Barry and Di O’Connor will be flying the flag for Tenterfield at the New England North West Regional Business Awards in Armidale on September 21, having made the finals of the Excellence in Small Business category.
This recognition follows their business – Tenterfield Lodge and Caravan Park – scoring the Excellence in Accomodation award at last year’s Tenterfield Tourism and Excellence Awards.
The duo have poured their hearts and souls since taking over the caravan park three years ago into building it up as a friendly, clean, value-for-money stop for travellers, and the doorway to the delights of the district.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into this place,” Barry said, “but the fact is that we love this town.”
He had a career in the finance industry and she in education and they’ve come back from three attempts at retirement. The plan this time was to spend five years building up the business and then move on, but Barry reckons he’s now booked his plot at Tenterfield Cemetery.
“We like what we do,” he said.
Barry said they’d looked at all the things they’d done and all their talents and where they wanted to live, and their current lifestyle is the epitome of that combination. They’re in the process of honing that further, training up one of their staff to be an assistant manager so that they can take on more of a social director role.
At the age of 23 Barry said he had a picture of a caravan on his desk at work, and always wanted to own a caravan park.
“I can’t believe what we’ve achieved over the three years, in a town that we love.”
They feel very accepted by the community, perhaps due to a unique claim to fame. Barry was once told they wouldn’t be considered local until they’d listened to a Slim Dusty album for start to finish, but he can go one further.
“I’ve played cards with Slim Dusty,” he said.
“He was a friend of my grandfather’s.”
Tenterfield Lodge is in with an eclectic mix of finalists, including a saddlery, cafe, vet clinic, brewer, goose farm, furniture business and employment agency. Winners will go on to represent the region at the state business awards.
Barry said they’re entering the awards as a mechanism to assess their current business and use those insights to drive even greater success in the future.
One strategy is to induce overnight guests to extend their stay to three nights, thereby tripling business. They’re currently achieving that in around 50 per cent of bookings, encouraging guests to stay longer with a goody bag of information on local attractions and ‘value vouchers’ to local businesses they trust and recommend.
They actively seek feedback from clients, and aim to grow the number of reviews on Tripadvisor and Wikicamps which are both relied upon by their target market: grey nomads. Di said they’ve put together a workforce that take great personal pride in the business, and whose efforts are regularly acknowledged.
The couple see the awards as an opportunity to build bridges with people from other areas.
“We want to get Tenterfield’s name out there,” Di said, with no other Tenterfield businesses in the lists of finalists.
The aim is to make Tenterfield a tourism hub. Although Barry sees many tourism marketing dollars spent on Brisbane he sees a lot of travellers coming out of Ballina and Lismore.
The park has also experienced a surge in travellers from South Australia and Tasmania, and now is the time that European tourists start arriving, mostly from Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.
“We love them,” Barry said.
“They’re cashed-up, they’re generally professional people and they hire a nice big motorhome to spend three months in Australia.”
Come the awards ceremony Barry and Di plan to be unofficial ambassadors for Tenterfield, ‘press the flesh’, pass around a lot of business cards and build relationships, aiming to create a network of organisations that pass business between them.
“We want to introduce what Tenterfield’s got,” Barry said.
“We need to realise what we have here, a town that’s magic. I’d like to tell the world about Tenterfield.”