A luxury hut maker has reported a 30 per cent rise in turnover as Brits create posh offices in their gardens. Plankbridge manufactures bespoke shepherd’s huts which have kitchens and showers along with a starting price of £22,500 – exporting them as far as the USA and Switzerland.
In recent years, they have experienced an uptick in orders from people looking to cash in on their land by launching boutique staycation companies. But over the past 12 months, as people have been forced to work from home, there has been a surge in interest from customers looking to create an office in their garden. They have seen enquiries soar by 70 per cent and turnover is up 30 per cent in 2020.
Plankbridge, which was founded by Richard Lee and his partner Jane Dennison in 2000, is based at a 15,000sq/ft hangar near Dorchester, Dorset. They now employ 24 staff who typically work on around 10 hand-made huts at a time – with each hut taking from six weeks to complete. The company remains loyal to local suppliers within a 10-mile radius for timber and fixings, keeping the value within the local economy, while the chassis are supplied by Richard’s brother from his base across the border in Somerset.
They offer two types of huts – the Snug and the wider Cabin, which are both customisable, with clients ordering these for a number of uses, including meditation spaces, saunas and garden offices. And the top-of-the-range bespoke huts typically cost from £55,000.
The hut maker’s success has been highlighted by Funding Circle, the UK’s largest small business loan platform which has helped more than 60,000 businesses in the UK over the past 10 years. Richard Lee, Plankbridge co-founder, said: “I had big plans for where I wanted the business to be on my 50th birthday. On that very day we sent our staff home, as the whole supply chain stopped overnight. When we returned, we picked up where we left off and the business continued to grow at a rapid pace. We caught up with ourselves by the autumn, and with social distancing and regular cleaning in place, we have continued the upward trend, and have even been recruiting new staff. The demand for our huts was certainly bolstered by lockdowns, working from home and the need for extra space to hunker down in. While we are busy, and remain positive, I feel a lot of sympathy for all those businesses so badly affected. At least we are helping many hospitality venues to hit the ground running as soon as restrictions are lifted. We have also helped many start up glamping businesses, guiding the new ‘glampreneurs’ as they set up their new venues.”
Richard, who graduated from International furniture designer John Makepeace’s Hooke Park College in 1994, launched Dorset-based Plankbridge in 2000 with his partner Jane Dennison. It was their aim to make the finest quality huts in the and they have worked with the National Trust properties, The Pig chain of hotels and Historic Royal Palaces. Plankbridge is one of thousands of small businesses which have used Funding Circle’s platform over the past decade. The shepherd’s hut manufacturer previously borrowed via the platform as they looked to expand their product offering and their overseas market. Huts have been shipped to the USA, Portugal, France and Switzerland, with all timber sourced from sustainably managed forests – with the English Oak from the Crown Estate.
Richard Lee said: “Plankbridge has grown enormously from the early days of making huts outside the home workshop. I remember rushing to get the walls up so I could tent it over with tarpaulins to create a makeshift workshop. Later on, as we became more established, we needed funding for the next step and approached Funding Circle. I didn’t analyse it too much at the time, it just felt like the right thing to do and was the quickest path to funding. At each stage you don’t want to hang around as I think growth, in premises, staff and equipment, should be in response to demand. It is so important to keep the momentum going or there is the danger that you lose traction.”
Lisa Jacobs, Europe managing director at Funding Circle, said: “Like many small business owners, Richard and Jane have adapted their business to overcome the challenges of the pandemic. It’s heartening to see them use their talent and passion to help others adapt too, whether that’s providing much-needed extra working-from-home space or an office for those taking their first steps to become business owners themselves.”