This is a story that explores why all 50-quids are not the same.

And why, most of the time, the most important things in business cost nothing at all.

Weekend Break.

I’m in Percy Cottage in Northumberland.

It’s right next door to The Percy Arms Pub.

When we arrived at the cottage, there was a hand written card from the owner, who we know.

She’s called Sand and the note included her personal mobile number.

We’re here for 3 nights.

Nice little place.

Matfen Hall.

Three months ago we were at Matfen Hall.

For the same number of nights.


‘Nice, big place.

The Percy Arms.

Last night we went to the pub next door to our cottage, to The Percy Arms.

It’s small.



Warm and cozy.

It had kids games too.

These games (and this is important) were clean.

And new.

And complete.

If you’re a parent of a small child you’ll be used to going to places that say they’re for kids, but they’re not really.

The toys are shitty and filthy and broken.

It’s not like that at The Percy Arms.

And when the young girl behind the bar serves you, she looks you in the eye, widens her own eyes, smiles broadly and calls you, ‘my darling’.

All good.

Matfen Hall (again).

When I arrived at Matfen Hall 3 months ago, it had been booked for me by the General Manager, who I know.

When I arrived, they didn’t know who I was at reception.

There was no note.

My friend was not there and there was no message from him.

The room was good!

But nothing special.


OK so that’s the background to my story.

My ‘not all 50-quids are the same’ story.

£50 at Matfen Hall.

We spent £50 at Matfen Hall on the first night.

We spent it with a young girl behind the counter of the empty conservatory.

She was white shirted, pleasant enough and she called me sir.

She wasn’t looking me in the eye when she called me sir.

And, somehow, I’d rather she didn’t call me that, actually.

It was not natural for her.

And it was not natural for me.

We had two veggie burgers and a couple of drinks each.

I remember the floor was plasticky because Colin the dog kept clicking-and-clacking and skidding on it.

The service was plastic too.

And so was the burger.

But this is the important bit…

As each part of my ‘spend’ took place, I was doing a mental sum.

Inside, I was saying…

Fucking hell; £25 for this.

Then another round.

Fucking hell; £35 for this.

Then another round.

Fucking hell; £50 for this.

I resented spending £50.

I resented the whole experience.

£50 at The Percy Arms. 

We went in.



And 3 hours of indulgence, couldn’t-care-lessness and laughing later  – we’d spent £50.

It could have been £70.



I wouldn’t have known.

And I wouldn’t have cared.

Big versus little.

If you’re a little business, you need to work out what you can learn from big ones.

And what to ignore.

Because littleness can be so charming and lovely.

Don’t lose that.

All of this is particularly important in markets where experience is important.

And – and this is the truth – I actually cannot think of ANY market where experience is not important.


Percy Cottage and The Percy Arms in Chatton are superb.

Human, honest, homely and wholesome.

Matfen Hall has fallen into the very same trap as so may of these larger venues where the venue itself is considered to be the jewel in their crown.

They think that the building is the most important thing in their offering.

It so, so isn’t.

All the building presents is an opportunity.

I want you to know my name.

To look me in the eye.

To make me feel that I am the most important guest you have ever had.

Relate to me, treat me like a flesh and blood  and – most important of all – think about the lasting memory you are going to leave me with.

Because that is what I am going to tell other people.

If it is part of Matfen Hall’s strategy that I tell others I was made to feel anonymous and unimportant, and that Matfen Hall deliver an experience so sterile that my brain drifts to how much margin they are making on my £50 – they are bang on.

If not, there is work to do.


The first sentence you see at the Matfen Hall website is:


As well as that being a silly thing for any marketing company to advise as a headline (because it doesn’t mean anything) it is particularly inappropriate for Matfen Hall.

Because the exact thing they say they are not – they are.

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