Andy Castle, ski lover and founder of Ultimate Luxury Chalets, tells UltraVilla the story of how he went from student in the English seaside town of Bournemouth to owner of one of the most popular European chalet rental companies in the business.
“My parents were sun-worshippers rather than snow-lovers which meant I spend most of my childhood holidays on beaches instead of slopes. So it wasn’t till my student days as a business studies undergraduate at Bournemouth University that I finally had the chance to experience the fantastic excitement of a ski vacation. And it all began from there.
“The third year of my degree involved taking up a compulsory work placement for the duration. I loved Bournemouth and wanted to stay there and by chance the opportunity came up to join a recently launched ski and villa travel agency in the city. Naturally (ahem) the two directors hired me for my unrivalled charisma and sales banter and I quickly settled in (working for pennies) as their only employee.
“I was sent away to the ski resorts of La Tania and Val d’Isère to actually experience what I was selling and from my first day on the slopes I was hooked. My sales enthusiasm helped to take the company from a £500,000 turnover in their first year to £2,000,000 in sales revenues for their second year of trading. When my placement was up the company tried to get me to give up my degree and stay, and though it was sorely tempting I knew my parents would not have taken kindly to me throwing their investment in my tuition down the pan. So I headed back to finish my studies.
“Upon graduation I decided to try something new and went into mortgage consultancy. This didn’t quite fill me with the same level of satisfaction as selling dreamy ski holidays and so I succumbed to the inevitable and headed back to the ski agency, taking on the role of Sales Manager. By this time the company had grown to include three further sales staff and some new work experience students, all of whom didn’t know what to expect of their new boss who came in with a big reputation. I could never have imagined that one of those workies, Fran, would later become my wife.
“I stayed at the company for a couple of years, becoming an increasingly recognised name in the ski travel industry, even running the agency when the directors were absent. It was then I spotted a niche in the market. What if there was a separate website that focused on offering the best chalets available to rent across a variety of resorts? There were many agents who focused solely on the top end resorts and high end properties only, giving no consideration to smaller and lesser known resorts where I knew visitors could get more bang for their buck. And many agents who dealt with anything and everything at that high end of the market but without focusing on a specific level of luxury. My idea was born. I asked my boss at the agency to come into this new website with me on a 50/50 split but he declined. I followed my dream, left my job, and started Ski In Luxury by myself.
“It was the best decision – apart from marrying Fran – I ever made. Self-funded and working alone, I set up and launched Ski In Luxury in 2005 and using extremely SEO friendly web design and content rapidly established it online. My Internet presence increased as did to traffic to the website and after just three years of operation sales were coming in thick and fast and business was booming. Alongside that I got to physically enjoy the fruits of my labour too, getting to stay in some of the most luxurious chalets in Europe. It was a match made in heaven.
“By this time Fran left her job at JP Morgan to join me once again and it was she who set up Villas In Luxury, Ski In Luxury’s sister website to offer our growing list of clients a summer, as well as winter, vacation option. Working side by side we built a reputation among our customers as a unique, grass roots service that would bend over backwards to satisfy their every need.
“In 2012 we saw an increased level of competition in top end luxury chalet market and to stay with the game we launched Ultimate Luxury Chalets. While many chalet operators define their products as ‘luxury’ in our experience they often fail to live up to that description. Ultimate Luxury Chalets is not one of them. We put together the “ultimate” list of the best of the best in the luxury chalet world, providing truly sensational chalets and standards of service and cuisine. Each year the portfolio is handpicked by us and features no more than 100 chalets at any time, ensuring that quality standards are kept at their very best and enabling our clients to easily access online the very best luxury chalets in an ever-expanding market.
“When our first daughter Beatrice arrived in 2013, soon to be followed by our second Sienna, with the business working so well we finally had to grow our staff and company and take on the roles of boss. We now have a fantastic team consisting of Fran and I, three sales staff, and an IT and Web Development Manager to ensure that we remain cutting edge with our websites and maintain the SEO rankings that have become the backbone of Ultimate Luxury Chalets’ success.
“Going forward we have big plans for expansion and new websites on the horizon. We are at an exciting phase in our development, one I never would have imagined a decade ago when Ski In Luxury started. We are putting together some fantastic content and unique, fun blogs, and getting very involved in our social media, all of which are contributing to our increasing following and providing our clients with another level of service satisfaction. I am very much looking forward to seeing what the next ten years bring and am genuinely excited to build new relationships with some of the most recognised and reputed travel industry professionals in the world, and to be a part of assisting in the success of UltraVilla.”
To find our more about Ultimate Luxury Chalets and to view some of their properties click here