Celebrating 10 years of Keepers Cottages
As we mark 10 years since Camilla Shipton founded Keepers Cottages, we take a trip down memory lane and look back at where Keepers Cottages started and its plans for the future.
- What was your inspiration behind Keepers Cottages?
It all started when I was running my cleaning business. I gradually started working with a lot of second homeowners in the area who were renting out their properties with much larger holiday letting agencies. Despite being listed with these agencies, I started to get asked to do additional jobs. I was putting the milk in the fridge, leaving a cake out, meeting guests on arrival and even arranging maintenance to come to the properties as a result of finding issues whilst cleaning. These are all things you’d expect from a holiday let, but these bigger agencies didn’t have anyone in the local area on the ground to do this. I quickly realised that there was a real need for an actual local agent that did everything. From the bookings to the guest check in, it made so much more sense for one company to manage it all. Then in 2013, Keepers Cottages was established.
- Can you remember the first property you had join the portfolio?
Keepers Cottages’ very first property was a beautiful cottage in Kingsdown. It slept four people, and its location and charm made it a really popular holiday home. Just a few months into setting up Keepers Cottages, it was clear that there was a demand for a team on the ground to manage all aspects of the staycations. Shortly after, we welcomed Castle Reach, Hoop & Griffin, and The Old Smoke House, all of which are still listed with Keepers Cottages today. It’s a testament to the team’s hard work, our service and dedication to making each stay memorable that we still have many of the same owners 10 years on.
- Have you always been interested in the UK staycation market?
Ever since working in the property industry I’ve always had a real passion for taking care of people and their homes. Our homes are our prize possessions, and it takes a lot of responsibility and trust to look after someone’s second home. After a staycation boom, it was clear that there was a lot of room for improvement in the staycation market.
- How has the industry changed since you first set up Keepers Cottages?
When we first started Keepers Cottages, holiday let bookings were predominantly seasonal, especially on the Kent coast with the weather dictating a lot of what we do! However, over the last few years, and especially with the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a real shift in booking behaviour with lead times being much shorter. People are wanting to escape to undiscovered areas for just a night or two, no matter the time of year or the weather even. The likes of Deal, Kingsdown and Walmer are still in my eyes, undiscovered!
- Tell us more about how you decide on listing a property?
When a potential homeowner calls, we arrange an initial appointment with our dedicated property recruiter, Hilary Newman. Hilary has a wealth of knowledge and over 20 years’ experience in the holiday let industry. Hilary makes it a priority to visit the property to ensure that she can get a feel for the property to help us properly support the owner and understand how we can maximise the home’s potential.
We’re selective in the properties that allow us to join the portfolio, as ultimately they have to work well as a holiday home to avoid complaints down the line. We like to create a hassle free and seamless experience from start to finish, and we know exactly what to look for in a property to achieve this.
- Can you tell us about your close-knit team and how that works so well?
I absolutely love working with my team, which is made up of family members and also staff who are experts in the local area. The holiday let industry is extremely busy and we do face our challenges here and there. As a small, close-knit team we can communicate well and deal with problem solving. We’ve built a reputation of having a friendly team who are efficient and most importantly passionate about what they do. No request is ever too big, and they’ll always be on hand to help where they can.
- What’s a piece of advice you’d give to someone looking to rent out their holiday home?
People are looking to escape to destinations that can offer them a feeling like they’ve been on holiday. Whether your property is located near the beach, a national park or a key attraction, location is one of the most important aspects to consider. Also, making sure that your property stands out from the crowd and can offer something a bit different really helps. Can you offer outstanding facilities such as a swimming pool, home gym or sauna? People are looking for these added luxuries now.
There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep, and most people who are booking a staycation are after some proper R&R. Make sure you have high quality and comfortable beds, it makes such a difference to our guest’s overall experience.
- What’s the best tip you can give to your customers about booking their UK staycation?
We always advise our guests booking larger homes to book as far in advance as possible. At the moment we’re seeing our larger properties, sleeping eight guests and more, getting booked up over a year in advance. We have many repeat guests that book the same house year after year, which is lovely, but they do get snapped up quickly!
However, if you’re looking for a last-minute getaway, anywhere from 2-3 weeks or a few days before checking in, it’s always worth giving us a call as we’ll be able to advise on the best places to stay and can usually offer a last-minute discount.
Equally, if you’re not sure where to start, we know each of our properties inside out so we can listen to what you’re after in terms of location, number of guests and what type of holiday you’re looking for and recommend a few properties that would work for you.
- What makes an ideal UK holiday home?
Location, location, location. Guests want to be able to escape and feel like they have their own space yet want to be within walking distance to the local pub, beach, or town. Guests are looking for complete comfort where they can relax with their family and friends. So, making sure you think of every essential item that they might possibly need and adding a few personal touches really goes a long way. At Keepers Cottages, we like to ensure that guests arrive to a welcome pack including local treats and recommendations, and as a standard guests can find sustainable toiletries and high-quality linen and, of course, comfortable beds.
- Where do you see Keepers Cottages in the next five years?
We’re looking to continue our growth and become the leading agency for holiday homes in Kent. We believe that there are no other companies that offer the same level of service to both their guests and owners than what we offer at Keepers Cottages. We pride ourselves on being so hands on and flexible, allowing us to cater for all types of properties and owner requirements.
- Are you looking to expand into any other parts of Kent/ the southeast?
We’re always looking to list new properties to ensure we’re offering a wide range of choices for our guests. We’re looking to continue to grow along the Kent coast, as well as inland too. Despite looking to grow, our aim is to make sure we’re giving our customers and owners the very best experience when they stay or list with us. So new locations mean scouting out the best local suppliers and businesses and to partner with to allow us to offer the best possible experience.
- Where’s your favourite staycation spot in Kent?
Aside from Deal (I’m extremely biased as it’s the seaside town that I live in), I’ve fallen in love with Broadstairs too. It’s the epitome of an English seaside town, with miles of sandy beaches and the classic seaside amusements. In particular, Viking Bay has a lovely selection of restaurants, cafes and the harbour is dotted with gorgeous beach huts.
- What is the best thing about having your own business?
Firstly, being able to work on something that you are truly passionate about and interested in, really doesn’t make my work feel like a job. I get to speak to and meet so many new people who are at the start of their holiday let experience, and I feel a great sense of pride being able to offer advice to those who need it. I also love seeing all our ideas and plans come to life. As a team we’re always speaking about what’s next, and it’s when those ideas come into fruition that makes the months of planning and work worth it. 2023 is actually a monumental year for Keepers Cottages. It marks 10 years since we first set up and there’s nothing better than reflecting on the last 10 years, seeing how far we have come and getting excited about the next 10 years!
- What does a day in the life of Camilla look like?
My day always starts with an early morning dog walk with Molly, my 10-year-old cockapoo. I got Molly the same year that I started Keepers Cottages, so she’s been on this journey from the very start too and is an extremely valued member of our team! I’ll then head to the office and catch up with the team. This also involves us planning the week and month ahead. I’m then usually speaking to current property owners about their property and discussing upcoming bookings. A usual part of my day is also getting to explore more of Kent as I’ll visit new properties and meet with owners who are looking to list their property with Keepers Cottages.