Running a Glamping Site with Christine Maclean
Today we’re joined by Christine Maclean, who runs the daily operations of the North Coast 500 Pods glamping sites in Brora and Achmelvich. If you’re wanting to know about the day-to-day aspects of a glamping business, or you’re thinking of outsourcing this side to someone like Christine, you should give it a listen.
Christine Maclean: 0:08
I maintain the grounds, purchase resources, do the laundry for both Brora and Achmelvich, and ensure the guests are satisfied and that they have a bit of a local point of contact for the customers. And that’s really quite handy, especially for Brora, because I’m only five minutes away, if that. I would say that they’ve got to be totally committed, totally passionate about the site that they’re running, or creating, owning. And their heart really has to be in it 100%. You can make it as as simple or as difficult as you want to. And if you just keep on top of things all the time, and you’re friendly towards your guests, then I don’t really see any issues.
Nick Purslow: 1:04
Hello, and welcome to the Glampitect podcast. Today I’m joined by Christine Maclean. Christine oversees the daily management of the two North Coast 500 Pods sites in Brora and Achmelvich. If you weren’t aware, North Coast 500 Pods is a glamping site business set up by Glampitect co founders, Calum and Ali, and they’re completely hands off for the day to day aspects. So Christine is vital to ensuring that everything runs smoothly. You may be listening to this because you’re thinking of setting up your own glamping site and you want to be involved in the everyday management of the business. In that case, Christine gives you an insight into the duties involved and how it can be such a rewarding lifestyle. Alternatively, you may want to do what Calum and Ali did and be completely hands off. In which case, this serves as an example of the kinds of things you can outsource to the right person. Either way, I hope you enjoy and that you find it valuable. Hi Christine, how you doing?
Christine Maclean: 1:51
I’m very well, Nick, thank you.
Nick Purslow: 1:54
Well thank you for agreeing to come on and give up your time. And so you run the NC500 glamping sites on the ground for Calum and Ali, who have both come on the podcast. So how did you actually get the opportunity to work for NC500 Pods?
Christine Maclean: 2:12
Well, way back in, oh, the beginning of last year, Calum and Ali approached my husband and my son who have a contracting business for doing groundworks, and they commissioned them to do all the groundwork on the Brora site. And so due to lock down, I wasn’t working. So I spent the whole of the seven weeks over there, and helping to get it from the ground up, involved in drainage, electrics, right down to installation of the pods. And that was just, it was so exciting. I just thoroughly enjoyed it. And then the enthusiasm and the drive of Calum and Ali, it was, it just made me want to be a part of that.
Nick Purslow: 3:20
What was it like actually building a site from the ground up because, you know, I imagine there’s a lot of a lot of work that goes into it, and a lot of technical sort of things.
Christine Maclean: 3:29
There is, yes. And it’s actually very interesting because there’s a lot of work beforehand that people who just don’t see because it’s all under the ground. And like I say, you’ve got to dig out the drains put the drainage in, you’ve got electrics to run, water and getting it to go go to each individual pod base. And I was involved in, the site itself was was not flat. So I was involved in seeing how to do the different levels of the site to get it so that we can have flat areas for the pods to sit on, seeing how the concrete bases when, like I say, one of the most exciting bits was watching the pods being delivered and being part of siting them on the concrete pads, and it was just amazing.
Nick Purslow: 4:37
Yeah, and you also oversee the stuff on the ground now that the sites are up and running. What what sort of duties does that involve?
Christine Maclean: 4:49
Well, it was really exciting because we got a new honeymoon pod, and I was allowed to kit that out with everything it needed inside, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. But I maintain and I clean the pods and the sauna, because we have a sauna and Brora. I maintain the grounds, purchase resources, do the laundry for both Brora and Achmelvich and ensure the guests are satisfied and that they have everything they need. I’m the local point of contact for the customers, and that’s really quite handy, especially for Brora, because I’m only five minutes away, if that. And I ensure the welcome packs are up to date, the maintenance logs are completed, and that we’re adhering to everything that Calum and Ali have put in place.
Nick Purslow: 5:46
Did you know anything about glamping before you started this?
Christine Maclean: 5:50
I didn’t, no. My son had been away to glamping site a few times, and he told me that you get quite basic ones, and then you get ones that are a bit more upmarket. In the first I ever saw of a glamping pod wasn’t glamping. It was like these little upturned boats. It was, I’m trying to Applecross, I saw it. And there was basically just two shelves and you take your sleeping bag. But these pods, when I saw them, you know, it’s just the luxury and it’s just a home from home. It’s absolutely amazing. You’ve got everything that you need. And it’s just so comfortable.
Nick Purslow: 6:35
Yeah, I think that’s why it’s so popular. It’s the luxury side of it mixed with being able to reconnect with nature, if you like. How often do you deal with guests face to face on a daily basis, in normal times, obviously.
Christine Maclean: 6:50
I try to see them at least once during their stay, basically, so that they can put a face to a name. And just to make sure that they’ve got everything they need. And obviously if if there’s any issues so that they can phone me and I’ll go over. But I’m there most days at some point.
Nick Purslow: 7:11
Yeah, and you seem quite personable, so I’m sure that comes natural to you. Is it something that you find quite easy and you enjoy doing dealing with people day to day?
Christine Maclean: 7:19
I do? Yes. I quite like meeting people, yeah.
Nick Purslow: 7:24
Okay. I thought so, I thought so. Are there any, you mentioned, you know, sometimes issues crop up, but are there any emergencies that you’ve ever had to deal with?
Christine Maclean: 7:34
Emergencies… As far as I’m concerned, we had one family that kind of ran out of toilet roll! So I had to shoot over and restock them with toilet roll, the kids had used it all. But yeah, one of the main things was when I started work on the NC500 Pods, I was working in a nursery just before that. And so I was doing two jobs, theoretically, and at the time, we had loads of one-night stays. And when we received the linen and things back from the previous contractor for the cleaning services, we had to do such a quick change-around because they didn’t have enough to, to not have to keep it laundered to keep it going. But we quickly overcame that, as Calum and Ali purchased additional linen and towels, etc. So we have enough to cover two weeks in both sites. So it’s a lot more manageable now, yeah, but that was one of the, it’s going to be the most trying time, so it was only ever going to get easier than that.
Nick Purslow: 9:11
Yeah. And you mentioned there how, how you’re sort of on-call for emergencies like running out of toilet roll, and we spoke to Ali the other day and he said, you know, because a lot of people set up a glamping site to have it as a lifestyle, that you know, a nice job to have that earns them money. Others like Calum and Ali did they just want it as a sort of an investment and to sit back and let it run itself, obviously they need the help of of you to do that. Is it, you know, it must be, because obviously Ali said, you know, they’re based in Edinburgh, they can’t exactly take a call in the middle of the night and saying we ran out of toilet roll, we need help. So you’re sort of an absolutely vital cog in the wheel. Is it tough being required to be on call all the time?
Christine Maclean: 9:59
Not really, no. I suppose it’s a bit more difficult for Achmelvich. I mean, we had one issue here, a lady had problems with her heating. And it just so happened at the start of day. So I was over anyway. But if anything needed done immediately, I can contact James in Achmelvich, and he would see to it.
Nick Purslow: 10:29
Yeah. Okay, that’s good. And what would you say is the most challenging aspect of the job?
Christine Maclean: 10:38
I don’t really see anything too challenging. Um, I suppose if people arrived early, and it can be a bit frustrating that you’ve maybe not done their pod but done a different pod, you know, and their pod’s not ready. And that can be a bit frustrating for myself, because they can’t get in straight away. But, you know, there’s, there’s just nothing we can do about that.
Nick Purslow: 11:10
Yeah. Is there anything that surprised you in that, you know, something might have been a lot harder than you thought it would be? Or it might take more time than you thought? Or, you know, it might be might be something that you didn’t think would be that important, but it’s, it’s actually, you know, really, really important. Is there anything that surprised you about the job?
Christine Maclean: 11:30
Well, due to COVID now. Obviously, you have to have a more stringent cleaning measures, and you have to be a lot more thorough. And we have ovens and freezers and fridges in the pods. So, you know, if the oven has been used, and it’s, it’s quite dirty, you’re obviously going to have to clean up before someone comes and they’re not gonna be time consuming. But yeah, it can take around an hour and a half to clean a pod.
Nick Purslow: 12:09
Yeah. And Ali mentioned, you spoke about COVID there, Ali mentioned that you did a COVID cleaning course recently, and you’ve put together a sort of COVID questionnaire policy. What What does that entail?
Christine Maclean: 12:22
Yes, I did, I’ve actually got it here. It’s just a pre-arrival questionnaire and an exit questionnaire for the guests to complete. And it’s just finding out if they’ve been to a country that’s not on the travel corridors. Have they had any of the symptoms within the last seven days prior, before they come to the pod, just so that we can be aware, if anyone might have had or have COVID, or a chance of COVID before they’ve come. And have they had contact or cared for somebody that’s been diagnosed, or having been in close contact with anybody that’s travelled within the last 10 days to other countries. So that’s basically the arrival questionnaire. And then the exit questionnaire is similar, it’s just asking while they’ve staying in the pod, have they had any headaches, shortness of breath, coughing and sneezing, the key symptoms of COVID, just so that we can get an idea of the level of cleaning that needs to be required.
Nick Purslow: 13:42
Is that required by law? Or is it just something you thought it would be a good thing to do?
Christine Maclean: 13:46
It was something that was suggested by people that I did the cleaning course with and it felt it was just a really good way of finding out if the customers are safe to come to the pods.
Nick Purslow: 14:06
Yeah. Has it added much of a workload, or do you think it will add once we open back up, do you think it will add much of a workload to what you already do with the whole COVID thing?
Christine Maclean: 14:16
I don’t think so really, unless someone was in the pod and took COVID whilst they were at the pod. Then you would have to do a deeper clean than you would normally do and maybe leave it empty for a few days. Yeah.
Nick Purslow: 14:38
Nothing, nothing too major, I think,you know, certainly not enough to stop people opening up when, you know, everyone’s desperate to go. I know, our admin team, who sort of split their time between NC500 Pods and Glampitect, they’ve been absolutely inundated with people asking about when we’re opening up and all that. So you know, a few minutes here and there doing extra checks, I don’t imagine erm, it’s not it’s not a big deal in the in the grand scheme of things.
Christine Maclean: 15:06
I think today, people are really aware of what they have personally got to do to keep it themselves and everybody else safe. I mean, we are installing hand sanitizers, things like that into the pods. So we are making it safe as we can.
Nick Purslow: 15:29
Yeah. What would you say is the best thing about your job?
Christine Maclean: 15:35
Meeting the customers. Knowing that they’re happy, they’re comfortable. I am very proud of the Brora site, and knowing I’ve done my best to make the guests’ stay relaxing and comfortable and pleasurable. That’s the best part of my job.
Nick Purslow: 15:54
And you must feel like you almost are a guest because you overlook that site, don’t you? You can see, I mean, you were saying early, just before we started recording, that you know, you could see the pods looking all sad and lonely and empty at the minute because of lockdown. But yeah, I mean, it must be a, you know, nice location and place to live just right above a glamping site.
Christine Maclean: 16:11
It is, it’s absolutely lovely. And, you know, when when you look across, you can see people and the pods, the kids running around and the barbecue. And it’s just it’s just lovely. Just seeing people enjoying themselves and having a nice time.
Nick Purslow: 16:28
And actually, living so close to it, were you aware when Calum and Ali put in the planning, you know, put in the planning application to set up the site because I know sometimes local residents put in objections against glamping site developments. Were you aware of any of that? And were you aware of any objections that were around at the time?
Christine Maclean: 16:49
Yes, I was.
Nick Purslow: 16:51
Was it the talk of the tow n?
Christine Maclean: 16:53
We didn’t personally get asked about any objections. But yes, we did have a couple that weren’t very keen on the glamping thing. But they’ve come round now. And it made the build very interesting, and a bit of laughter throughout the day. We’ve overcome that now and, be honest, a lady, she she thinks it’s wonderful. And realises know, they thought they were gonna have people that were just partying all the time, and it’s not like that all.
Nick Purslow: 17:37
What does she like about it now that it’s up and running?
Christine Maclean: 17:42
She likes that it’s actually just fitted into the countryside. I mean, they have the adjacent croft, so they’ve got horses and they were a bit concerned about the horses, and they’ve got two daughters, they were concerned about their daughters. But no, everything’s fine now.
Nick Purslow: 18:02
Yeah, I think that’s a bit of a good bit of advice for our listeners here. I know, a lot of them will be thinking of setting up their own site. You will get awkward neighbours, sometimes that will oppose the oppose the application. And sometimes you just got to work with them and be polite as possible, and just show that you want to be, you know, respectful of the surroundings, because glamping does fit into it quite nicely. But you know, some some people will always be awkward, but a lot of people do have genuine concerns, and you can show them how it will blend in and be nice and polite to them, then more often than not, you’ll end up being okay.
Christine Maclean: 18:39
Yes, yes. And it really does. And I’m looking at it just now. And it actually enhances the the area. I love and just enhances the area.
Nick Purslow: 18:55
Yeah, yeah. And so if you were, you know, if someone who wants to set up their own glamping site and wants to run it themselves, or if someone’s thinking of, you know, working for a glamping site and doing your sort of job, would there be any one particular piece of advice that you’d give to them?
Christine Maclean: 19:11
I would say that they’ve got to be totally committed, totally passionate about the site that they’re running, operating, owning. And their heart really has to be in it 100%. You know, you can make it as simple or as difficult as you want to. And if you just keep on top of things all the time and you’re friendly towards your your guests, then I don’t really see any issues.
Nick Purslow: 19:49
And on a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you for people to come, for guests to come back and stay at the site?
Christine Maclean: 19:54
Definitely a 10.
Nick Purslow: 19:56
Perfect. Okay, well, thank you for your time, it’s been really Interesting. I mean, yeah, if people want to want to contact you and maybe ask a few questions on what it’s like running a glamping site, have you got an email address that they can send them to?
Christine Maclean: 20:11
I do yes, and I’d be quite happy to speak to them. And it’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nick Purslow: 20:23
Perfect, and we’ll put that in the in the comments as well. So anyone can, you know, copy and paste it. Okay. Thank you for your time. It’s been really, really great. And yeah, roll on the reopening of the sites.
Christine Maclean: 20:35
Thank you Nick. It’s lovely speaking to you.
Nick Purslow: 20:41
Thank you for listening to another episode of the Glampitect podcast. I hope you enjoyed and that you found value in today’s episode. If you did, feel free to leave a rating and review on Apple podcasts as it really helps us move up the podcast rankings. Thank you.
Subscribe To The Podcast Mailing List
Receive email notifications when new episodes are released!