Bringing the outdoors and snowsports together to achieve growth
Mendip started life as a mobile outdoor activity company serving school groups when it was founded by Jim Hayward in 1987. Fast forward 30 years and it has grown into a profitable year-round business that incorporates a snowsports operation alongside an expanded range of outdoor provision for school, youth, corporate and individual clients throughout south west England.
The company operates from a permanent 250 acre activity centre in the heart of the Mendip Hills as well as 8 activity bases throughout the South West. These include off-site facilities for rock climbing, canoeing, abseiling and caving. Accommodation is available within a 120 bed on-site tented village and local residential centres.
In 2012 the business acquired a well established snowsports centre that offers skiing and snowboarding on a 165 metre winding dry slope. The merger of this predominantly winter operation was carefully integrated to transform the previously seasonal outdooor activity business into a 12 month operation.
Prioritising Staff Development and Training
Mendip Managing Director, David Eddins explains the unique approach that helped them achieve this transformation.
“Our outdoor business was predominantly running from April to October. The snowsports business was profitable during the winter months but loss-making for most of the rest of the year. By bringing the snowsports business into our established outdoor business we were able to move from a full time team of 8 instructors supplemented with freelancers, to a year-round team of 40 instructors on permanent full time and part time contracts. Our outdoor team were re-trained to teach introductory snowsports and we helped some of the established snowsports instructors gain outdoor experience and qualifications so that we could offer both groups of staff more year-round employment.
We also brought our holistic approach to safety management and customer service from the outdoors to the snowsports business. This transformed both the safety record and levels of repeat business within the snowsports business.”
David, a graduate in Outdoor & Environmental Education actually joined Mendip as an Apprentice Instructor 20 years ago and is a firm believer in the core importance of staff training and development.
“Our greatest strength always has been and always will be our team. The Mendip uniform is worn with genuine pride and we consider ourselves privileged to work in this industry.”
Mendip have developed a pioneering Trainee Instructor Programme which introduces 8-10 young people to the industry every year. This is a 12 month programme which provides trainees with paid employment and the opportunity to gain NGB qualifications while they work alongside experienced Instructors. Trainees are incentivised to gain qualifications as quickly as possible and can move into higher paid roles within each area of activity once they gain qualifications.
David also sees the development of risk management skills as fundamental to their company philosophy.
“We have always operated at remote outdoor locations so we have to be sure that all of our Instructors share an “attitude” to risk management that we can trust. We see risk management more as a state of mind than anything else. We have to be confident that they have the training and common sense to assess all environmental factors so that they can reduce the inherent risk of outdoor activities to an acceptable and safe level.”
Being part of the AIM network
Activities Industry Mutual have insured Mendip since 2008 and David has always valued their partnership approach alongside with the traditional insurance services that they provide.
“AIM were actually really helpful when we were looking to get involved in the snowsports business. They introduced us to other dry ski slope operators through their client network and meeting these people gave us valuable insights which made a big difference in those important early years. I am inspired by the concept of a mutual and really appreciate being part of a friendly network of operators.”
Mendip have Public Liability cover of £5m and Employers Liability cover of £10m. AIM also extend the Public Liability cover up to £10m for selected clients who require a higher level of cover. David appreciates the flexibility that allows him to upgrade cover levels for specific client groups and also the fact that AIM premiums take into account the good safety record that Mendip have worked so hard to develop:
“When we took on the snowsports business AIM knew that we would be applying the same principles of safety management that we had applied for years in our outdoor operations. This allowed us to benefit from our established track record as we moved into this new area of activity”