Redundancy – what next?
A senior in the UK finds a niche business, which allows him to keep active … and travel and save some money at the same time.
BY: Brian Luckhurst, UK
In January 2009, I attended a meeting with colleagues, where our MD explained that, because of the downturn in our business due to the economic climate, he had to make the difficult decision of making some of us redundant. It was not a pleasant meeting for any of us. There was no need to ask why we needed to reduce staff, I think we all had suspected this would happen at some time and personally I was surprised that it hadn’t happened earlier.
We were all asked for our thoughts and comments in writing along with alternative proposals to avoid this action. As my job was unique within the company and one that I had created, I did not want to see the position disappear, both personally and company wise, so I suggested that I work a shorter week to help reduce the company costs. This at least would retain the job that I had worked so hard to establish and one that I saw as being of great value within our business. Luckily, (I think that is the correct term to use), my proposal was accepted, so from February 2009, I found myself working a two-day week or, in other words, earning 60 percent less.
Although I had been in the industry for over 30 years, I had only worked for this company for the last six, so any redundancy package would have been limited, so we were naturally relieved to still have some money coming in.
The question now was could we survive financially and what would I do with the other three days. Yes, we could survive with some changes and careful money management but what do I do with the three free days I now found myself the not-so-proud owner of? At the age of 59, I did not expect it was going to be easy to find other employment, especially in a recession and with so much competition from other unfortunate individuals, and so it proved. At least I had some work, unlike many of my contemporaries.
I had always said, indeed boasted, that I could stop working by taking early retirement and I would not be bored. Wrong! I found myself at a loss as to what to do, having carried out all the postponed jobs around the house. I also felt guilty being on the golf course when my wife was at work, (at least I was now doing the weekly shopping!).
For the previous year, my wife Catriona and I had talked about setting up a website when we retired to keep us active. It would be something we could do together and even, if we were lucky, earn some money from. We decided, therefore, that we should bring forward this project. How to go about it, was the next question.
We have always thought that Home Exchanging for holidays is a great concept, having swapped our home a few times. We decided that there was a place for another Home Exchange website, but only if we specialised. We decided to concentrate on a particular age group, one we know well as it includes ourselves, hence www.homeexchange50plus.com evolved. We believe that exchanging is likely to be more successful with people from a similar age group who have shared interests and values.
Although we both knew a bit about computers we did not have the expertise to design and build a website, so we needed help. We approached a few designers, some of whom seemed very good but came at a price, however we were lucky to find a recently established designer who was keen to work with us to build up his portfolio. Although it took longer than we had anticipated and proved to be a steep learning curve for all, we launched the website in late 2009.
There are many good Home Exchange websites out there and, in truth, some not so good, so by looking at the competition we could evaluate what we wanted to do but, perhaps more importantly, what we didn’t want to do. Our main criteria was to try and keep it simple and easy to use, and hopefully we have achieved this. However, although in our opinion it is easy to use and navigate around, due to the type of website it is, requiring public input etc, it is quite complex in the background. It is an ongoing project and we have a list of updates and improvements that we wish to make given time and finance, and I suspect there will always be something that we want to tweak!
By specialising in a particular market, you limit the marketplace. Although seniors, boomers, 50plusers or whatever we call ourselves, are expanding hugely in numbers, the challenge now, and indeed in the future, is to locate those people and persuade them to become members of our website.
As a new website we wanted to publicise it but we also wanted to keep costs down, so took a view that, as it was a long-term project for us, we would not spend money on advertising it, relying on word-of-mouth and other forms of publicity like an editorial we received in “France” magazine. We had also decided early on not to charge initially for becoming a member, unlike many of the other exchange clubs, as we hoped this would encourage people to join us.
At the time of writing, we have 115 exchange homes in 15 countries and over 100 rental properties (which are not age-exclusive), and long-term we would aim to have numbers in the thousands.
What is Home Exchange? Home Exchanging or Home Swapping is when you agree to swap homes, and often cars, with someone; you stay in their home and they stay in yours, and no money changes hands. It is an economical way to holiday and an exciting way to travel, to experience other cultures and see other countries differently, through local eyes, not as a tourist.
Home and Hospitality Exchange for holidays is not a new concept, indeed it was started in the 1950s by a group of teachers. However more and more of us, from all walks of life, are now doing it, not least to save money in these financially difficult times.
Why do it? Saving money is the obvious benefit – with no accommodation costs, the savings can be substantial. Imagine how much more you will have to spend by not paying hotel bills or villa rental! Other major savings can be achieved by swapping cars, sports equipment and even boats, by not having to dine out every night, even by playing as a guest at your host’s sports/golf club.
As I write this article, Catriona and I certainly have no regrets about creating the website. Yes it has taken time and money to get it to this stage, and yes there were times when we asked ourselves, have we done the right thing, but we are glad we did it. I would recommend to anyone in a similar situation to go for it, do plenty of research and plan beforehand and do something that is of interest to you.
We both see the website developing and given time our “long-term project” will provide us with a fulfilling and busy “retirement”, with lots of travel thrown in and perhaps even a supplement to the pension as well.
Brian Luckhurst is a Scot, now 60, who arrived in London in the late 60s and never left. He and Catriona have a son and daughter, both of whom have more or less flown the nest. Having over 20 years’ experience as an estate agent in England, Luckhurst now spends two days a week as an audit and compliance manager for a chain of franchised estate agents.