Telling the truth about SME life today

Clive Sykes: “The key to our business has always been to provide excellent service”


Clive Sykes

Role and company:?

Owner of Sykes Cottages

Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric):?


Employee numbers:?


Growth forecast for the next three years:?

20 per cent

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace

In a word, service. The key to our business has always been to provide excellent service, whether thats to our customers, owners or indeed any third parties we work with. Were aware of how important it is to invest in delivering a best in class service and product.

What’s the big vision for your business

For our business the key is to explore, be present on and exploit all available online and offline channels, to make it as easy as possible for customers to find the right holiday for them through us. This is coupled with us becoming even more innovative by continuing to exploit the opportunities technology offers, in the same way we did with mobile apps. We want to be and we believe we can be the best holiday company in the UK.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations:

Thanks to the launch of our sister brand Hogans Irish Cottages in 2008, weve been able to grow aggressively in the Irish cottage holiday market. We are now on the brink of becoming the market leader for cottage holidays in Ireland. As well as this, around ten per cent of our overall business comes from customers in Europe and North America, so weve an excellent foothold there.

After recently deploying a new finance system, were now capable of selling holidays in multiple currencies and languages, as well as on a number of different platforms. We hope that these latest improvements will give us a competitive edge, retain our reputation for award-winning service and increase the number of bookings taken from overseas.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:

One of the biggest setbacks for us was the Foot and Mouth Crisis of 2001, which deterred customers from booking UK holidays and made access to properties within affected areas impossible. As a result of the outbreak, we learnt to spread the distribution of our stock more evenly, and became a national agency in order to mitigate the risk of a similar event in the future.

What makes you mad in business today

I think theres a general lack of care in UK businesses today, whether thats caring about customers, being honest in marketing material or more broadly, how business leaders care for their business and employees. There needs to be more attention to detail in business, so that businesses can consistently deliver on their promises.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years

Social media will be the biggest game changer in our market over the next three years. For us, it’s already changing the way in which we communicate with our customers and owners. Social media is now increasingly affecting consumers purchasing behaviour (particularly within the travel industry) and this trend is set to continue. New social media platforms will be introduced in the future and businesses like ours will have to adapt to their impact.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow” If not, what can be done to improve things

As a business, we havent ever had to draw upon external finance and therefore havent seen the impact the recent credit crunch has had on businesses. Its unclear to us whether others in our industry are currently suffering from lack of finance, if the media is to be believed, accessing finance is still a difficult task for many businesses, even if theyre growing.

How would others describe your leadership style

Enthusiastic, positive, can-do and entrepreneurial.

Your biggest personal extravagance

An excellent Range Rover I recently purchased.

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

One of the toughest things for limited companies to overcome is corporation tax, a levy which discourages growth and is prohibitive to small businesses. Tax breaks for small and medium size businesses would be widely beneficial because they would allow businesses to invest in growth rather than having to set-aside profits to pay tax. Inflation in the economy also directly impacts businesses, on both the supply and demand side, particularly in recent years and is something I can’t help but feel the government should do a little more about.


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