard place and the best customer services are really the qualities for a successful business. That would be always be the top priorities. You need to have the skills and be good at what you are doing. Even if I were changing businesses, I would remember this!
Rohan: We have a lot of youngsters out there who read this – a lot of people who want to make a difference. Even if it’s not at work, you always lead something. What is the message for those people?
Jane: Never forget that you always have to keep friends and family with you. You should keep in touch with your friends and always have some “me-time”. Many focus on some thing and later regret it because they did not pay enough attention to the people around them. I think it makes for a happy place when you keep in touch with people… and life is good then!
Right before we left (20 minutes or so after the interview), Jane let out a small shriek! “Oops!” She said “I forgot to invite everyone watching the interview to Hill-Crest.”
I promised to add it in when we published the interview.
I’ve always had a fascination for building a small high quality business that does not scale. In many ways, watching Jane run her near flawless show brought those ideas right back.
Thank you, Jane! We, at Real Leader interviews, absolutely enjoyed and loved your passion for what you do.
Dhanya, EB and yours truly..