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Family Holidays On The Norfolk Coastline

Hemsby Beach and the adjoining coastline is recognised as one of the most attractive in the UK and a coastline that is awash with family businesses. Second generation family firm Seadell Shops & Holiday Chalets is one of them. Whether building sandcastles, watching the waves roll in or going on a leisurely walk through the dunes, Seadell and their collection of holiday chalets affords a warm welcome to this part of Eastern England with a proud family heritage and a real passion for what they do too. Paul Andrews spoke to the family behind Seadell Shops & Holiday Chalets to find out more about their journey.

The story began back in 1976 as Toni Reeve was moving towards the end of a career in the insurance industry. Having spent many years writing lots of agricultural insurance Toni and his wife Ann had lived all their lives in Norfolk. One farmer had previously offered some advice to Toni such that “You will never make money working for anyone else” and this was ringing in his head when Toni decided to buy their first ‘long-leasehold’ holiday property in 1976 as they embarked on the next stage in their journey.

In fact, Ann and Toni are in agreement when they say that the purchase of the first chalet was the start of a new business that they felt was the route to retirement – building a business that they could grow, sell and retire on the proceeds in due course. At the outset, there was little thought given to building a business to pass on to the next generation as the kids were pursuing their own interests and not showing any desire to return to the coast.

Over time, more ‘long-leasehold’ properties were added to the portfolio and the entrepreneurial couple also took over the running of the shop. Ann is the first to admit that taking on the shop for the first time was daunting. “I had never done anything that involved serving the public before, and when we took the keys to the shop Toni was still working in insurance. We picked up the keys, looked at each other and said let’s give it a go – it might be fun!”

At the end of their first season they were informed that the landlord had sold the shop so they handed back the keys, only to be asked to run them again a year later as the sale had fallen through.

At the end of 1986 Toni bumped into the landlord as he was coming out of the local Post Office and was asked if he wanted to buy the shop. Negotiations continued for a while, stalling as Toni wanted to ensure that parking rights were secured and was prepared to walk away from the deal had they not been included. As Toni continues, “the seller was not happy about giving up the parking rights but without them there was no deal, and finally, on 6 March 1987, the shops were ours too.”

Seadell as a family firm was well and truly up and running but at a time of great economic uncertainty. “They were difficult times,” continues Toni. “Bank interest rates were at 17% and the economic climate was difficult too. Remortgaging the house was the only option, and a reluctant one, but we went through with it, but the mortgage was released a year later as the results continued to improve.”

Fast forward to 1995 and son Stuart returned from his time in Australia and New Zealand where he had been working and travelling.

Stuart worked hard in Australia to fund his travels as well as play football, but in his own words did what needed to be done. “I loved the variety of jobs that I had, from the chemical plant to the chicken farm, and the office life I had done previously in the UK was well behind me. I had a ‘moment’ where I realised the beauty there was I working in an environment that you love. When I returned to Norfolk, I never intended to join the business but as it is seasonal, I started work when I got back to the UK for one season and have never looked back. I love it and now truly appreciate that the East Coast of Norfolk is a great place to live and work.”

Ann adds, “We never put any pressure on Stuart to join us and when we set out it was all about us, Toni and I, and our journey. Stuart joining us has scuppered our plans and we are now having to change the journey and are following an evolving plan.”

This is an engaging and entrepreneurial family who have not hidden away from difficult conversations. “You cannot afford to shy away from things” adds Toni, “especially when you have put everything on the line.”

As an entrepreneurial family, they continue to improve, striving to improve the service to their customers, creating a brand and a sense of pride underlines all that they do. Stuart has added a fresh perspective to the evolving business and has helped to introduce a consistent look and feel to the chalets that now have a fresher look.

As Stuart adds, “Too many people fail to keep up to date and improve and I am fortunate that my parents realise that we have to change with the times, and encourage me to step up and make decisions too. We are on a journey which is exciting for all of us. I relish then opportunities going forward but we are aware of the success challenges but we are working through it, talking and making decisions. We are fortune that there are three voices so we always get a decision and can move on.”

The business may be taking a turn from the original retirement plan that Toni and Ann set out to create but they are embracing the future, providing customer service at all times of the day and night and continue to create memories along this stunning stretch on the Norfolk coastline.

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