Bramble Ski was born in 2005 and is the brainchild of Natasha Robertson, her ex-husband Duncan, and friends Barry and Colin. The luxury rental company boasts a collection of properties spanning France, Switzerland, and Austria with chalets in Val d’Isère, Lech, St. Anton, Zermatt, Meribel and Verbier. We caught up with Natasha just a month before ski destinations opened for the season.
Luxurious Magazine: Let’s begin with your interest in skiing. Did you go on ski holidays as a child?
Natasha Robertson: I was kind of slow to come to skiing. My first experiences were in Scotland. I was 18 when I first stepped out of the car in a ski resort.
The wind that day was so strong it nearly took the car door off as I opened it. Going downhill was challenging as a beginner but even harder with a force 6 gale coming at me. Despite the weather on the cairngorms that day, I completely loved it!
The dramatic environment, the thrill of the speed, learning something new and progressing quickly all made it so fun. The dye was set, and I have skied every year since then.
LM: We understand that you didn’t combine your passion for skiing with a career initially. What was your job before that?
Natasha: I was living the typical late nineties graduate career plan. I joined a large retailer in the UK not long after university, working in their advertising department. I learnt the ropes there and skipped over to the agency side when I could—working for Saatchi and Saatchi and Ogilvy and Mather during a 10-year stint in London.
LM: How did you come to start your own business in the ski industry?
Natasha: I really loved working in advertising, but when I turned 30, I started to wonder if there might be a new adventure to be had before starting a family. That’s when I decided I needed to think about my career choice and do something that I was passionate about.
LM: How difficult was it a venture to start up in 2005?
Natasha: To be honest, it felt exciting at the time. There were difficulties. Long hours, not enough of us, we were spreading ourselves very thin in the early days, but I think adrenaline carried us through the first few winter seasons. As the business grew, we took on more help, and things worked out. Regardless of when you start a business, it’s hard work; it is always way more challenging than you expect, there’s a lot of getting through things by the skin of your teeth. But the rewards are incredible, whatever you achieve is down to you, and that can feel amazing.
LM: As we know, the global pandemic hit the hospitality industry hard. How did your business cope?
Natasha: We coped thanks to an incredible support network. Our teams were truly wonderful, sticking with us through long periods of furlough. The chalet owners were incredibly understanding and allowed their properties to stay within our portfolio. Clients who could come to Switzerland, which remained open, did come. And lastly, the government help we received from the Swiss, Austrian and French governments kept us going through the most challenging times.
We coped by being completely flexible and keeping as up to date as possible whenever the situation changed. Our business model relies on us being nimble with our staffing profiles and service offerings; I think this helped as a basis for approaching the crisis. We were extremely fortunate as a business. More than that, we were fortunate that the team and our families stayed well. That was a real blessing.
LM: But things have changed for Bramble recently ski, and you have new ties with Le Collectionist. Can you tell us more about this?
Natasha: This is the most exciting news for us, Bramble Ski has been acquired by Le Collectionist. The French company was looking for a ski specialist element to add to their beautiful beach and countryside destinations across Europe and the Caribbean. They are a luxury operator, catering to the same segment of the travel market as we do, and the fit was just really good. With this new partnership, we can learn from each other and grow together.
LM: What would you say is different about your business model compared with others in the villa and chalet market?
Natasha: Our business model veered away from the norm fairly early on the in-companies development. We moved from the traditional full risk model, whereby an operator pays a property owner for the full season upfront, puts a team in and then attempts to sell all the weeks to recover the rental and the staff costs and make a profit. This can work well but means your cash flow moves in big chunks, you can be exposed to many risks, and one bad season can be devastating.
We share the risk with our owners, and we move our teams between properties; this allows us to weather the financial storms and be more nimble with our teams and offer a greater breadth of services across properties. It helps with cash flow, and the owner benefits from a higher weekly rental rate.
LM: Do you think clients are more drawn to going on active-led holidays like skiing than just having a summer break in the mountains?
Natasha: I think there is always a place for both. The mountains inspire activity; even in the summer, you want to walk, cycle, and explore. Being British and born in Cornwall, the sea is part of my soul. I love a holiday stretched out on the beach with a good book. There is room for both active holidays and relaxing holidays in my calendar, and I think that’s the same for a lot of people.
The mountains are actually perfect as a base for a family taking some time out from the city, and we see a lot of guests now preferring long stays. Because you can be healthy and active here, it provides a really good balance, step outside your door, and you can get your workout done, out in nature, no time is lost. Our clients rarely sit still when they come to stay, but occasionally a cosy day in with the snow falling outside is just what we need.
LM: In your opinion, what are the three main principles of launching a business?
Natasha: To launch a business, I believe you need to know why you are doing it; what is the endgame? Lifestyle, scaling and exit? Secondly, you need to be sure there is a market out there that need what you can provide. Finally, you have to be committed to seeing it through.
There is no secret to getting a business right. You just have to keep pedalling, keep going, you never start out perfectly; that’s life, you are going to be wobbly and make a few wrong turns, but if you keep pedalling, you will get there in the end.
LM: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Natasha: I have a few more years in hospitality left in me as I love working with people so much, but perhaps in five years, I could devote more time to my newfound love of writing. I see myself at the laptop, holed up in some pretty little corner of the chalet, coffee poured, music playing, snow falling.
Bramble Ski – Where and How?
For more information on Bramble Ski, visit www.brambleski.com.
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