Providing top-notch experiences for 25,000 people every year is no mean feat
Goodwood’s Hospitality Sales and Events Manager, Mark Penn, has just finished his fifth season in charge of the 12-strong core hospitality team at the Goodwood Estate. Providing top-notch experiences for 25,000 people every year across the Festival of Speed (FoS), Qatar Goodwood Festival, Goodwood Revival and 14 other racecourse fixtures is no mean feat. Mark recalls being rather thrown in at the deep end when he first started, just before FoS, on a year’s fixed term contract;
“I’d been working at Manchester City Football Club, in business development, so to suddenly be in the middle of probably the largest green field site-build in the world, looking after a big team, with all the challenges that brings, was exciting to say the least”.
Originally from West Sussex, Mark commutes to Goodwood each week from his home in the Peak District, where he lives with his wife and son. The year’s fixed term contract turned into a permanent role and he says it works because the weeks are all about work and the weekends are all about family.
“I am always one of the first to arrive at Goodwood in the mornings. Driving up the long drive and seeing the beautiful house and estate still makes the hairs on my neck stand up, even after 5 years. It’s a very special place to work, you do pinch yourself. At that moment I always think, where else would I want to be?”
Mark values his team hugely and enjoys the mix of personalities and skills they all bring to the role. Many of the team have worked at Goodwood for a long time in different roles and they’re very experienced.
He said ultimately, the most important part of the role is in making sure they truly understand what a customer wants from his or her hospitality experience, whether it’s a business wanting to host and reward important customers or a private client looking for a truly incredible day out with his or her family and friends, the process is always, “listen, understand, deliver”.
Mark’s team are very hands-on with customers, “it’s about holding their hands throughout the process. You’ll have many telephone conversations with them to establish what they really want and to explain all the options available to them. There are many emails to follow up and polish off the details, so that every customer knows exactly what they can expect when they come. For me, the absolute best bit is meeting clients on event and seeing how happy they are and how much they’re enjoying their day. It’s a real thrill”.
The industry has changed hugely in the last five years. When Mark started at Goodwood the business to business market was much stronger and that has taken a nationwide downturn as business just isn’t done in hospitality suites in the same way. Business hospitality is now far more about saying thank you to clients and customers.
The private market however, has seen a rapid increase, as Mark says, “People want incredible experiences in the current climate, they want ‘bucket-list’ days out for themselves and those closest to them. We’ve had to reimagine our product offering to address this and make sure there are relaxed, informal hosting options where people can come and go and not feel tied to their hospitality area all day long.”
Mark has noticed that there has had to be a bigger focus on driving new business too. Whilst Goodwood has always had a solid base of loyal, engaged customers, there is more need than ever before to keep reaching out to new audiences with new and exciting products.
Of the Duke and the family here at Goodwood, Mark says, “What people perhaps don’t realise is how involved the Duke of Richmond is in shaping our hospitality offerings and plans. It is very much his vision. He is rather a father figure to everyone here, very visible. It’s a lovely family ethos and you are aware all the time that you are working to keep this beautiful estate going, so that there is something here for future generations. You want to do well and impress, you don’t want to let them down”.
Mark is renowned at Goodwood for his impeccable style and dress sense. He has won the Revival staff ‘Best Dressed Competition’ no less than three years in a row. Even the Duke of Richmond remarked when awarding the prizes this year, seeing Mark for the first time in jeans, “come on Mark, I thought you were a suits-only man like me”.
When asked where this sense of style and love of dressing-up comes from, Mark explains that he was always into clothes and design, even as a small boy. His mother was a machinist (sewing) and he was always designing clothes and wanted to pursue an artistic career, studying art at O-level despite “not being able to draw an apple”. When subsequently he failed, he rather gave up on this dream.
He vividly remembers in the midst of this failure, aged 16 and a fully-fledged goth in eye-liner and head-to-toe black, opening The Sun newspaper and seeing two pictures of a model. One picture showed him dressed similarly to Mark, as a goth, and in the other in the full military regalia of the Coldstream Guards. Red jacket, shiny buttons, bearskin hat. Mark was sold immediately on this attire and marched himself and his mother to Chichester’s military recruitment office to sign himself up.
He wanted to prove to everyone that there was another side to him, he would show them all what he could do. He credits the time he spent in the Coldstream Guards with teaching him to wash, iron and take care of his clothes and appearance, way before any of his peers ever did. He learnt that a smart appearance is a very powerful image and that for someone like Mark, a little shy, his clothes gave him the confidence he needed to step out and shine. This is what happens to this day in the hospitality suites at Goodwood; “the whole team will be in their shorts and t-shirts, walking through fields, knee-deep in the preparations and then on the day everything comes together, it’s all smiles, immaculate clothes and showtime.”
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