John and Veronica Hall moved to France in 2004 to set up a cycle tour business, Brittany Borders Bicycling. This has now developed to include cycle hire, which is the major part of the business.
What is your business and how long have you been trading?
We offer quality bicycle hire in Brittany, Normandy and the Mayenne, including a delivery service to ferry ports, airports, railway stations and visitors’ accommodation, plus self-guided cycle tours.
We have been trading for three years. For the period prior to this, we spent our time renovating our house and researching for our business.
Did you do the same trade either in or out of France before?
No, in England John was an IT consultant and Veronica a sales administrator. However, we both have had a passion for cycling for many years.
What qualifications do you need to do this kind of work?
No formal qualifications are necessary. It is important to have the ability to do bike repairs and maintenance, and enjoy meeting people of many nationalities.
It is also desirable to have an intimate knowledge of the area, its history and places of interest, so as to be able to give tourist advice and suggest suitable cycle routes. The working day can be long, with irregular hours, seven days a week.
Why did you think it would work?
In an area where there are thousands of visitors each year, there did not seem to be anyone else offering the type of service we offer. The feedback from tourist offices and tourism bodies was very positive and encouraging. We also felt that there would be a trend towards more green and environmentally sustainable holidays.
We wanted to offer more of a service than basic bike hire, so we do delivery, baggage transfer, advice on routes, bike maintenance and support. When we have hired bikes on holiday ourselves in the past, they have been dreadful and we saw that there was the demand and opportunity to offer a quality service.
What type of business set-up are you and do you have any employees?
We are a micro-entreprise with no employees.
Would you be brave enough to tell us your income?
No, but happily it is increasing each year.
What has surprised you?
Nothing has really surprised us, although we did not realise at first how much of our business would come through our website, as opposed to more traditional means of advertising.
How do you market yourselves?
About 90 per cent of our business comes directly through our website, so by far the largest part of our marketing budget is spent on SEO (search engine optimisation). We also place flyers at tourist offices, hotels, chambre d’hôtes, gîtes, bars/restaurants and mairies.
Who is your market?
Our market is the world, but most of our clients come from the UK, Ireland, mainland Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia and South America. We cater for individuals, couples, groups and families with children. Some hire bikes for one day, for example, to visit Mont-St-Michel or cycle on the Voies Vertes, while others hire for up to three weeks to tour Brittany and Normandy. We aim to attract people from all countries, not just from the UK and English-speakers.
Looking back, what was your biggest mistake and your biggest success?
Our biggest mistake was initially spending too much on advertising in magazines and also employing an accountant, which we feel now was an unnecessary expense with our type of business structure. Our biggest success was, and still is, the great satisfaction we feel when clients return bikes to us and tell us what a wonderful time they have had.
Did you do a business plan?
We initially did a business plan, which continues to evolve each year, from new ideas we have and also feedback from clients.