The ideal business to start is centered around something you love. Samantha Evans is in that lucky position being passionate about the British countryside.
She is the founder of Humphreys of Henley and cares deeply about the British countryside, its traditions, and its people and sees her business as part of preserving, protecting, and prolonging this precious resource.
Why the British Countryside?
Sam was continuing a hugely successful career in international sales when she became a town councilor in Henley. Her involvement made her aware of how little we optimize our great heritage. In her area, visitors by the busload flood into Windsor, with some coming to Henley, Sam found nothing at the luxury end of the market. Sam became more involved in tourism and found that while there were a few additional coach trips, nothing was on offer for the luxury end of the market. Concierges at London hotels told her that visitors were setting off to “do the British countryside in a day,” which consisted of visiting Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath.
At the same time, Sam had a new boss in the workplace, and her personal relationship ended. Deciding it was the perfect time for a change, Sam raised some investment from friends and contacts locally who felt the same passion as she does for the British countryside. Humphreys of Henley was born, offering a unique, insider view of the traditions of Britain, partnering with hotels and travel agents, and, of course, the crucial contacts she has within the country homes. Nearly a decade later, her portfolio provides visitors with exceptional experiences.
Hotels tell her that they spend vast amounts of money getting the experiences in their rooms, restaurants, spas, gardens just right for their guests. They then see them going out on a sub-quality brief tourist trip to a very restricted number of attractions. They have no control over the quality of the experience. Partnering with Sam and her team means that the experience is part of the hotel’s team, and guests can experience the same level of service. While they partner with many great hotels, they are affiliated with none, so in turn, Humphreys can freely recommend what will suit their travel agent’s clients the best.
Up to 85% of their clientele were Americans, often those who had done London knew of other countryside hotels but didn’t go because they didn’t know what they would do there. Her clientele has privileged access to stately homes, often with a personal welcome by the people who own and run them. For example, you can have privileged access to country estates such as Stonor Park.
Places internationally famous through TV programs, such as Highclere through Downton Abbey, Chavenage House from Poldark, many iconic houses through Bridgerton, and large parts of Oxfordshire through Midsomer Murders, where people tour the British countryside and lunch in the pubs are all immensely popular.
There are all the traditional experiences, clay pigeon shooting, falconry, and archery or admiring the British countryside from a tiger moth. Sam recommends clients take their time to immerse themselves. A typical itinerary might see visitors being welcomed by the butler for a tour of Highclere on the first day, enjoying an e-bike ride around the Cotswolds followed by watching steam trains the next. Henley is an epicenter for fine dining to restore the visitor with The Fat Duck, Tom Kerridge, and the Waterside Inn all on the doorstep.
Roughly eight years in, Sam woke up to the news that COVID had hit, and all travel between the US and UK was suspended indefinitely. Her first reaction was disbelief. She was working on 94 US itineraries, and every single one was canceled. After a few days of collecting her thoughts, Sam determined to keep talking to clients. She also felt the only way forward was concentrating on marketing, creating one hundred new brochures, and building her portfolio of experiences across the British countryside.
She realized that many of her partners were as shaken as she was. Travel agents in the US operate slightly differently than in the UK, always organizing every aspect of a client’s travel and were devastated. Sam launched zoom “Tea and Training” three times a week with these agents. In each session, she would give them unique snippets of what her invited partners offer. There was whisky tasting, lectures on etiquette, shooting lessons, polo coaching, all delivered by Sam’s special contacts within the British aristocracy and giving a unique insider view of the British countryside.
The travel agents loved it, and from the moment there were glimmers of hope on travel opening-up, they have been her most passionate advocates. Sam is now including talks on COVID protocols. She also works to combat the misinformation of what is happening in the UK in terms of health statistics.
She has used a similar strategy with partner hotels, holding joint webinars. A recent example was with the Four Seasons, whereby they showed a hotel in an area and experiences that can be enjoyed while guests stayed there.
However challenging it has been, Sam believes COVID will be the making of Humphreys of Henley. All their relationships have been immeasurably strengthened, and she is all set for massive growth. Sam had built a business model intended for scaling from the start. All she will need is a bigger team. Five Star service requires plenty of highly knowledgeable people to deliver that.
Sam says that she has seen the strengthening of business partnerships during the pandemic, and COVID has really highlighted any gaps in the market. Businesses that have worked in partnerships with others have come out stronger. Those who have chosen to try and get through on their own have often fallen by the wayside. There has been a wealth of mini-mastermind groups within the hospitality industry which have helped the industry.
There is a reason why Sam is a self-styled Exquisite England Connoisseur, and that reason is the passion for both her industry and the British countryside.
A different, but no less iconically British company is Catherine Ellis’ Hills Ellis cycle bag company that you can read of here.