A conversation with Andrew and Zoe Wilkinson
Andrew was brought up with parents who were careful with money. “My Dad did everything for himself; jobs around the house, gardening and growing things, even making toys like go-carts for us. My mum made jam and was also very frugal. My parents didn't just go and buy stuff if we could fix it, or we could make it. I suppose in some ways this was a good thing, but I always had the cheaper trainers, and my parents would have thought designer clothes were a waste of money, so maybe that’s why as soon as I was earning my own money I spent it on the latest fashion! I was not a saver as a kid, my formative years were in the 80’s so that was a very aspirational time, and I wanted the finer things in life. Maybe this was a reaction to my upbringing, but I knew the only way to achieve my goal was to work hard.
Zoe was a military child travelling with her parents all over the UK and Europe, “I was actually born in Kendal’s twin town ‘Rinteln’ in Germany - Fancy that! My Father who is a Kendalian was a Captain in the Armed Forces having worked his way up through the ranks. As a daddy's girl he taught me ambition, discipline, and never to give up. When I attended a boarding school in London I learnt to be independent from a young age, both emotionally and financially.
I remember we were allowed 50p for the tuck shop and I used to save my money up to buy more of the best sweets and sell them to my friends and make a profit! So I guess I was a businesswoman in the making. I also had to learn how to budget as our parents were not always on hand. However, I am not a good saver! I can make money, Andrew is the better saver so we make a good team.”
Both Zoe and Andrew are really entrepreneurial with several businesses and sources of income between them. Andrew has always been involved in the family business Wilkinson’s Decorators since he was at school. He never considered doing anything else, he loved it. Especially being outdoors which, a lot of the work is. He reckons his love of rock climbing came from getting up on the rooves to paint chimney stacks! “When Dad retired, I was happy to continue the family business, but I insisted on getting a computer and modernising things.”
Zoe left boarding school at 17 and just wanted to travel; “I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I tried my hand at many things; Camp America, Working in a Chateau in France, Selling Timeshare in Lanzarote, News Reading on Bay Radio, Manager at the Brewery Arts Centre - you name it I have tried it, but I always wanted to be my own boss…and with all my experience I decided to put Andrews investments to good use and buy property in France and rent them as Ski Properties.
When Covid hit and they closed the ski slopes down we needed to protect our income and properties so one day I looked at our campervan and the rest is history. What is really cool is that I now work with my dad who runs operations and we benefit from his transport knowledge and skills as he was a Master Driver in the Royal Corps of Transport, Transport Manager in Cumbria Fire Service and Cumbria County Council. So as you can see our customers are in good hands…the Dream Team!”
Both of them like to use technology to run and promote their businesses. Andrew likes to use technology to streamline things when he can, “There are so many apps now and we use these for banking, business and personal and accounts. I’m on 27/7 answering queries and following things up from the day, but I don’t really find it stressful it’s part of running a business. I don’t think I’d ever just stop working one day and do nothing the next, I like being busy.
They travel over to France to manage the properties and carry out marketing and maintenance work out of season. The property rentals are primarily in the winter and the Vans tend to be popular in the summer which gives them a year-round income. There is never a dull moment in the household.
“The vans are promoted on our website and this has an excellent SEO and was designed by Neil Burnett at Burnett Design. The demand has gone through the roof, and we now have 4 vans. I am proud to say that all my traffic comes through our own website and marketing on social channels. We do not list with any other platforms, so we keep all our income.”
Now that Andrew and Zoe’s children are independent, they have been free to explore more hobbies and interests and being their own bosses enables them to do this. As many Entrepreneurs do they combine business and their passions so owning holiday lets in the Alps means Andrew gets to follow his hobbies of skiing, climbing and whitewater rafting! Zoe is the brains behind that business and she can fit her favourite pastime, open-water swimming, around her work
Andrew had an early start with saving, but it wasn’t really by choice. “Dad set up a pension for me when I was 17 and working in the business. I think it was £20 a week. It was my first experience of financial advice and to be fair it’s done really well. You can’t touch it and you don’t miss the money as it never hits your pocket. Getting on the property ladder early and being in the position to buy additional properties and that’s worked well for us. I had a small legacy from my Mum who sadly died when I was only 21. Being a decorator and having practical skills and contacts, investing in property has been a good choice.
Zoe says she is the opposite of Andrew and would rather live for the moment and not plan ahead but does know the importance of saving for the future. “I am happy to work hard and provide a share of the income that will help us invest for a better future. I rented a lot before I met Andrew, but his foresight and good investments allowed us to be able to get a mortgage and pay into pension plans and grow savings. I had zero experience of financial advice before we used FMB but I can see the benefits.
Andrew recalls other experiences with Financial Advisers, for specific needs such as life insurance and mortgages. He’d worked with a couple of local advisers that seemed to move around a lot and it felt a bit uncertain. Andrew is part of a business group and that is where he came across FMB. “When I first met Roger Jackson, I was struck by the fact FMB had been around for a long time and they were part of a bigger team with real backing. Listening to them talk at the meetings, got me thinking about the bigger picture and the future. I really wanted somebody reliable who would stay around with a company I could trust.
Zoe and Andrew have a good relationship with thier Planner, they have a lot of common interests which helps. “He’s very personable. After our meetings I feel good about the future; knowing we have it in hand and someone is looking out for us and keeping an eye on things. If we need anything we just call.”
With all of their businesses providing diverse income streams, they are not looking to retire for a good while. Andrew thinks he will probably never give up work completely, he enjoys the way it keeps his brain active. They would like more time to pursue their hobbies and spend more time at their properties abroad though. “We’ve been talking about how we can achieve this”
Having a financial planner keeps you focussed, “I could be distracted, for example I have thought about bitcoin and you hear about people making huge amounts. But then you hear about people losing a lot too, that’s not part of our plan. Despite the skiing and rock climbing, I’m not a risk taker when it comes to money. We are happy with FMB, I like the fact they are independent. It’s important that they are making decisions in my best interests. The team all seem great and when I ring up and speak to any of them, they’re very friendly and knowledgeable. I’m comfortable with our long-term plans”
Zoes’ not really thinking about taking her foot off the gas though, “I hope Andrew can enjoy his retirement earlier and enjoy his hobbies. It’s good for his Mental Health with all the responsibilities he has managing a team of staff. I always have an itch to scratch in business and actually still hope to have my own Bistro one day! Oh, and be the biggest VW Campervan Rental Company in the UK, happy to let Andrew get his pipe and slippers first though!
You can hire Zoe’s vans at www.lakesescapecampers.co.uk