Mark Crawford and his wife Carey are the third generation to run Crawford’s Beach Lodge, a resort of free-standing cottages set on a stunning stretch of the Wild Coast near the village of Chintsa, some 40km outside East London.
They proved that the fresh perspective of youth, combined with the solid pioneering work done by previous generations, can make a potent entrepreneurial mixture. As soon as they joined the family business after a youthful stint in London, the number of guests virtually doubled simply by putting Crawford’s Beach Lodge online.
The story of the Crawford’s Beach Lodge started back in the sixties when Mark’s grandfather Roy Crawford, who ran a dairy farm where Sandton is today, grew tired of agriculture and relocated to the Wild Coast to run the hotel which he had bought there.
The second generation, Mark’s dad Ian, grew up in the family’s Glengariff Hotel and went on to study cuisine and hospitality. Ian ran several hotels, including the Umlazi Lodge, and helped his father Roy start Crawford’s Cabins, a collection of very basic beach bungalows on the site where Crawford’s Beach Lodge stands today.
The family actually sold the site in the mid-90s due to political uncertainty in the region, after which it was subdivided into separate holiday properties before the whole complex was gutted by a devastating fire.
In 2003, Ian Crawford bought back one of the cabins, and, together with two others which he rented, started up the lodge once again. One by one he bought the houses back and by the time the third generation joined the business in 2007, the resort already had some two dozen rooms.
Far from being the clichéd spoiled third generation who run the business into the ground, Mark and his wife Carey were just the thing that Crawford’s Beach Lodge needed to take it to the next level. Mark had grown up in the hotel trade and studied and worked in human resources management. Carey is a qualified chartered accountant. Both brought stacks of experience and ideas back from their youthful travels and a working stint in London.
With the doubling of the turnover as they put the business online, the case for expanding Crawford’s Beach Lodge was obvious. But this was in 2008, the year of the great financial crunch. No bank was in the mood to finance the extra ten rooms that the Crawfords wanted to add to their rooms and conference centre.
Business Partners Ltd (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) were the only financiers that were willing to take the chance, and stuck with the deal even when the building project hit a nine-month delay related to environmental approval.
“We approached the banks at a time when the bottom fell out of the market, and no bank wanted to give out a bond at all at that stage. So BUSINESS/PARTNERS came, looked at the project and said: ‘This could work’.
“BUSINESS/PARTNERS enabled us to build in a time when no-one else was building, and they allowed us to grow our business when no other business was able to grow,” says Mark, who formally took over the running of the business from his parents in 2010.
In the same year, the Crawford’s Beach Lodge changed from self-catering to fully catered, which was a logical extension of the businesses catering operation aimed at its conference facilities. It also fitted better with the lodge’s changing clientele as it drew increasingly affluent customers from all over the world.
Mark says part of his vision for the business is to add more rooms in the long term, but for now the Crawfords are focusing on improving the standards of the lodge even more, and adding facilities to give their clients an all-round experience. For example, they have recently added a spa to the business, recruiting two specialist workers and bringing their total number of staff members to 65.
Being somewhat isolated makes recruiting of experienced staff from the big centres difficult, and the Crawfords have developed a strong training and nurturing culture to develop local talent, which is perhaps not surprising for a family enterprise that successfully manages to hand over from one generation to the next.