Telling the truth about SME life today

Dirty weekends are big business

Heber-Percy and Lohan both ran their own businesses when they first met. It was tough for the new couple to find time to take holidays. “Our weekends were precious,” says Heber-Percy. “We could never take long holidays, it was always a weekend away.

“We were always looking for nice places in the UK countryside, but none of the guide books featured the kind of boutique hotels we wanted to stay in. We realised there must be lots of couples who felt the same way and decided to scout them out ourselves.”

The couple both gave up their jobs for a month and set off around the UK looking for the cream of British hotels. They compiled the first Mr & Mrs Smith guide, named after the cheeky practice of checking in under the “Smith” pseudonym for dirty weekends away.

But when they began touting their book around the publishers, the news was grim. “They thought the market was saturated with hotel guides,” says Heber-Percy. “They didn’t understand that we were doing something different.”

Refusing to be thwarted, the pair decided to put the book out themselves. They raised £120,000 from friends and family and sent the manuscript to the printers. Then, disaster struck again. “Waterstones told us that they would not stock books from individuals. We had to go through a distributor,” says Heber-Percy. “But none of the distributors wanted to take it. You had to have two books out to be considered, and we didn’t even have one at that point.”

Finally one distributor decided to take a punt on Mr & Mrs Smith. “He liked us,” says Heber-Percy. “He thought we were ballsy.” A deal was struck and she and Lohan were told they would probably sell 5,000 copies, if they were lucky. Two months later they’d sold 16,000 copies.

Five years on, business is booming. The Mr & Mrs Smith brand now boasts a travel website, a range of CDs, as well as the guides which now help intrepid travellers to find hotels across the globe. The firm will turn over £4m this year; a figure that’s set to sky-rocket once the business launches in the US. “We’ll hit the Asia Pacific next,” says Heber-Percy. “And I still have so many ideas for offshoots to the business. It’s going to keep us very busy”

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