The worrying news that up to 70% of our stately homes could be at risk of closure due to soaring repair costs resonated with me as, with a client, I visited Chatsworth this week. I’ve long been a raving fan of this peerless pile, set amid the glorious Derbyshire Peaks, and in particular of its once-pioneering, and now matchless, approach to the business of being a visitor attraction.
During my five years as Head of Retail for the Royal Collection, I was fortunate enough to spend quality time with the late Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, who, with her husband, Andrew, the 11th Duke, set the standard for historic houses open to the public.
The youngest of the legendary Mitford sisters, “Debo”, as she was known, was a visionary with an eye for detail, a passion for quality and the most wonderful sense of humour. “To me, the most fascinating part of retailing,” she once said, “is seeing what people want, and to be able to up the taste a bit, instead of dumbing it down.” She also said that Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Ginger & Pickles, concerning the failure of a dog and a cat to run a village shop on unlimited credit, was “the best book on retailing ever written.”
This year, Christmas at Chatsworth (“with Mr Toad”) owes much to Debo’s philosophy. Done on a grand scale, as befits this magnificent place, it comprises bustling shops (the Farm Shop was heaving on a Monday morning), a wide array of eateries, a huge, glittering, outdoor Christmas market, and, at its core, a simply magical, Wind in the Willows-themed tour through the transformed house that Walt Disney would be proud of.
Yet it was quite late in their tenure that the 11th Duke and Duchess added Christmas to the range of experiences offered at Chatsworth: it was the potentially ruinous impact on the wider estate of the 2001 Foot and Mouth disease crisis that persuaded Andrew that his private family Christmas tradition must be sacrificed in order to create a new source of income. Based on their unswerving commitment to doing anything and everything “properly”, they invested a six-figure sum to make Christmas at Chatsworth a truly magical Customer Experience. And it worked – returning a seven-figure sum, saving many livelihoods, and in the process facilitating additional resources for the Curatorial Team, compensating for the loss of its formerly productive “closed season”.
So what can we learn from Christmas at Chatsworth? Here are my 5 Top Tips for optimising Christmas – for your business, and for Customers:
- Create a Theme: it may be easy to extend your Brand, or it may require some lateral thinking. Either way, Christmas is all about telling stories. As John Lewis, Sainsbury’s and others have shown, finding a new angle and presenting it with wit, style and confidence, will help you to stand out in the marketplace.
- Do it “Properly”: whatever your budget, focus it on doing a few things well, rather than spreading your Theme too thinly. If you can only afford one tree, use it to tell your story, place it at the heart of your offer, and put as much effort and resource into it as possible. Christmas is about delivering WOW!
- Involve your Team from the start: at Chatsworth, everyone, from the parking attendants to the ticket sellers to the house stewards, was engaged, enthusiastic and on-message. However much you invest in your Christmas Experience, it will be wasted if your Team isn’t ready to be on its very best form.
- Help your Customers to buy: we all know how stressful Christmas shopping can be. Find ways to combine products and services so that they make perfect gifts or stocking-fillers, without the Customer having to think about it. This is a great way to breathe new life into old products too. Again, involve your Team in looking at your offering in new ways, and watch your sales sky-rocket!
- Give your Customers the gift of Christmas: the more the Customer feels valued, the less they will focus on the “rip-off” aspect of Christmas. At Chatsworth, pre-booked Christmas tickets were rewarded with free car parking (a saving of £10), and in return for Gift-Aiding my purchase I received a voucher worth 15% of the transaction value, to spend in the shops and restaurants. Christmas is about giving, as well as receiving!
Without doubt, Christmas is a time of opportunity for most Customer-facing businesses (is there any other kind?). By applying imagination, creativity, Team and Customer focus and an absolute commitment to quality, you could get better results – this year – than Ginger and Pickles ever dreamed of!
If you’d like support with Customer Experience design or optimising Team Productivity click here.