In a forgotten corner in the South East of Cornwall, this historic venue is driving upwards of 10,000 visitors each year. General manager Sarah Turpitt stays ahead of the trends by listening to customer feedback and collaborating with local producers.
Despite being situated in a more remote part of Cornwall, Polhawn Fort is a top destination for wedding parties from across the globe. Originally constructed in the 19th century as a defence against French invasion, the military fort is now a one of a kind wedding venue.
A chef by trade, Sarah Turpitt became the general manager of Polhawn Fort in 2017 and has been making bold changes since day one. Driven by a mission to enable people to design their own weddings from scratch, Sarah is constantly seeking customer feedback to stay one step ahead of the trends.
Hidden corner of Cornwall
With over 10,000 guests each year, Polhawn Fort draws a considerable number of visitors to an otherwise quiet community. The remote location, nestled in an area of outstanding natural beauty, is a major draw – but it’s not without it’s challenges.
“A big part of my job is listening to client needs before they arrive and making sure we can fulfil them locally. People love the venue but worry about all of the other elements, like flowers and catering, that they need to provide.”
By actively listening to customer feedback, Sarah can predict future requests and works with local producers and businesses to improve and expand their services. Polhawn Fort then provides guests with curated accommodation, food and activity guides, to encourage visitors to stay and shop locally.
Sarah explained that by working with local producers, and directing customers to their services, these businesses gain more stability, grow their teams, and in turn offer new services to our Polhawn Fort customers.
One such business is Cornish-Pod, a local bakery specialising in pasties. Sarah noticed that guests were ordering “mediocre” pastys from out of town, and began to direct them to Cornish-Pod. As a result her customers are happier and the bakery has been able to grow and add new services.
Response to customer feedback
In addition to supporting the growth of local businesses, Sarah is also concerned with the development of each of her team members.
“What I found when I first came in to the role was that I was so busy working on the business that I couldn’t align the team with my vision. Encouraging them to network and look to other hospitality businesses has been fundamental in changing their attitude. They now understand that when we make an improvement it’s not just a whimsical change – it’s because the market is demanding it.”
With a small team of eight, training and development is crucial. Every staff member comes in to contact with customers and must be well versed in what the venue has to offer. However, to deliver the best possible service they need to go one step further and actually listen to what the customers themselves are saying.
To do this, Polhawn Fort collects feedback at different stages throughout the customer journey. Through a combination of automated surveys and a closed Facebook group for previous and future guests, the team can respond quickly to concerns and shift direction where they see trends begin to take shape.
Leading a community
An agile and responsive approach to customer feedback is possible at Polhawn Fort in part because the entire team is involved in creating and implementing their own solutions. As Sarah put it: “The team members have to lead and influence the changes themselves. After all, they’re the ones actually doing it on a daily basis.”
This approach extends beyond Polhawn Fort to include the local businesses and producers they collaborate with. By sharing customer feedback, and working with them to implement change, the local economy is strengthening with new businesses cropping up each year.
In the years to come Sarah and her team have their sights firmly set on continuing to exceed customer expectations and strengthening the community through the growth of sustainable businesses.
Sarah Turpitt is one of five shortlisted Business Leader of the Year award nominees at the Cornwall Tourism Awards. Be the Business sponsored the Business Leader of the Year award and, in the run up to the awards on 7 November 2019, published a profile piece of each business leader. Read more from the same series here.