Every Monday we ask small business owners key questions. Here we speak to Darren Redfern, from Dornoch Caravan & Camping Park.
How and why did you start doing business?
Born and raised in rural Northern Ireland, I moved to Scotland in my late teens to study at Stirling University. I went on to work in various office jobs in the Stirling area.
In 2006 I met Lynn, who took me north to Dornoch and a new life in the Highlands, and we have now been happily married for 13 years.
I have worked in nursing homes for 10 years as a night shift nurse. The caravan park has always been a part of Lynn’s life, her parents ran it successfully for 20 years, although things got tough when her father died. Her years of experience convinced her that we could try, although I wasn’t sure – and I was wrong.
Four and a half years have passed since we took over Dornoch Caravan & Camping Park and we have never looked back.
How did you get where you are now?
I was thrown in at the deep end. After 10 years of night shifts, I worked more than 14 hours a day at a campground, and my body clock went haywire.
We learned on the job, with a good team behind us, and focused on getting the basics right, greeting everyone with a smile and keeping the park neat and tidy.
We have also invested heavily over the next three years in upgrading and modernizing everything we could: new electrical connections and motorhome service points, a new play park and the renovation of one of the toilet blocks and reception.
Lynn and Darren Redfern. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson
Having both worked in low paying jobs and been mistreated by managers, we make a conscious effort to look after our staff, and this has increased tenfold. Our employees like to go the extra mile when a customer asks for a favor and we get excellent reviews.
We were shortlisted for a Service Excellence Award at this year’s Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Scotland Awards.
And last year we were voted best campsite on the North Coast 500 by Route 66 in Scotland. We also won the customer service award in the Family Business Awards and received the “travellers choice” award from Tripadvisor, which means we’re in the top 10% of everything reviewed on that site.
Who helped you?
Many people. First and foremost comes Lynn’s mother, Sandra. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience and is the go-to person when things go wrong.
Robin Jackson of Business Gateway and Marcus McIver of MacKay & Co did their best in the beginning, keeping us on track, providing seed loans and helping us overcome obstacles. The support from FSB is also great – we have used his legal services on more than one occasion and it has served us well during Covid.
We also have an army of plumbers, joiners, electricians, bookkeepers and accountants ready to help us.
Dornoch Caravan & Camping Park. Image:
Sandy McCook/DC Thomson
What’s the best advice you’ve ever had?
A bottle of whiskey as a thank you goes a long way.
What’s your biggest mistake?
Opening for the season on a Saturday – everyone arrived at once and we were blown away. We are now reopening on a much more manageable Wednesday.
What is your greatest achievement?
Opening of the park in 2019. We had no money and little experience, but we had a successful year and haven’t looked back since.
Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson
How is your company dealing with rapidly rising costs and what should the government do to help?
We passed on some costs to our customers and we had to absorb the rest with difficulty.
Governments could help more with electricity costs and business rates, but also by lowering VAT on catering to 5%.
What do you still hope to achieve?
We have big plans to improve the park, but they are still a secret for now.
What do you do to relax?
Sit in my bubble bath.
Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson
What are you currently reading, listening to or watching on TV?
I’m a huge Ferrari and Formula 1 fan, so all my reading and TV revolves around that.
What are you wasting your money on?
I’ve just been to Inverness to buy some new garden furniture and there’s no money left.
What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
Coffee – and often more than one cup.
What do you ride and dream of riding?
I drive a Nissan Leaf, but a fiery red Ferrari is the dream.