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Crafting perfect family holidays

We meet Rob and Wendy Shand who tell us about their fascinating journey since 2006 when Tots to Travel was established. The business is a niche travel company specialising in holidays for families with children under five.

Couplepreneur – Wendy and Rob Shand
Business Established – 2006
Websitewww.totostotravel.com  
Industry – Travel

So how did it all start?

Wendy tells us more about the journey. “It is a time in your life when it’s particularly difficult and you have a specific set of circumstances around being able to go away on holiday with very young children. The business started as we were looking to go away on holiday to a villa having had several holidays in hotels with our tiny tots that hadn’t worked. We ended up booking a property that looked nice and then you start to wonder how we get out there with all the kit and paraphernalia that follows with a family with small children and my parents very kindly offered to drive out to France with it all. But once there it wasn’t what we needed and we had a horrendous experience where our (2 year old) eldest son fell in to an unenclosed swimming pool. We were very, very lucky and realised he was there and were able to pull him out”. This couldn’t be allowed to happen again. They both go on to tell how so many of the villas just aren’t safe or kitted out correctly and so there were many parts that contributed to the evolution of the thought process to embark on establishing the business.

Wendy was in discovery mode feeling that the offering was very shallow in comparison to what the market needed. She felt they had identified a large market with nothing on the supply side that catered for families’ needs but she also wondered “had I hit upon something that was a genuinely good idea and nobody had done it because they hadn’t thought about it or it was a really rubbish idea and the travel industry had perhaps decided it was a rubbish idea and therefore decided not to address it? But it was a curiosity that wouldn’t go away”. They also told us how they realised there was a supply side issue where people who own holiday villas can fill up school holidays easily but not the shoulder months (outside peak season) when families with small children can travel. They saw the ability to fulfil this by tailoring the product to meet the demand. Wendy adds “It was an easy sell to the owners as we said if you do these specific things and critically you put a barrier around your pool we can work with you”.

Tots to Travel started with 9 villas. They received coverage in The Times in 2 subsequent weeks and this kicked things off with revenues of £25k in 7 weeks with Wendy adding “this was while I had 2 small children and I felt I was playing at it and I realised there was latent demand which was really exciting”. They have evolved the business over the last 12 years to test and trial different villas, countries and experiment with product types. The business started to heavily scale 4 years ago when they put a villa resort in front of their database. This initial resort was in the Canary islands and Wendy explains “in a villa you only have one week and you sell that one villa for one week at a time where as in a resort for one week you have 100 units so that was a huge and interesting learning”. This does indeed feel like the Magic Moment they describe it as.

A Game Changing moment

After 10 years in to the business and with disintermediation happening within the industry and people using their facilities to research but then using another channel to book there was as Rob tells us “a realisation we needed to create our own product that you cannot buy through any other channel and to create our own resort brand.” This has indeed proved to be a game changer.

In August 2016 they found an investor who was excited about the idea and they had the ability to unlock the idea and went from contracting the location in August and were selling their resorts by December of that same year. This has created a phenomenal increase of 60% in revenues. But it wasn’t without challenges as they found themselves with such huge demand but had run out of product to sell. This enabled Rob and Wendy to strategically seek out specific businesses that have enormous amounts of product across multiple European resorts. This is now enabling them to scale heavily through partnerships. They won’t be running out of resorts to offer any time soon.

Are you achieving Life Balance – how does it compare to life before being a Couplepreneur?

Rob and Wendy’s life balance is so much better than before they started working together. Rob tells me on my initial call with him before the 3 of us meet “I think I have the secret to living life and whilst there have been many sacrifices I think we have the best lifestyle of anyone we know, we spend our days together and it’s brilliant”. I’m very struck by this and when I meet them Wendy endorses this adding “I feel blessed to be working with each other every day and that I have found somebody who is prepared to be on a slightly bonkers journey”. But they both add how all consuming it is. And it has been hard with times where they haven’t known where the money will come from but their view is you only get one chance. They tell me how running the business has also enabled them to live closer to their values.

They add that it is not for everyone and is so intense and you have everything resting on it. There is no difference between life and work. It is all consuming and Wendy likens it to a great and wonderful puzzle that she finds so absorbing and fascinating and loves it.

Wendy also adds just how hard it is to switch off and how she needs to find something else that is absorbing that isn’t work. She meditates twice a day and this helps to train her brain to switch off.

We also touch on how business savvy their 3 children are with Wendy laughing when she tells me how her 8 year old was standing in the supermarket last week discussing logos. Their 15 year old son has done some work in the business with the magazine Courier disappearing up to his bedroom before anyone sees it. Business is part of their lives.

Is there any one thing you would like to have known when starting out?

Wendy immediately responds to this adding “I wish I’d realised this was my calling sooner than I did”.

What would you like to get out of joining the Couplepreneurs Community?

We touch on friendship groups and how useful it will be to meet new like-minded people. Rob tells us “We would be very open to support others on their journeys as we’ve been in this for some time. I’m also interested in the PR exposure for the Community and to dispel the disparaging views of Couplepreneur businesses being mom and pop lifestyle businesses which couldn’t be further from the truth”. They are both also really interested in meeting sizeable businesses to learn from.

What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring Couplepreneur?

Have a shared vision and be on the journey together. Know that the power of the two of you working together creates much more momentum.

Like to share your story?

If you would like to join our community and have the chance to share your own Couplepreneure story we would love to hear from you.

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