I moved into the Cloud Hotel in Brockenhurst in1976 having just married Tom Owton who owned the hotel with his family. I had no idea what hard work it was with long unsociable hours but I had been a dancer in my previous career and I believe it’s the discipline and stamina I had as a dancer that helped me to adapt to the life of a hotelier.
I started washing up, progressed to room attendant and waitress and helped Tom who was the chef do the cooking. My life changed in 1991 when my husband died very suddenly leaving me with 4 children, a failing business and no financial support. I had no experience of the financial or managerial side of running a business, in fact 21 years ago I didn’t know a bottom line from a chorus line.
I was unable to sell the hotel so I had to try and turn the business around to become profitable to support myself and my children. The first thing I had to do was put en-suite bathrooms into the bedrooms as customers were beginning to expect those facilities. I had to borrow a lot of money and as you can imagine it wasn’t easy for a woman with no business experience, but I persevered and found a bank manager from HSBC who lent me the money.
Things went from bad to worse as the builders were cowboys but through sheer determination and perseverance there was light at the end of the tunnel. Business started to improve and every year I invested some of the profit back into the hotel and began to pay off my debt. Business is like dance you can never stand still. However, you cannot be successful on your own and having excellent well trained staff who give 5 star service is essential. The key to any successful business is excellent customer service, exceeding your customer’s expectations and controlling your costs rigidly.
Success is a journey and it takes a long time and a lot of hard work to become an overnight success. I am very hands on in the hotel, I enjoy meeting the customers and giving them personal service. To be successful you have to be good at what you do, enjoy it and have a good team supporting you. I founded the Wessex Women’s Network in 2003 to encourage women to reach their full potential, I’m a great believer in networking. The Cloud Hotel has won several awards and was awarded 2 red stars by the AA in 2011.
Running your own business is more a way of life than a job, but I still find time to spend with my family. Finally don’t give up because the rewards far exceed the hard work and pain you go through to achieve success. If you give up you will never know what you might have achieved. My biggest reward was being appointed an MBE in 2008 for services to hospitality and my charity work in Hampshire.
Avril was on Dream Corner with her daughter Amanda Smallbone in March 2012; and you can listen to our wonderful interview here – Interview with Avril Owton MBE and Amanda Smallbone